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Teachers Know If You've Been E-Reading

timothy posted about a year ago | from the outsourceable-page-flipping-tasks dept.

Education 348

RougeFemme writes with this story in the New York Times about one disconcerting aspect of the ongoing move to electronic textbooks: "Teachers at 9 colleges are testing technology from a Silicon Valley start-up that lets them know if you're skipping pages, highlighting text, taking notes — or, of course, not opening the book at all. '"It's Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent," said Tracy Hurley, the dean of the school of business at Texas A&M.' '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 — 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.'"

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No!!! (1)

therealobsideus (1610557) | about a year ago | (#43399955)

I don't want my professors knowing that I am totally using SparkNotes!

Re:No!!! (3, Insightful)

orthancstone (665890) | about a year ago | (#43400489)

Maybe your professors should know if there are better options available.

Disconcerting? (2)

Xugumad (39311) | about a year ago | (#43399965)

Why is it disconcerting?

I mean... yes, it can be mis-used. The data should be used to flag up pupils who may be struggling, but will also flag those who may already know the material, but just because data could be incorrectly used doesn't make it inherently worrying.

Does it?

Re:Disconcerting? (5, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400005)

Because it is worthless.

Again the easy thing to measure is the wrong thing. If the student read the material from this ebook has not a thing in a the world to do with the student knowing the material or not. He may have learned it in the past, he may read another book about the subject or hacked the ebook so he could read it on another device.

The danger here is substituting the easy to measure metric "Pages Read" for the much tougher "Material Understood".

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400051)

Professors have standards, and ethical requirements.
What you worry about just won't happen.

For at least two weeks.
Possibly a third.

Shit, who even needs to grade them on their work? You KNOW whether or not they've read the bloody book with this.

Re:Disconcerting? (2)

leonardluen (211265) | about a year ago | (#43400331)

Shit, who even needs to grade them on their work? You KNOW whether or not they've read the bloody book with this.

that is awesome because my book will show i read it 432 times, on the first day of class even! so i must be an expert in the material by now!

if they start monitoring page reads, then just wait for someone to make an script to automatically flip the pages for them so it appears they read it.

Re:Disconcerting? (5, Interesting)

neokushan (932374) | about a year ago | (#43400359)

I would guess that this will be mostly used to protect the professor's back. So what if a student doesn't read the material, when it comes down to it and the student scores poorly on an exam, the professor can bring up their statistics and point out that it's the student's fault, not theirs.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400081)

How does the student know if they know the material in the ebook without looking at the pages?

Re:Disconcerting? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400101)

Because the student knows the subject already.
I had several university classes that I was able to score a 4 in that I never bought or even saw a copy of the written material. It would have been a waste of time and money for me to buy and read those books.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400153)

Then it was a waste of time for you to take the class. And depending on the country you're from, you were just wasting your own money if it was a university class. Speaking as someone who's been in academics for decades, I simply asked to move onto a harder class in that case.

And there are classes that I could teach now where, if for some reason I was sitting in, it would still be meaningful for the instructor to know if I looked at the book, and things I could learn even if I know the subject.

Re:Disconcerting? (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400205)

In some of those cases I did ask, and was promptly denied for that class was a prereq for the next class. I tested out whenever possible in that type of situation.

The instructor does not need to know, if it is meaningful to him, he is a poor instructor. His job is to present the class, offering the readings and hold tests. Not to be your babysitter.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Xeranar (2029624) | about a year ago | (#43400309)

What kind of class are you in? In science classes the texts are nothing without an explanation or transistion. In social sciences the texts are great but lack the minutia of discussion. I just don't see a class where the professor is just some exam proctor. Maybe you're just conflating your ego a bit too much as if the professor was in the way of your intellect.

Re:Disconcerting? (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400373)

I graduated a long time ago.

Some of these were entry level physics which the textbook and high school more than covered and CS classes. If a science textbook needs explanation then textbook is poorly written.

I would posit that in every 101 level class the prof was just an exam proctor. They were all highschool over again.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about a year ago | (#43400211)

IT's not quite that simple. It may be the case that the lectures alone are enough to know the subject. It may also be that you can't take a harder class, or that there is no purpose for you to take a harder class. If the degree you are seeking requires a certain level biology credit, and you know biology to that level, the path of least resistance is to sleep through class and ace the tests. Is it as efficient as if you could simply test out of the bio credit? No, but I don't believe that's possible with a large number of institutions.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43400281)

Is it as efficient as if you could simply test out of the bio credit? No, but I don't believe that's possible with a large number of institutions.

