E-Textbooks with Engagement Index: Good Idea or Not?

 This week a New York Times article was released about CourseSmart’s new technology for universities—e-textbooks with an engagement index. The Engagement index allows teachers to monitor whether a student is reading the textbook and taking sufficient notes. The purpose of this is to help teachers see how their students study in order to better address their teaching styles and student’s learning abilities. This new development also sends feedback to publishers about what chapters students are reading the most and can help their revenue. However is this new technology beneficial to the students? After reading the article, here are what some of the study body at University of North George (UNG) have to say about it.

Christopher Shull’s first reaction was “Wow. Just Wow.” An English Literature major at UNG, Shull had a few opinions. “I have three distinct opinions on this:

The slacker-student in me cringes at this: I’m so used to not doing the reading or, more regularly, doing a portion of the work, but not nearly all of it, but still excelling on tests, quizzes, and essays because of honed interpolation, inference, etc skills. If a teacher could pull up information that I haven’t been reading, even though I’ve been excelling, I don’t know how that would affect my grades, but I’d bet it wouldn’t be positive.

The future-teacher in me is all for it: this idea could add another dimension of examining students and their learning methods, thus allowing for better tailoring of lessons to them. I only wish to caution against relying too much on the scores because of all the reasons mentioned in the article.

The scholar in me sees this as potentially positive, but more likely as another in the long wave of “data-based teaching,” a bane on the educational system. Collecting more data on students CAN lead to improved and customized teaching, but it typically leads to the lazy teachers just incorporating secondary and tertiary data, like this, into their grading.”

Similarly, another student, Kimberlee Zabawa, believes that this technology shows promise. She states, “The CourseSmart E-Textbooks have potential benefits as well as potential limits. I agree that it could be useful for teachers who want to track their student’s engagement efforts. They will be able to access the student’s progress outside of class in a way that has never before been possible. I also think that if the grade of the student is affected by their “engagement index,” the student will find ways to improve their score without putting in the effort which will skew the results and undermine the findings. Overall, I think the technology can help the teachers as they will be able to pinpoint where the student needs to improve concerning preparation and studying. The findings of the CourseSmart technology, however, should not be relied on too much; the teachers still have to be prepared to address student’s engagement progress. How will they get the students to apply themselves given the information they will be provided with? Hopefully, the publishers will use the information they gather to improve the textbook and make learning fun for the students.”

However, another student, Amy Sprague, believes that this program could potentially be too invasive. “As a college student, I have the right to do my assignments and the readings as it benefits me. Professors should not be allowed to monitor students so closely. I understand that it does have potential benefits such as helping struggling students, but that is as far as it should go.”

Bryan McCloud sees both the benefits and faults to the systems. He states, “This article presented an interesting innovation, with a lot of upsides and downsides. The most important boon this system provides, as far as I could tell from the article, is that it gives publishers valuable information. With this they could change the publishing industry, at least in regards to educational books, for the better. The downside, though, would be if the teachers took the information received at face value. As the article noted, it’d be easy to cheat the system. Being college students ourselves, I’m sure we know many who would do just that, whether it is a slacker or someone diligent that doesn’t have time to change their study habits. Overall, I believe this could be a very handy system, depending on how they choose to ultimately use it. There’s a variety of ways to effectively implement this system, not just in the school system, because it’s a powerful tool to gather information with.

So far four universities have adapted the new e-textbooks and have found it to be overall beneficial although there are still issues, such as students not taking notes via the e-notes or leaving their book open while doing something else, that CourseSmart intends on addressing. What do you think of this new technology? Please comment below and let us know your opinions.

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