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Digital Textbook Analytics – Friend or Foe?

October 28, 2015 - Posted to Writing Tips

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Digital Textbook Analytics – Friend or Foe?

For those who do not understand digital analytics, here’s a really short synopsis. When you go to a website, the owner may be tracking your movement on that site – what pages you navigate to, how long you stay on each page, and when you leave the site without taking any action that may have been asked of you (e.g., sign up for a newsletter, get a free download, etc.). Now digital analytics has hit college campuses, in the form of tracking student reading progress in reading digital textbooks that have been assigned for a course.

The Research Study

Reynol Junco associate professor and researcher at Iowa State University teamed up with another professor to conduct a study on student reading of digital textbooks and actual class performance. Today’s technology actually allowed them to “spy” on student behavior – logging when individual students were engaged in reading the digital text and when they were not. They studied 236 students reading digital textbooks a Texas A&M University.

They discovered that, on average, students were engaged in reading their texts 7.5 hours over an 11-day period. They then identified those students who were regularly reading their assignments and those who were not. At the end of the semester, they compared the grades of those students who did and who did not read. Those who did keep up with reading assignments got better grades.

The Implications of the Study

According to Junco, tracking student reading will allow professors to contact those students who are not keeping up with their reading assignments and find out why. There may be any of a number of reasons, he says – students might be temporarily overloaded with another course and plan to return to their reading and get caught up; students may find the materials too challenging and have thus “given up.” In these cases, says Junco, professors can step in and provide the additional help that will make these students more successful. He sees other benefits too.

Suppose, for example, that quite a number of students were finding the material too challenging. This, then, should move a professor to some corrective action. Perhaps he will schedule extra help sessions; perhaps he will re-consider the textbook he is using.

How Digital Textbook Publishers are Also Using the Information

According to Soomo, a leading publisher of digital textbooks, the company can also track student reading habits and learn how they are performing by tracking not only time spent but also the students’ ability to answer review questions regarding the content. The company says it can alter and modify how the content is delivered, based upon those parts of book with which a large number of students struggle.

Privacy Issues

One of the issues that is most certainly bound to come up on the part of students is their stand on privacy. While website analytics does track visitor behavior, and re-target visitors with ads, these can be ignored. However, when a professor is tracking whether or not an individual student is doing his homework or not, the student may see this as a major invasion of privacy. The answer may lie in providing students options of digital or hard copy versions of a text.

Still, while Junco certainly admits that much more research must be done, he sees these analytics as a way to deliver a better educational experience to students and to personalize their academic needs.

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