Been some years for me, but as I recall some colleges charge as much to challenge the course as to take it. If you do challenge it, they'll bust your shoes in any way possible. Easier, and no more expensive, to take the class and snooze.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400403)

In mine a test out was free, but it only got you a Pass for the class with 0 credit hours. So if you need 10 Chem credit hours, why test out only to have to still take 10 hours in a now harder class?

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Lazere (2809091) | about a year ago | (#43400217)

What if I'm already in the highest level classes I can take, but I need the degree to move on? Granted, I've always found the actual class part engaging. I just rarely need the book.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400245)

Then it was a waste of time for you to take the class.

Not if taking the class was required for getting your degree.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400417)

Like one of my teachers said: this course is for those who want to learn, for those ho know and those who think they know.

And a 4 is a pretty pathetic grading, you should try to get a 5+ in each. Or you are content being a mediocre all your life?

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400481)

4 was the maximum possible grade.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400299)

What about two students learning together, and using the ebook of one of the students (thus causing the other student's copy to never be touched)?
What about a student having a printed copy of that book and using that?

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about a year ago | (#43400091)

hacked the ebook so he could read it on another device.

Or even ... printed it.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

HolyLime (926158) | about a year ago | (#43400123)

Because it is worthless.

Again the easy thing to measure is the wrong thing. If the student read the material from this ebook has not a thing in a the world to do with the student knowing the material or not. He may have learned it in the past, he may read another book about the subject or hacked the ebook so he could read it on another device.

The danger here is substituting the easy to measure metric "Pages Read" for the much tougher "Material Understood".

THANK YOU! And as a teacher I am going to add that most textbooks are dry, boring, and ineffectual.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400311)

and with e-books being just digital versions of the book, the e-book is "dry, boring, and ineffectual."

Also, a new excuse for not reading the material is "the battery died"

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400313)

Surely not these books [] on physics.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43400179)

The danger here is substituting the easy to measure metric "Pages Read" for the much tougher "Material Understood".

Not only easier to measure, but more "socially desirable". Instead of grading students on whether they've learned the material, you can grade them on whether they've tried to learn the material. This avoids the sometimes embarrassing fact that not everyone can hack certain courses.

At a lower level, I'm not a hard-ass about this. "A for effort" may be appropriate, to a certain extent, in elementary school, where you have to take into account that kids mental abilities may develop at different times, and can't be properly ascertained until they're a bit older. But in college? No way. At a college level nobody should even care if you attend classes, so long as you learn the material.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400271)

The problem with allowing the "A for effort" in elementary education is that this then breeds an expectation in the student and the whole system.

If you cannot read by end of First grade, you should be repeating. Instead today we "A for effort" until 6th grade and then maybe a higher level teacher does more than promote them to get rid of them. The end result is people graduating high school that can't read at a functional level.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | about a year ago | (#43400467)

My problem is what really constitutes "effort"? A student in the earlier grades who performs well may not put much effort into individual assignments, but has an attitude and lifestyle that permits good marks. While kids from a good home where the basics (ABC's and 123's) can do the entire homework with no mistakes and no effort, some kids who didn't receive such things in their childhood may have to put forth a lot of effort to do a particular assignment, but ultimately will still be unable to get all the answers right. However, the child who puts in no "effort" for the particular assignment is probably putting in a decent amount of effort by reading and doing other learning tasks on their own time.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

lxs (131946) | about a year ago | (#43400183)

If only somebody would invent a way to examine the student's level of understanding. Some sort of "test" if you will. You could call it an "examination", or maybe an "exam" for short.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400231)

Those are difficult to write well, harder to grade well and it is extremely difficult to present that data to others.

Pages read on the other hand is easier in all aspects.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400279)

Unfortunately, there are plenty of exams that are simply garbage and are easily passed simply by memorizing facts and procedures. Of course, well-designed tests can avoid this, but so many people seem to care more about rote learning than actual understanding...

Re:Disconcerting? (2, Interesting)

Xeranar (2029624) | about a year ago | (#43400269)

You're making some pretty strong assumptions. First that professors care whether students read the material, we don't. This is big person school and you should be doing what we assigned as it is nominally expected. I'm the biggest giver in my department, if young adults come to me and ask for help or a more thorough explanation I always give it. This is a really great metric to see if assigning a reading is worthwhile as to see if the majority reads it or refers to another source. Second the alternatives you give seem a little outlandish. Hacking an ebook isn't exactly grade school knowledge and at most a kid is more likely to download a PDF of the book from a torrent site than break the encryption on the software.

This is why people get paranoid over nothing. Professors in general are more hurt when you don't read than angry. We wonder why we screwed up more than you.

