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Web site offers new study options for students

Every day, students make the decision: three hours on Facebook or three hours studying for that exam. For those students who choose Facebook or Myspace, a new Web site offers an alternative to Cliffsnotes that provides the resources for quick study sessions.Nov. 11 marked the official launch for the website Shmoop.com, a free online homework and writing helper for students. Designed with college students in mind, Shmoop.com covers over 180 topics in literature, poetry, American history and is still growing. President and CEO of Shmoop.com, Ellen Siminoff, said the Web site was two years in the making and was first thought up when her husband was reading a book to their daughter. Siminoff said that she and her husband wanted a way to encourage their child to read and be excited about it, too. After researching sites on the Internet, the Siminoff’s didn’t find any Web sites like the kind they had in mind. “There wasn’t anything that was relevant, exciting, that wasn’t trying to sell you books,” Siminoff said.The premise behind the Web site is to give students a site in which thinking and having different points of view is promoted. Instead of giving students the answers, Shmoop.com presents information in such a way that students must use their own knowledge to further their studying. Siminoff said Shmoop.com gives information that is written in a “referenced” and “relatable” way, but is also “fun and relative in the digital age.”Siminoff said she finds one of the hardest things to do in life is to just write a good paper. Therefore, Shmoop.com provides a writing helper for students who are writing essays. The writing tool helps students organize their thoughts and outline their work.”The ‘bully on the schoolyard’ is a blank sheet of paper,” Siminoff said.Siminoff said the Web site was set up with all of the different levels of students’ interests taken into consideration. Shmoop.com is still evolving as a Web site, and Siminoff said they want to continue to expand their subjects and material. If a student wants to heavily research a specific era in the U.S. or famous piece of literature, they can browse through such study topics as plot analysis, themes, or timeline of events. The site offers citations and links to other web sources, also, to further enhance the student’s knowledge on a subject. For students who wake up one morning and realize they’ve forgotten the exam they have in four hours that they haven’t studied for, Shmoop.com offers a “cram sheet” that contains important dates, topics, and people for various subjects.Scotty Yates, sophomore at Tyler Junior College said the concept of Shmoop.com seemed accessible. He can use the web site to get what he needs to accomplish when he needs to versus meeting with a study group or tutor. As well as being a full-time student, Yates also works part time. As a busy a student, Yates said he uses the internet a lot to help with getting sources of information.TJC student, Ryan Fowler agreed with Yates. Fowler is the Vice President of the student organization F.Y.E. which he said keeps him “really” busy. Fowler said he would use Shmoop.com if it provided more facts and information for an assignment. Furthermore, he said he thinks that if there is a site with information to help students write papers or study for exams, students should use the site to their advantage.”If it helps me, why not use it? Obviously that’s what it’s there for, to help me out,” Fowler said.Another TJC Student, Natalie Garrett, is also a busy student. With a 22- hour course load as well as a job in the Student Life Office at TJC, Garrett said, “I need all the help I can get.” She went on to say that she employs a number of different study methods, and she would definitely add Shmoop.com to her list. Although some students agree that Shmoop.com is beneficial to their studying habits, instructors and professors said they still consider the Web site to be just another way for students to get out of doing the work on their own.”Nothing can take the place of reading and thinking for yourself,” Instructor of Literature and Humanities, Linda Gary, said. “When you engage in a conversation with a writer through the vehicle of a literary work, you discover for yourself the ideas contained within a work.”Gary said the whole point of a student reading a piece of literature without the use of study guides is that the students develop critical thinking skills. Gary said that she is skeptical of sites that offer aid to students because students usually end up getting the wrong information. Also, strictly using study guides takes away from student-to-student discussions. The majority of the current information on the website was written by Ph.D. and M.A. students from well-known universities in the U.S. Although the information on the Web site is written by people who have seemingly mastered their craft, the website is always open to feedback from users. “One of the best things you can do is say ‘I disagree’,” Siminoff said. For more information or to offer feedback, visit Shmoop.com. Siminoff also welcomes student feedback via email at Ellen@Shmoop.com.

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