New Technology Allows Professors To Track Who Is Actually Reading

We have all witnessed technology being integrated in school more and more, but a new start-up called CourseSmart is taking this integration to a whole new level.  The CourseSmart technology allows professors to track the progress of all their students on their online textbook readings; so now professors will have a definite way of being able to tell if you read the assigned reading.  Many students who are using this program are calling it “Big Brother-like”.  The professors can also see how much each student highlighted in the online book and how many notes each of them took.  After taking into account all of those aspects, the program then generates a “grade” called the engagement index.  The big questions that I have are how accurate is this engagement index and do we really need it.

A major problem that comes with dehumanizing tasks is that there are more ways to beat the system.    There are also things that technology can’t take into consideration that a human can.  CourseSmart is very vulnerable to these flaws and student reviews have proven so.  One major downside to this program is that it can’t count notes taken by hand or on a word document as notes, therefore if someone prefers taking notes by hand, their engagement index is unfairly hurt.  However, a student’s index can be inflated if they leave their textbook open for a long time while doing something else, or if they highlight random passages throughout the text.  So as you can see, this technology can be taken advantage of and also work against students who are doing all their work.  This brings me to my final point; is all this new technology in schools necessary.

When can we say enough is enough when it comes to bringing new technology into schools?  After all, the only true way to see if students are actually reading is by evaluating how they do on their homework, quizzes, and tests.  Why do we need a program to keep track of how much we are “reading” when the professor will be able to figure out who is reading based on grades.  It comes to a point where it seems as though we are using all these new technologies just because we can, not necessarily because they better education.  I am all for using technology if it can perform a task more efficiently or much cheaper than a human can, but I don’t see that in this new program.  I believe we really need to rethink why we are integrating technology into school.


9 thoughts on “New Technology Allows Professors To Track Who Is Actually Reading

  1. I agree with you that technology shouldn’t always be implemented just because it is easy. I think education and technology have a difficult relationship because it is important for teachers to take into account the many learning strategies that people use. Students understand and learn concepts at different speeds and use different skills, so it is important that teachers use various methods, so that all students can understand. For example, teachers often combine or switch up their methods in class so they can appeal to both the auditory and the visual learners. I think when implementing a program such as CourseSmart, it doesn’t take into account the different techniques and strategies student use to learn. Personally, I really dislike reading online, and I am much better at comprehending the material when it is printed out in front of me and I can take hand-written notes and underline passages. I like engaging with the material because I think that writing things down helps you remember it better. I probably wouldn’t get a good grade for the reading on CourseSmart because I would take hand-written notes rather than underline on the computer. l think one downside of technology in the classroom is that it doesn’t take into account the different learning styles people have.

  2. Pingback: Tracking Students with E-Textbooks | A Patchwork Life

  3. Initially, when first reading this post, I felt that CourseSmart would be a great way for teachers to monitor students and their assigned reading. It provides an incentive for the students by allowing their reading to be apart of his or her grade, as well as for the teacher, who thus knows that the entire class has now read and can have an engaging and meaningful discussion with them over that material. Nonetheless, you immediately point out that the students will eventually find a way to sidestep the system and find a way to beat it. You did a great job in the middle paragraph of listing these flaws in CourseSmart, which made me wonder if it could potentially make the students more foreign to the material, making CourseSmart more of a hinderance rather than advantageous. I thought that was insightful for you to mention that it is dehumanizing the role of teachers when they use technology and then question, why should they use certain technology in the first place. However, I have to disagree with you in that not all of this integrated technology is harmful and one of the best examples is with this class. Almost all of our grade is comprised of being active on WordPress and Twitter, which allows us to stay engaged in the course content and in current events. Also, I don’t think that having Professor Kane on Twitter dehumanizes him since it allows us to stay in contact with him at any point in the day. Ultimately, while CourseSmart is one of the negative examples of integrating technology, I believe that certain other uses of technology can be beneficial in school but only if it is implemented in the right way.