Re:Disconcerting? (4, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400325)

Some professors do care if pages are read, or will once they realize that this is an easy metric to gather.

I once got a 3.0 in a class instead of a 4.0 even though I scored a 97% on the Final, a 96% on the tests and a 98% on Labs. I never attended any class meeting other than examinations. For that my grade was docked by a moron who surely would use this pages read metric as another way to be a petty dictator. He could not write a simple sort on the board without consulting his notes, but somehow I was supposed to waste my time in his class.

I don't think knowing the material before is that outlandish, nor is downloading a simple tool to crack an ebook. We did that when I was in university and that was pretty much the beginning of that sort of thing. These were generally PDFs that would only open in some DRMed client.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

readin (838620) | about a year ago | (#43400381)

If the ebook is to be used on a internet browser, it could be that the parents had to purchas a hardcopy of the book due to a poorly designed website.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

FireFury03 (653718) | about a year ago | (#43400065)

Why is it disconcerting?

I mean... yes, it can be mis-used. The data should be used to flag up pupils who may be struggling, but will also flag those who may already know the material, but just because data could be incorrectly used doesn't make it inherently worrying.

Does it?

But who wants teachers/bosses/whoever prying into everything they do? Those who want to learn will learn, those who don't won't, irrespective of whether someone's spying on them.

Re:But who wants teachers/bosses/whoever prying? (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about a year ago | (#43400263)

This was the entire point of Freshman year - in return for your tuition (!!) among other things you got to get away from a daily "papers please" mentality of the lower grades, and then you were graded on the fewer metrics for that class, "however you (presumed honestly) got there". Cue the brilliant slackers types having to face their latent tendencies.

This just another sad factor showing that data leads to people getting a carnal lust to control people with.

Re:Disconcerting? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400353)

Actually I guess there will just evolve more ways to cheat. After all, you cannot really see from the data whether the student reads the pages, even less understands them. Therefore the student may just open the pages at some credible rate. Maybe there will be lists circulating of items that you should highlight on your ebook in order to get more credits (not that I ever highlighted anything in my books; I guess I would have been labelled a bad learner by this system ...)

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

maz2331 (1104901) | about a year ago | (#43400099)

Yes, it is inherently wrong, especially in a college setting where the student is paying to attend the classes. Maybe if the tech had proper controls where the student was in charge of what got shared, with whom, and when it could be a positive (ie... struggling and can ask for help, then provide the access for review and suggestions).

Otherwise, it's just an outright invasion of the student's privacy.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about a year ago | (#43400103)

What makes it disconcerting is that it shows that the publishers of e-books have the ability to know what parts of it I am reading.
Of course, the article actually makes a point of showing as an example of how it is good by highlighting what I would call a misuse of this technology. A professor noticed that a student, who by every traditional measure of doing well was doing excellent, didn't read the textbook. Instead of concluding that the student was able to learn the material from his lectures and other sources concluded that the student wasn't actually learning the material. I was an "A" student through high school and college, scoring well within the top percentile on every type of standardized test I ever took (including the MCAT), yet I rarely read the textbooks (although I usually read my roommates' textbooks).. The reason I never read the textbooks was because they rarely contained anything that added to my knowledge over and above what the professor presented in lecture.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

six025 (714064) | about a year ago | (#43400133)

The data should be used to flag up pupils who may be struggling

IANAT and probably don't appreciate everything that being a teacher entails, but whatever happened to engaging with students and knowing who requires extra attention or some other method of engagement to get them motivated?

I'm all for technology, but some problems are human problems and won't be solved by adding new technology to the mix. If anything it will make some situations worse, as we become lazier (rely on the machines to do our job) and further removed from each other.

Just my 2 cents.


Re:Disconcerting? (1)

shadowrat (1069614) | about a year ago | (#43400151)

That sounds suspiciously like the argument, "If you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.", that is brought up to support all kinds of big brotherish laws.

We have had a perfectly good system to measure how well people are learning material. It's called a test. You pass it, you know the material. what difference does it matter if the person is good at highlighting? maybe I happen to already know the material but have to take the course because there's no mechanism to allow me to test out of it. Now i have to spend hours reading it even though i'll ace the tests?

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Mystakaphoros (2664209) | about a year ago | (#43400189)

Kinda like how Hurley's comment in the article (“It’s Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent!") does basically nothing to distinguish this from any other Big Brotherish effort. Most of 'em seem like a nice idea at first.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

nine-times (778537) | about a year ago | (#43400257)

These days, it should be disconcerting whenever people start collecting data which can easily be misused, especially when the valid uses for that data is limited. The reason you should be concerned is that data will almost certainly be used for something, most likely by someone who doesn't really understand how to analyze the data.

