Dear Commons Community,
Several Texas A&M professors know something that generations of teachers could only hope to guess: whether students are reading their textbooks. They know when students are skipping pages, failing to highlight significant passages, not bothering to take notes — or simply not opening the book at all. One brief article comments:
“It’s Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent,” said Tracy Hurley, the dean of the school of business at Texas A&M.
The faculty members here are neither clairvoyant nor peering over shoulders. They, along with colleagues at eight other colleges, are testing technology from a Silicon Valley start-up, CourseSmart, that allows them to track their students’ progress with digital textbooks.
Major publishers in higher education have already been collecting data from millions of students who use their digital materials. But CourseSmart goes further by individually packaging for each professor information on all the students in a class — a bold effort that is already beginning to affect how teachers present material and how students respond to it, even as critics question how well it measures learning. The plan is to introduce the program broadly this fall.
Adrian Guardia, a Texas A&M instructor in management, took notice the other day of a student who was apparently doing well. His quiz grades were solid, and so was what CourseSmart calls his “engagement index.” But Mr. Guardia also saw something else: that the student had opened his textbook only once.
“It was one of those aha moments,” said Mr. Guardia, who is tracking 70 students in three classes. “Are you really learning if you only open the book the night before the test? I knew I had to reach out to him to discuss his studying habits.”
Students do not see their engagement indexes unless a professor shows them, but they know the books are watching them. For a few, merely hearing the number is a shock. Charles Tejeda got a C on the last quiz, but the real revelation that he is struggling was a low CourseSmart index.
“They caught me,” said Mr. Tejeda, 43. He has two jobs and three children, and can study only late at night. “Maybe I need to focus more,” he said.
CourseSmart is owned by Pearson, McGraw-Hill and other major publishers, which see an opportunity to cement their dominance in digital textbooks by offering administrators and faculty a constant stream of data about how students are doing.”
Big brother indeed but most faculty members would probably like to know more about their students’ reading habits.
Thanks, Alyson, for your comment and insights.
Blackboard currently offers rudimentary tools for knowing whether students are opening the material that is posted and because it is an optional checkmark I don’t believe the feature gets used very much. It shouldn’t surprise faculty to learn that much of the material offered is never cracked open- this system seems to go a longer way towards early detection and helps to glean meaning from any particular student as a snapshot into their study habits which bodes well but will of course only work if it’s used to its best potential! Limitations are that they are still textbooks and theres lots more resding mateial out there and not all instructors want to know their students aren’t paying attention to the material they so carefully take the time to pick and choose!