Back when I was in high school, a handful of shady-looking homework help websites started to pop up, promising quality essays to students willing to shell out cash—essentially, a guaranteed "A" on your homework (or so the sites promised).
In the years since, all sorts of homework help offerings have launched. But Slader, a year-old company that offers answers to questions found in popular math and science textbooks, is one of the most comprehensive. In November, Slader launched an iPhone app to make it even easier for students to see homework answers on the go.
It isn't cheating, at least from the company's perspective.
Slader founders Kyle Gerrity and Scott Kolb met in high school, where they became frustrated with homework assignments and shared solutions via fax machine. At first, they seeded Slader with homework answers from math majors at local universities. But these days, much of the site's hundreds of answers to textbook questions comes from high school students themselves, who can rate and comment on answers from others. "The premise of the site is that it's an open platform for high school and early college students to tap into an online study hall," says Gerrity.
If a solution isn't up to par, a user can request "gold"—Slader's currency for buying access to answers—in exchange for completing a better one. Students can also ask others for help on unanswered questions, offering gold as a reward. All students start out with 500 gold, which can be redeemed for access to a certain number of answers. More gold can be purchased with a credit card, Paypal, and through iTunes (for students accessing the site through their iPhones). While most high schoolers don't have credit cards, Kolb points out that they do often have Paypal accounts, and many have iTunes access.
With the new app, Slader's homework-solving experience is nearly frictionless: sign up, browse the available answers or snap a picture of your own and upload it, buy more answers with an iTunes password or a thumbprint on the iPhone 5s. You could do the whole thing in front of a teacher and they probably wouldn't notice.
Kolb says using Slader is more of a collaboration than a tool for cheating. "It's what you do with older brothers, sisters, parents, a tutor. Slader is filling the niche of students struggling, who need help, but don't have access to someone in their immediate family who can help them," he says. "We want to challenge the notion that when you do homework, you should do it all yourself."
It's still hard to shake the feeling that a struggling math student might just use the service to squeak through class without actually learning anything. Nonetheless, a number of tutors and former teachers contribute to the site, and a former teacher of Kolb and Gerrity's spends most of his day moderating the site and watching as content rolls in.
The humanities will be more difficult to tackle than math and science, since English homework answers are usually more subjective. Slader is still testing the waters, but visit the platform today you'll find a smattering of English and history books, including novels like Animal Farm and The Bell Jar.