We're a society obsessed with metrics. We've had a lot of success with science and automation and statistical analyses, and we've been primed to expect that numbers mean things. When you or I see an obvious trend on a line graph-- it doesn't matter how smart we are-- we think that trend is a sign of some real trend even before we know what the line graph represents. We assume that it's the result of some kind of controlled study by people smarter than us, and that their conclusions are probably correct.

So make no mistake: if schools start using this, there will be cases where a student gets into trouble for "not reading his book". There will be kids who will open their ebooks and flip through them at calculated rates, and there will be teachers who believe that means that they read the book. There will be news stories saying, "According to a scientific study, x% of students don't even complete their reading assignments," and that study may or may not be accurate. We won't know whether it's accurate, because we'll just trust the numbers presented by some reporter without understanding that it was derived from a questionable measurement.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

Jawnn (445279) | about a year ago | (#43400283)

Why disconcerting? Let's say I read with a truly unusual level of speed and comprehension. Come exam time, I've spent only a fraction of the "expected" time with my "nose in a book", and yet I ace the test. Repeat. It's not long before I am suspected of cheating. Fuck that and the notion that my instructors need to know how much time I've spent studying. They need to know that I've mastered the material I was assigned. Period.

Obvious loophole, obvious issue (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about a year ago | (#43400305)

Do you really think students will struggle to get used to touching the 'next page' button about every 1-5 minutes, while playing their computer games?
Teachers will only catch the odd unprepared student who honestly did not have time to study. The professional slackers however will walk free.

We should give students the responsibility. It is their life, their responsibility. Takes about 18-25 years on average to grow up. And this kind of thing just is not helping to achieve becoming an adult.

Cramming some stupid facts into their heads is only one of the task of schools. Making adults out of them is another. Sometimes those conflict. Deal with it.

Re:Disconcerting? (1)

MacTO (1161105) | about a year ago | (#43400323)

It all depends upon how the data is used. Proper use can suggest where students are struggling, so that in class instruction can be improved. In conjunction with other data, it can be used to identify and help at risk students. Of course, it can also indicate whether a textbook is a valuable resource or otherwise.

On the other hand, it can be abused. I was forced to drop a course back in the days of paper textbooks because I refused to buy a book that the instructor had written. The book that I had from a prior course was better suited to my style of learning (e.g. it forced me to derive proofs rather than be spoon-fed proofs, the prose was more concise and more interesting, and I was familiar with the structure of the book). Now the issue only came up because I brought up the issue. In the realm of electronic textbooks, the instructor need only compare the list of students enrolled in the class to the list of students registered to use the textbook.

Now things aren't always that bad. I had professors who wrote the book and were perfectly okay with students who photocopied it (i.e. the other extreme). But when things get in the way of a professor's, department's, or university's business plan it can get nasty. I managed to step on the feet of all three levels. Fortunately, only the instructor was vindictive.

BB with good intent (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43399967)

F that.

I don't care about intent I care about ability. Intent can change unexpectedly.

Re:BB with good intent (2)

fermion (181285) | about a year ago | (#43400435)

It is sad that some consider such micromanagement necessary for a college student. It is like taking roll. When I was in college prof came in, lectured, gave assignments, never mentioned or in larger classes knew who was there. Responsible adults know who to get where they need to be, and if they are not responsible they should not be in college or get a degree.

So the problem is the good intent here is to help students be responsible. Of course one value of a college degree is that is shows that one can be responsible and get work done without supervision of excessive explanation. Instead of paying a supervisor or expensive training courses, the employer can just pay you large sums of money to get a job done. It is really win win.

Unless, of course, college, with good intentions, begin to supervise students so they never learn how to be self motivated. Then we get the current generation of kids that have helicopter parents, and overbearing colleges, who write whiny books about how they were actually expected to do work, without specific instructions, after college.

So really, give them the resources, give them useful tasks, and if a student does not choose to learn then fail them. If they can afford to take a class a second time, then maybe they will succeed. If they don't have the discipline, maybe college is not for them.

As an aside, such things as this have not developed in a vacuum. Some Universities are under pressure to admit more students. Some Universities are under pressure to admit students who previously would not be admitted. Now, there is no problem with this. I believe that every student should have an opportunity to try University. There is no reason to set a threshold and say at this point one is not going to University. However, some are also thinking there should be graduation standards at Univeristy. For some, like for profit universities that accept on basis on ability to get a student loan, this makes sense. They are selling a product, and there should be some quality assurance. But many universities still sell opportunity to learn, and they should be allowed to vet student based on perceived ability, and then let the student sink or swim. If college is like High School, where we hand hold students through the process, then there really is no point in it.

intent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43399971)

"It's Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent"

Well, THAT makes it all ok...

