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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Daily Report: Keeping Tabs on Students’ E-Reading

Educators from nine universities are testing technology from a Silicon Valley start-up company, CourseSmart, allowing them to track their students’ progress with digital textbooks, David Streitfeld reports in The New York Times.

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 â€" 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.

In the old days, teachers knew if students understood the course from the expressions on their faces. Now some classes are entirely virtual. Engagement information could give the colleges early warning about which students might flunk out, while more broadly letting teachers know if the whole class is falling behind. Eventually, the data will flow back to the publishers to help prepare new editions.

Academic and popular publishers, as well as some authors, have dreamed for years of such feedback to direct sales and editorial efforts more efficiently. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are presumed to be collecting a trove of data from readers, although they decline to say what, if anything, they will do with it.

The predigital era, when writers wrote and publishers published, is seen as an amazingly ignorant time. “Before this, the publisher never knew if Chapter 3 was even looked at,” said Sean Devine, CourseSmart’s chief executive.

More than 3.5 million students and educators use CourseSmart textbooks and are already generating reams of data about Chapter 3. Among the colleges experimenting this semester are Clemson, Central Carolina Technical College and the State University at Stony Brook, as well as Texas A&M University-San Antonio.