  4. I think there are several instances where schools implement technologies that may not actually advance the quality of learning. CourseSmart, I believe, is a technology that would cause inaccuracies in grading. It would also encourage students to find ways to beat the system, which, from what you’ve detailed, doesn’t seem like it’d be too difficult to do. This kind of system takes away from an individual developing his/her own style of learning. Personally, I take notes by hand and am not huge on highlighting or even spending much time with a textbook. My methods would received a poor grade in this system even though they have worked for me in the past and continue to be a successful way of studying. Schools should encourage students to develop their own style of studying and learning, one that best suits them, and not force them into a cookie cutter program that makes them conform to one way of studying.

  5. When reading about how the engagement index works I could instantly think of a couple ways to basically cheat the system like highlighting material that isn’t even relevant, taking unnecessary notes just to boost your total, and simply clicking through the pages without actually reading them. Just like you said, these are ways that students can inflate their engagement index and, in essence, render CourseSmart useless. I tend to agree with you that this technology simply isn’t necessary. Not only is it a flawed system as we’ve pointed out, but students should be free to put in as much or as little effort as they please and receive the grades they deserve. Like you said, those students who read thoroughly will be the ones with the highest grades anyway.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post. I have began to start to ask the same that you asked in your blog. I agree that all this technology used in the classroom is becoming a bit excessive. Is the use of a couple thousand dollar “smart board” really going to make kids learn better. Probably not. I think at the same time, you have to consider teachers as well. I believe teachers as well as administrators are becoming to dependent of these technologies. Schools are wasting huge amounts of money on technology just to say “we are a great school because we bought all our students iPads”. I guarantee if any of us were to sit down in a restaurant, there would be a child around the age of 3 on an iPad or an iPhone. They might be getting a better score on Angry Birds than us, but are they learning more than we had. Think of the example of language; we learn the best when we are young and listening to those around us. Are children sitting in classrooms or at home listening to their teachers and parents or staring at something on some piece of technology.

    In theory, I think the idea of the textbook tracker is unique and useful. But thinking about the double-edged sword of this technology, as you pointed out, shows that it could potentially do more harm than good.

  7. Very interesting blog post. I believe that this technology is going to far. Every student learns in their own way, some spend hours reading through every line of the text highlighting what they think is important, while others skim through the reading picking out only the important information. Both can still learn the same things even if they have different learning styles. Tests are the way that teachers can evaluate if students are learning so the way they learn should not matter. The important thing is not how they are learning, but if they are learning.
    Your list of ways that students can abuse this system clearly shows the major flaws with it. People can just leave it on and highlight random things to get a good grade even though they might not be learning. Which begs the question, is there really any value in getting this technology?
    I believe that technology can enhance the education, but some technologies like CourseSmart, I feel, are not necessary. It is too easy to manipulate and does not consider that everyone has different ways of learning. We should put the money towards educating the youth and not spying on their learning habits.

  8. I completely agree with you on this Tim. The idea behind CourseSmart is a good one but there are way too many holes in the system that would allow for these students to cheat. I am one of those people you mentioned who like taking notes by hand so I would be very upset if a teacher of mine forced CourseSmart onto me. This engagement index would not promote good reading habits but instead it would just make students more willing to cheat and not actually read because they know that their grade will look good. You are totally right when you say that the way you can tell if a student read the material if he or she does well on the homework, quizzes, and tests. A teacher does not need to know how much you are highlighting or the the amount of notes you are taking because if you can get the answers right on the tests then clearly you know the material. Great blog post Tim.

  9. I totally agree, I think this is an example of just using technology “just because we can”. However, I see no practical benefit for this. Learning should be intrinsic, and the people that do well are more often than not intrinsically motivated to do so. If people really don’t want to read, then they won’t. Additionally, it depends on the type of course and course work given, but often times if you are taken several reading intensive classes, even if you are a good student it is hard to keep up with the reading, and missing a day or two of reading isn’t the end of the world. Nonetheless, nice post and thanks for sharing!

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