Aren't they all? (5, Insightful)

fox1324 (1039892) | about a year ago | (#43399973)

Aren't all 'big brother' systems put into place "with good intent"?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43399987)

Yes, it's Big Brother, and you reap what you sow.

"but with a good intent"???? (3, Interesting)

FooAtWFU (699187) | about a year ago | (#43399991)

The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

-- C. S. Lewis

(who, on a side-note, also wrote a snazzy novel which more or less served as the blueprint for 1984 []

Make it a criminal act to read someone else's book (1)

gelfling (6534) | about a year ago | (#43399993)

Thereby forcing everyone to buy an ebook. All Hail

Re:Make it a criminal act to read someone else's b (3, Interesting)

Urban Garlic (447282) | about a year ago | (#43400129)

Obligatory link [] .

It turns out this hypothetical scenario actually was too extreme, it was set much too far in the future...

Just test! (5, Insightful)

White Flame (1074973) | about a year ago | (#43399995)

If they pass the test, who cares if they just learned from lectures, knew the material from beforehand, looked it up from another source, or other non-textbook methods of learning? The point is that, at the end of the class, the student can show they learned the material.

Re:Just test! (1)

Xugumad (39311) | about a year ago | (#43400021)

Well, if they're doing this properly, it shouldn't be about whether the student learnt the material, but how.

It should be used to show:

Students who aren't engaging with the material, and may require early intervention
Levels of interest in the material (would different material suit the learners better?)
Problems with the material (are there particular parts many learners highlight and/or comment on? Could indicate confusion, for example)

Re:Just test! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400053)

How would you deal with a student that already knew the material?

He will read 0 pages, does not need intervention, has no interest in it or any other material about this topic and cannot tell if there are problems with the material or not.

So long as he knows the material there is no problem to solve.

Re:Just test! (1)

mjtaylor24601 (820998) | about a year ago | (#43400203)

How would you deal with a student that already knew the material?

Well I'm no expert in education but I expect the conversation would go something like this:

Professor:Hey Bob, I see on the computer here that you haven't been doing the required reading. Are you having trouble understanding something?

Bob:No, I've just already studied this subject in the past.

Professor:OK, great. Let me know if you have any questions.

That is of course assuming it was used properly. I highly doubt any Professor worth the name is just going to summarily flunk every student that the computer says didn't do the reading.

Re:Just test! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400457)

I will put even money on it that some will use it to drop students a letter grade or make reading the book X% of the class grade. This sort of thing is much easier than actually doing their jobs.

Re:Just test! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400117)

This. I can't see a way how this technology could be used in measuring how well someone has learnt the material. However I can see many ways how this could be used to help students learn about themselves and how they study. Some people might just skim the material without realizing it themselves. You could draw a statistic between good grades and time spent reading the book ( would be interesting to see if there is a correlation ).

Might also be usefull in developing better books.

Re:Just test! (1)

Lazere (2809091) | about a year ago | (#43400295)

That actually sounds like it could be a good idea, as long as you don't give it directly to the teachers/professors. I can see too many of them going "reading the book is worth n% of your final grade". I'm not sure I could actually support that.

Re:Just test! (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400025)

That is a hard metric, this is an easy one. People love easy metrics, never mind if they are actually worth anything. With this you can make spreadsheets and powerpoint slides, those allow you have meetings and pretend to be important.

Re:Just test! (1)

nine-times (778537) | about a year ago | (#43400289)

Tests aren't always great metrics either. Some people are good at tests, while others are bad. Tests are too easily swayed by stress level, recent sleep patterns, and diet.

Personally, I think teacher should get to know their students and talk to them rather than relying solely on metrics, but I understand that we don't think education is important enough to spend all that time on it.

Re:Just test! (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | about a year ago | (#43400119)

The problem is, tests become metrics which go beyond the single classroom and teacher - suddenly the school, the district, the national bodies and the PTAs all want access to the testing data, and they start to equate test metrics with teacher quality rather than student effort (when the reality is a mix of both).

I don't see an issue with the features raised in the article, so long as the teachers do not solely rely on it - it does become a good way to ensure that pupils are spending time with the resources, and using them properly, and it allows teachers to spot pupils which aren't bothering at all, or are cramming in the early hours before the test, which is certainly something that should be raised at the PTA conferences if the pupil isn't doing well overall.

So long as it doesn't replace a greater encompassing look at the student, its a good tool for following some aspects of their learning.

