November 19, 2012
Professor Big Brother Is Watching
There is a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighting the metrics available to a faculty member who assigns an e-textbook for the course:
The feature is ostensibly marketed as something good. Faculty can reach out to students who show low engagement and counsel them for success. How about some of the other possible uses for the capability? The same information may be useful to authors and publishers in analyzing how their text is used by students. Some of the data may also be used by school administrators to evaluate faculty performance through that same level of student engagement. My point is really that when a pool of information is collected, there can be many uses beyond that intended. In any event, it’s another example of what was previously not measurable becoming extremely measurable. I can see it now: Hey, lets do a study comparing student performance across racial and ethnic groups. I know there are laws that protect student information and also regulate studies using human subjects. I have a feeling that helping students to succeed will be the least of the interesting uses for this capability. [MG]
When students use print textbooks, professors can’t track their reading. But as learning shifts online, everything students do in digital spaces can be monitored, including the intimate details of their reading habits.
Those details are what will make the new CourseSmart service tick. Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.