Education, Literature

Big Brother’s Textbook Is Watching You Read

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS “IN MY DAY” REFERENCES

College textbooks have always been overpriced. They were in 1982 at Grand Rapids Junior College, where I worked in the college bookstore, and they are still overpriced in 2013 at Grand Rapids Community College, where I’m allowed to teach EN 101 and 102.

To offer more “value” to today’s students, many textbooks include access to digital versions of the text. This itself isn’t entirely new, but a couple of publishers, Pearson and McGraw Hill, offer CourseSmart, which allows instructors to monitor their students’ reading habits. Supposedly, this data can be used by the publishers to improve future editions of a text. Of course, it can be used by instructors to mine “engagement information” which “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.”

So I can virtually peer over my students’ shoulders, is that right?

I think I’ll stick to the Socratic method. After asking a few questions, any decent teacher can tell if students have read the homework.

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