Re:Just test! (1)

LaggedOnUser (1856626) | about a year ago | (#43400259)

You're probably right. People who pass the test have nothing to complain about and don't cause problems. The teacher is unlikely to care if they actually read the material in that case. On the other hand, imagine the student who didn't pass. They can tell him, "You didn't pass because you didn't read the material, so you have nothing to complain about." His complaints will get nowhere. If nothing else, it makes their job defending themselves as educators easier. The one who never cracks the book then blames the teacher when he fails will no longer cause problems for them.

Re:Just test! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400393)

The metric "passed the test" as just as bad as the metric "e-pages read" when used as a substitute for understanding the material.

Very useful, obviously. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43399999)

Because every student has a similar style of learning.

PageTurner (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400003)

I am patenting Pageturner, proven to be the best way to spoof your e-book reading!

This software package turns pages while you drink a beer.

Re:PageTurner (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43400223)

I am patenting Pageturner, proven to be the best way to spoof your e-book reading!

Perfect! Between the Big Brother software and the anti-Big Brother software, at least it'll get the economy moving. Keynes (cue conservative and libertarian rants) once opined that in a recession you could help the economy by paying group A to dig holes and group B to fill them in. Certainly a good example of pointless for that era, but I doubt he realized how amazingly good computers would be at doing pointless things.

Shows how obsolete the mind of most teachers is .. (1)

GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) | about a year ago | (#43400013)

I haven't taken a note in my entire life, and I consider highlighting books to be sacrilege.

Taking notes is overrated. If your brain can't process the information, taking notes won't mean anything in the long run. It's just a exam-passing technique, but it won't help you understand better and certainly will not help you hold on to more knowledge beyond the date of the exam you are studying for.

Read the damn book. Then read some more on the subject, and by all means skip pages and passages if you consider them non-important or redundant. In the real world you will not have time to read 1500 pages of product documentation to understand an API. Learning to skip the irrelevant content and find the relevant information quickly is a fundamental skill.

stop using 3-4 books and only using parts of them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400067)

stop using 3-4 books and only using parts of them

Re:stop using 3-4 books and only using parts of th (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400137)

There are two types of learners: One type tries to read a given book from front to back, perhaps several times, trying to learn everything that can be learned from it. The other type tries to learn what he wants to know and uses whatever information is at his disposal. People who use the former method become experts. People who use the latter method become problem solvers. It is important to understand that you don't choose the method to get the kind of person you want. The person chooses the method because they are the kind of person they are.

Re:Shows how obsolete the mind of most teachers is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400115)

I agree with you, but some people are very visual and cannot retain without seeing things. "Memorization by wrote" and all that...

RE learning to get to the heart of the matter is a skill that is not taught in schools these days, nor is critical thinking. Kids are largely not even taught anymore; they are "taught" to pass the standardized tests the state dreams up. Real-world skills like shop, etc., have been replaced with junk like "foo-foo" electives that do nothing but give kids a chance to surf their mobiles whilst the teacher rambles on about this and that.

Disclaimer: I work in education and I see the above firsthand on a daily basis. I'm also in Texas, which spends more money on sports than on actual education. Sadly, our kids leave school without knowing the proper use of a semicolon, how to critically think, and I daresay, most could likely not find Madagascar on a map despite the recent animated hit.

Sadly, American schools eschew CS and science training and are being overtaken by what we deem "third-world" countries like Vietnam. This below article is both frightening for Americans and great for the Vietnamese.

Re:Shows how obsolete the mind of most teachers is (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about a year ago | (#43400147)

It's just a exam-passing technique, but it won't help you understand better and certainly will not help you hold on to more knowledge beyond the date of the exam you are studying for.

Maybe for you, but it sounds like you havent taken many notes, and it certainly sounds like you can only speak for yourself.

For me and many that I know, taking notes can be a way of summarizing and processing the information coming in. By restating what the teacher says in a different way, and by taking it down, one is re-committing it to memory in a more lasting way than passively sitting in the classroom.

IIRC its not even up for debate that "active" learning styles are on the whole more effective than passively listening to a lecture.

Re:Shows how obsolete the mind of most teachers is (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | about a year ago | (#43400343)

And you can speak only for yourself. Each person's brain works differently.

In my case, I'm not strong on "I/O", so if I'm taking notes, I'm clogging up channels that would be better used to absorb the lecture in the first place.

I figured this out gradually during college. The first year, I took copious notes and filled thick notebooks. After realizing that the note taking was counterproductive for me, the last couple of years, I took essentially no notes. My GPA remained the same, but my stress level dropped.

