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UI Students Create Collaborative Study Website, Officials Not Concerned

There are some students at the University of Iowa who call themselves “flunkers.” But their goal isn’t to fail classes—it’s quite the opposite.

ClusterFlunk, a new service for UI students that hopes to bring students together to collaborate in classes, is aiming for a full launch early next year. Right now, the website is in beta, a “smoke and mirrors test,” in the words of one of its cofounders.

The service, which has around 750 registered members, allows students to look up courses at the university and find other students in those courses.

The website offers a forum-like system for users to post and share information, including old study guides and exams. The founders hope the service will become a searchable database for courses, combining discussion with study materials.

UI student A.J. Nelson, the CEO of ClusterFlunk, said he and Joe Dallago, a cofounder and CTO of ClusterFlunk, saw a void in the education system.

“Right now, students can only turn to instructors and TAs for help, even in a 400-person lecture,” Nelson said. “ClusterFlunk is about students helping each other.”

Nelson, who is responsible for the marketing and promotion side of the service, said ClusterFlunk has engaged in several promotional activities around campus. One such activity, with Nelson promoting the service on university property, ended up getting him in some hot water.

“I got a citation for trespassing for being out on the Pentacrest with a megaphone,” he said. “We like to think of it as a citation for marketing too well.”

Despite the warning, Nelson is no less enthusiastic about promoting the service. Branding the site’s users “flunkers” and asking students to join the “flunkin’ movement,” the two cofounders hope to change the meaning of the word entirely.

“Our goal is to shift the paradigm of education,” Nelson said. “We want people to think of flunking differently; if they’re ‘flunking,’ they’re not using our site.”

Dallago said the idea is a change for the way things are done at the university.

“We’re trying to mix things up and disrupt the current education system,” he said. “We believe this will result in students learning more effectively and efficiently and having a more fun way of learning with their peers.”

But some at the university think the service should be cautious about how it operates.

Lyombe Eko, a UI associate professor who specializes in media law, said the legality of students sharing course material is questionable.

“It depends on the content,” he said. “Students are allowed to share their own notes and hold discussions, but if a student digitizes and shares a book they paid for, that would be a copyright violation.”

However, Eko said he didn’t see anything wrong with sharing old test materials or other course content.

“Information sharing is protected by the First Amendment,” he said. “As long as the information is not proprietary, it can be shared.”

Nelson said the service will be monitored for copyrighted material when it launches.

“We’re going to moderate content and take down anything infringing,” he said. “We are legally backed. But if a user posts something, they could be liable.”

UI student Deepika Mehta, who has signed up for ClusterFlunk, said the service would help students collaborate.

“As a student, it’s sometimes hard to meet classmates in big classes,” she said. “The difference between this and other tutoring services is you meet students in your actual classes.”

UI student Dylan Pond, who also signed up, was optimistic about the service and hoped to see it expand.

“I want to see how it’ll pan out; hopefully, it even goes nationwide,” he said. “That would be awesome.”


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