By clicking on their favorite courses at the end of May, educators found that they were being redirected to another location.
They were trying to prepare for summer school by linking to the freely available, open-licensed alternatives known as Open Educational Resources, or OER, content offered by Lumen Learning, a courseware provider that argues that OER can be a tool to make higher education fairer.
To their surprise, however, educators found themselves not on the Lumen website, but on Course Hero, a homework help site blocked by some higher education institutions for its use by some students as a cheated.
There was confusion.
Lumen had turned over its catalog of “community-created course content,” it became clear, to Course Hero, Inc., the homework help and edtech “unicorn” site. The content was not sold, the hosting was simply transferred to free up resources, according to Lumen.
In May, Course Hero quietly began putting the content on its site. The upshot is that clicking on a Lumen course content listing, whether it’s “Boundless Accounting” or “African American History and Culture” or another course, will likely send you to Course Hero, where it is hosted.
If it wasn’t clear at first what was going on, it may be because it wasn’t announced. The user community was left on their own to figure out what was going on, which led them to turn to a Google OER group.
It “doesn’t strike us as particularly newsworthy,” a Course Hero representative said via email when asked why notice of the deal hadn’t been sent to the community, though the spokesperson said they would “find an optimal time to share resources.” with our users if and when appropriate. Course Hero and Lumen declined to speak with EdSurge by phone or Zoom, but spokespersons answered a few questions via email.
Who uses the content?
For Lumen, the decision to transmit the content was due to who was using it.
It generates a lot of web traffic. In 2021, Lumen says, its online course materials attracted 350 million page views. Such web traffic incurs hosting and support costs that can seem unappetizing when the company paying for it doesn’t feel like it’s supporting its core mission.
Part of the problem, Lumen officials say, is that most of the hundreds of millions of viewers don’t engage with the content in a deep or sustained way. Lumen says 94% of that traffic lingered on the page for just 50-60 seconds, which they interpret as people using the site for reference, like you might use Wikipedia. Only about 3% of users, on the other hand, are students in the United States or Canada who access the content via a direct link, as you might expect someone using links from an official course to do. . It’s unclear if that 3% officially goes through an institution, according to Lumen.
For Lumen, this means an expensive “distraction”.
Handing over content hosting, the company says, will allow it to focus on its own original tutorial. For example: The company recently launched a new tutorial for US History II.
For some teachers, the deal raised concerns that the content that was passed on will be hidden behind Course Hero’s subscription wall.
Course Hero is committed to keeping the resources “free for all teachers and learners,” a spokesperson said, and they “hope” the content will have a wider reach on their site.
But there is another problem: the domain of Course Hero, like other companies like Chegg, is blocked by the content filtering of certain districts. This prevents educators in those districts from using the links.
As someone posted in the Google group for REL users, “I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was, but if Course Hero wants to get into a legitimate REL hardware hosting business course, he will have to change his name (or at least his domain name).” Below the message was a screenshot showing how the domain was blocked in their school district.
Places like LibreTexts, a nonprofit OER project, have reassured teachers that they also host much of Lumen’s content.
For some educators, however, the news was distressing for other reasons. Course Hero, they claim, facilitates academic dishonesty – one of the reasons it is blocked by some institutions – and, if the content flies under their banner, it automatically makes the content less valuable to them.
It’s a complaint Course Hero has heard before. The company says it exists to “democratize” access to study resources and says the addition of Lumen Courses will increase the amount of high-quality content its community has access to.
Asked to comment directly on concerns that Course Hero’s reputation might devalue the content, Lumen’s spokesperson declined to respond directly, stating instead, “Our primary goal is to engage directly with faculty members and institutions to use open content, learning tools and evidence. education-based teaching practices to improve academic achievement.