For people like myself, "active" learning is best kept to lab experiments and writing papers.

Re:Shows how obsolete the mind of most teachers is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400385)

Once I truly come to understand something, it has already been memorized. If your goal is to memorize something, then I think you've got your priorities wrong.

Re:Shows how obsolete the mind of most teachers is (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43400399)

For me and many that I know, taking notes can be a way of summarizing and processing the information coming in.

In other words, everybody learns in a different way. All the more reason this Big Brother software is a bad idea. The worst possible thing would be to try to force everyone into a standard way of studying.

Start the countdown (2)

BigSlowTarget (325940) | about a year ago | (#43400029)

Next up: an app which automatically turns the pages and shares highlighting. (If this is used for grading or implicitly incorporated into paper/project grading).

No Educational Value (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400043)

The prof has no interest in whether or not you read the book. He simply does not care! Don't read it, fail the class, he still gets paid.

This information is either completely pointless, or has some potential for increased profits form the publishers.

It will not be used to improve your education, facilitate your learning or alter the class in any student favorable way.

Re:No Educational Value (1)

Reality Man (2890429) | about a year ago | (#43400071)

University as a business above all? No way! It's all about learning to think!

Re:No Educational Value (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#43400073)

The prof should not care, that is not his place. Either you will pass based on your efforts or fail.

Re:No Educational Value (1)

camperdave (969942) | about a year ago | (#43400421)

The prof should not care, that is not his place. Either you will pass based on your efforts or fail.

Two issues with your assertion... well, three.

First, maybe the e-book may have been written by that very professor. The class may even be a test sample for how readable and engaging the ebook is. "Publish or perish"

Second, If enough students consistently fail the classes, someone's going to wonder if the professor should be teaching it.

Finally, although it is not their place to care, a professor that does care will be a better instructor.

god forbid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400047)

You use another medium, like taking notes on paper.

good intent? (1)

Pedestrianwolf (1591767) | about a year ago | (#43400049)

it's like the saying goes.. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"

Not surprising (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about a year ago | (#43400097)

If data can be collected someone will collected; once it is collected there is a strong "need" to use. This certainly can be used to help improve coursework; especially if aggregate data shows patterns where material can be improved. If there is correlation between scores and performance than it is worthwhile to see if their is causation as well and use that to help improve learning. OTOH, factoring that into grading would be problematic, since learning styles differ. I took an English Lit class in college and never opened the book and got an A. Why? I had read the book a few years ago and so was familiar enough with the text to discuss and analyze it. Of course, as one of my professors put it" I don't care if you come to class or do any work, we've already got your money. What you get from your investment is up to you."

Negative Incentives vs. Internal Motivation (1)

Irate Engineer (2814313) | about a year ago | (#43400105)

This strikes me as yet another place where today's students, many already low in internal motivation, have that motivation replaced with a Big-Brother-esque all-knowing eye that knows when they haven't conformed. All this does is train the low-motivation students to become mindless robots who just respond to the stick when prodded. We're training away motivated learning and replacing it with a closed loop stimulus-response system where no real learning occurs.

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400113)

I wouldn't be *too* concerned about professors knowing my reading habits. On the other hand, I would probably just deny the program internet access.

The dumbing down continues (3, Insightful)

concealment (2447304) | about a year ago | (#43400145)

Education in 1900: you need to be able to do things.

Education in 1980: you need to be able to know how to do things.

Education in 2000: you need to memorize things.

Education in 2013: you need to have done the reading, been present, breathing and perhaps even conscious.

I'd like to know... (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year ago | (#43400173)

...what "Big Brother" policies HAVEN'T been motivated by some superficial 'good intent'?


Last time I checked, the pavement on the road to Hell was still the same as it always was.

Authors and publishers can use this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400177) tell how much their material sucks. I remember spending over $200 for an accounting book @ 1990's only to find that several examples and the answers therein were WRONG. How can you learn the material from a book if you can't trust the book to have the right answers?

Spend a hour or two working a problem just to go in to class the next day, "Oh yeah, the book is wrong!" ..not my most favorite class..

Oxymoronic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400185)

['"It's Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent," said Tracy Hurley, the dean of the school of business" at Texas A&M.]

One would think she would be aware that there can be no such thing as "Big Brother with a good intent."

I'm glad I'm older now; once upon a time ('70s, '80s, even '90s), I wanted to live as long as possible. But with what we have wrought in the last 15 years, I'm glad to be going to the grave.

Who owns the data? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400187)

On one hand, I think technology like this could really help education, particularly online education. It'd be great to be able to pull out students who are struggling because they're not doing the reading.

