Data Mines Open in College E-textbooks

We’ve asked ourselves whether this development in using e-textbooks to mine data on students’ reading habits is as highly unnerving as it seems:

CourseSmart, which sells digital versions of textbooks by big publishers, announced on Wednesday a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.

When students use print textbooks, professors can’t track their reading. But as learning shifts online, everything students do in digital spaces can be monitored, including the intimate details of their reading habits.

Those details are what will make the new CourseSmart service tick. Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.

The idea is that faculty members can reach out to students showing low engagement, says Sean Devine, chief executive of CourseSmart. And colleges can evaluate the return they are getting on investments in digital materials.

Three institutions—Villanova University, Rasmussen College, and Texas A&M University at San Antonio—plan to run pilots of the product, called CourseSmart Analytics. It’s expected to be broadly available in 2013.

Our answer is a resounding YES! This is every bit as creepy as it seems. And the ALA agrees.

What do you think?

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  1. That is ridiculous! And what would that “engagement score” be used for? Part of their grade?

    If I took a class where the prof used this system, I would drop it. One, I despise the concept that i have to study a specific way. And let’s not even start on the privacy concerns.

    That is just way over the line.