Sunday, April 28, 2013

Blog Post #14

Course Smart: Learn Smart. Choose Smart.

This week, we were assigned to read the article Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the E-Reading by David Streitfel. The article talks about a newly developed technology called CourseSmart. CourseSmart allows teachers to keep track of their students progress as they read through their digital textbooks. The article specifically talks about how a few professors at Texas A&M have been using CourseSmart. The system tracks students' progress through their digital textbooks and shows their professors their engagement indexes. It is speculated that this engagement information could provide information on which students might fail the class and how many students in the class are falling behind. Some students likened the new technology to "Big Brother", since CourseSmart keeps an ever-watching eye on students' involvement in their textbooks. The article also discusses some of the problems with CourseSmart. Students could simply leave their digital textbooks open and go do something else, or if they tend to take notes on paper or on a computer program that isn't tracked, CourseSmart will give them a low engagement score.

As a teacher, I have to say this could essentially be a very useful technology. I could give reading assignments and actually know whether or not my students really did the reading. If I saw that a student was getting behind in his or her reading, I could pull him or her aside and ask them what was up. I could see if maybe something was going on in his or her life that was keeping him or her from doing the reading. Or perhaps he or she is just having difficulty with the reading. CourseSmart would really provide me with useful information that could allow me to better help my students and cater to their specific needs.

As a student, I'd be a little wary about this technology. Personally, I prefer printed textbooks to digital textbooks. It's easier for me to read printed textbooks than to stare at a screen for hours at a time reading. Plus, I take hand-written notes because it helps me learn better. So if my engagement score depended on me highlighting in the text and taking notes in the system itself somehow, I would probably get a low engagement score. However, using this new technology could help me learn to take notes in a different way that might actually work better for me. It would also encourage me to read more. I have a bad habit of not actually doing any of the reading in my course textbooks because so far, I've been able to get by without it. But I know at some point, this bad habit will come back to bite me in the butt, so using CourseSmart could actually be a big help to me.

If I were to talk with Mr. Guardia, the professor of the class discussed in the article, I'd ask the following questions:
  • Overall, have your students' scores increased after the introduction of CourseSmart?
  • Have you considered switching textbooks after getting some feedback from CourseSmart? 
  • Have your students come to you with any questions or concerns about CourseSmart? 
  • If so, what are some of the concerns they've raised? 
  • Have you spoken with your fellow professors about CourseSmart? What are their opinions/concerns? 
  • Overall, are you happy with the results CourseSmart has provided you with? Will you continue using CourseSmart?

If I were to interview the students in Mr. Guardia's class, I'd ask the following questions:
  • Have your grades improved since the implementation of CourseSmart?
  • Do you think CourseSmart is an invasion of your privacy?
  • Has CourseSmart helped you improve your reading and note-taking skills?
  • Do you have any suggestions on how the CourseSmart system could be improved?
  • Would you like to see CourseSmart implemented in more of your classes?
  • Have you had any issues with the system not working properly?

There are a lot of interesting and informative comments that have been left in the article's comments section. Many comments are critical of the system, and they pose some good points as to why CourseSmart could be more problematic than helpful. If I were to leave a comment on the article, it would be as follows:
I can see where this system could be both helpful and harmful. On one hand, it actually encourages students to read their textbooks and gives them an incentive to do it, i.e. high engagement scores. It also has the possibility to help them improve upon their reading and note-taking skills and try new forms of note-taking they may have not considered in the past. On the other hand, being forced to read the textbooks might have a negative impact on students. Straight reading isn't the best studying strategy for everyone, and it may encourage professors to slack in their lectures, thinking that their students can just read the textbook to get more information on the subject. Also, while this system seems to help professors gather more information on their students, this could actually create a less personal atmosphere between professors and students. As someone else in the comments said, professors might start seeing their students as mere scores on a screen instead of striving to reach out to them on a personal level and interact with them in person. I think it would be best if more research and experimentation was done before CourseSmart is implemented in any more classrooms and universities.

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