New Kind of E-Book Reports to Your Teacher

April 10th, 2013 by Hal Grossman

The Times had a fascinating article the other day about CourseSmart, a new software program for online textbooks that records what students do with the book, collects the data, and makes it available to professors, administrators, and the book’s publisher. The student can highlight and make notes online, and these, along with how often the student opens the book and how he or she navigates it, are collected to produce an “engagement index.” Professors who see that a student has a low engagement index can meet with the student or take other proactive steps.

CourseSmart is being tested now at nine campuses, and the big textbook publishers hope to bring it out nationally. The publishers like it, because it gives them information about which parts of the book work best. Also, the student can’t buy a used copy, so there is no secondary market to cut into profits. College administrators like it, because it gives them data to analyze and report on. That leaves only professors and students.

What do you think of an e-textbook that keeps track of how you study? Please share your thoughts.

I’ll start: There’s a Russian emigre comedian named Yakov Smirnoff, who was especially popular in the 1980s (he’s still around). I never thought he was all that funny, but he had one great joke:

“In America, you watch television. In Soviet Union, television watches you.”

Well, now with CourseSmart, “In America, textbook reads you.”

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