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.When asked if this isn't creepy, Mr. Devine says "Not if it helps you succeed." But surely ends do not always justify means (water torture might work even better, after all).
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.
The comment thread is interesting. Some object because, they say, it won't work -- students will figure out how to game it. (But tracking eye saccades, so the professor can get word by word data for each student rather than page by page, will probably be next.) Others defend the practice on the basis that students can opt out (though that itself is arguably a privacy issue). Others complain that time spent reading is a poor measure of anything since students simply read a different speeds. Another just says "Relax and welcome to the 21st century," going on to explain some other electronic learning tools that help both instruction and assessment.
I think I react to this in other terms: dignity, maturity, independence. To the extent colleges behave as though they believe students are lab rats, to be trained through operant conditioning, they aren't doing anything to create intellectual excitement or an inclination to continue learning when unsupervised. And if higher education does not aspire to such things, we might as well be replaced by MOOCs, without those expensive dormitories, libraries, and student laboratories. If students aren't doing their reading, maybe we need to look deeper at why rather than resorting to surveillance in order to force them.