Recently, a friend of mine pointed me at the article, "Psst! Need the Answer to No. 7? Click Here.", from the New York Times. I found it an interesting article, and wondered how many of my students were using online services to look at former students' notes, or for solutions. Every semester, I put a question on my course evaluations asking what outside resources students used. This is mostly to help point me at new and helpful sources. However, I've yet to get a direct reference (besides "Google"). It's always frustrating.
But anyway, after reading the article, and observing, as my friend pointed out, that all of the solutions for the calculus text that we use (Stewart) are on cramster.com, I was struck by a sort of comparison with the music industry. A decade ago (and still) the music industry was put into turmoil because it became easy to put music online, accessibly and freely. Whole albums and individual songs were there for the taking. The parallel to seeing whole solution manuals, and solutions to individual solutions, struck me.
I like to think there is an important difference. Downloading songs online, without paying for them, didn't hurt the consumer (directly - now we've gotta deal with all sorts of crap, but that's not my point). Besides, I suppose some might argue, a sort of moral degradation or something. With solutions being freely accessible online, it seems like only the consumer (student) is being hurt (to me, at first glance, anyway).
Of course, they're only being hurt if they aren't appropriately using the solutions. If they take the easy route on homeworks, and copy a few solutions, they'll likely have trouble at test time (if they don't, more power to them - or not). I don't think there's any argument that these resources can be used to improve the learning experience, instead of cheat it.
Should I spend some of my class time teaching students how to effectively use solutions manuals? Does anybody point their students at solutions manuals (or similar things online)? Do you incorporate them into your teaching? Or does it seem a non-issue, because students don't use them? Are students more likely to come to office hours to get help?
It occurs to me that while cramster might have a certain convenience, the solution manual for our textbook is available for short-term (something like 3 hours I think) checkout at the library.