On the other hand, the article seems to imply that all of this data is being gathered and kept by the publishing companies and CourseSmart then does some simple processing and sells it back. That's not how it should be.

Hey, Texas A&M, this is good, valuable data that you're just letting them have. The Texas A&M system is big enough that you should be developing this system in-house and rolling it out across the system internally. The publishers will want the data anyway because it'll let them improve their textbooks, right? Make them pay you for it.

This is news (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about a year ago | (#43400191)

The Aggies can read!

Use by School Admin (1)

Mystakaphoros (2664209) | about a year ago | (#43400213)

The ideal: New learning strategies can be identified to aid struggling students.

The real: Teachers are rated based on how much time their students spend reading at home.

Metrics are usually used to push down and back (2)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about a year ago | (#43400219)

Metrics are usually used to push down and back, not usually to lift people up. Regardless of the nice and helpful intent asserted by one professor in the article who said "Are you really learning if you only open the book the night before the test? I knew I had to reach out to him to discuss his studying habits." I have a feeling these "metrics" such as "engagement" which somehow tracks "how engaged" you are with a class can be misused to help justify giving a student a lower score or flunking them.
Students in that article complained that the CourseSmart assessment software unfairly judged their "engagement level" as low if they took class notes on a different software package/editor or even if they took handwritten class notes which were not even considered by the software:
At a recent session here of a management training class, Mr. Guardia addressed how to intervene efficiently with underperformers. The students watched a video of a print shop manager chewing out an employee without knowing the circumstances. The moral: The manager needed better data.
. . Then Mr. Guardia discussed with his students the analytics of their own reading, which he had e-mailed to them. The students suggested that once again better information was needed. Several said their score was being minimized because they took notes on paper.
. . Others complained there were software bug

And as to the question of whether these analytics mean anything, the software developer had this to say:

CourseSmart says the data it collects now is a beginning. "We'll ultimately show how the student traverses the book," Mr. Devine said. "There's a correlation and causality between engagement and success."

Note the phrase "ultimately show", which means that this is still an experiment. And note the jumping to a conclusion about correlation and causation between engagement and success. While that conclusion may be warranted by other studies, and depending upon the definitions used for "engagement" and for "success" (you can always game the definitions too), the problem is that the monitoring systems way of numerically evaluating "engagement" may be all fucked up if you use handwritten notes or read auxillary works (other textbooks, older classes' texts, or even "outlines" of texts).
The worst uses of these metrification analytics was highlighted in a Los Angeles Times article [] yesterday called "Monitoring upends balance of power at workplace, some say". That article had some examples of over-monitoring and over-detailed "supervising" with bad or partial numbers:

She recently was reprimanded for taking 29 minutes to move a load of boxes; the boxes were much heavier than usual, but the numbers didn't show that, she said.

Or the example of how to read in what you want:

One major retailer, for instance, started measuring its employees, only to discover its most productive workers were part-timers who had been there less than a year. It then began to focus on hiring short-term part-timers, said Ed Frauenheim, a senior editor at Workforce Magazine.

Shouldn't it have focussed on finding out the things that made those workers more productive, and wouldn't it have made more sense to have turned those very productive part-time employees into full time employees with better compensation? Having analytics just gives you/the teacher/the supervisor one extra checkbox to check-off as the supposedly valid reason for giving someone a bad evaluation / a bad or failing grade / a demotion or firing. It creates fake evidence or fake justification which can be fallen upon as a crutch or "just cause" for the action which the person in power may have already wanted to take.

Rarely is the question asked: (0)

JeanCroix (99825) | about a year ago | (#43400239)

Is our children learning?

complicated (1)

Faisal Rehman (2424374) | about a year ago | (#43400285)

just take a quiz and know how much student understand.

So... (1)

olip85 (1770514) | about a year ago | (#43400341)

Some aspects of education are more important than privacy?

Sounds like my high school experience... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400367)

From the 90's.. The teachers did not give a damn if you actually knew the material or not. They just want to make sure you do all the busywork assigned to you. Why check up on whether or not I did the homework when the class is so painfully slow paced that i ace every test without even opening the book. Then take off a zillion points because I did not do any homework (whats the point when I already know the material?). "It isn't fair that the jocks have to do all the homework to learn it."

Maybe I cheated, you say? Maybe I actually listened during the lectures. If you were capable of doing anything other than reading your pre-planned lectures, you would be able to tell when people are cheating.

I dont see why this is necessasary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43400411)

Teachers already have a good lead on who the slackers and achievers are in the lessons. I dont see why this is necessasary.

Its like the captain obvious of technology

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