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eTextbooks let profs see student progress: overstepping?

In higher education, it’s common for students to be monitored, but is online eTextbook provider CourseSmart® taking it too far?



eTextbooks help improve higher education

eTextbooks are becoming more popular in higher education thanks to providers like CourseSmart®, Chegg®, eCampus and others. CourseSmart®, in a recent move to continue growing its market share, has begun a new feature to help instructors keep tabs on student progress.

CourseSmart® provides eTextbooks allowing students to read course materials just about anywhere as long as they have a mobile device or computer access. Their materials even allow offline reading through a checkout process as well. Started in 2007 to “ improve the educational process by offering students and instructors a unique combination of the right course material, anywhere, any-time access, and a low cost”, CourseSmart® has become a tremendous online resource and cost savings for college students. However, with a recent feature, CourseSmart® might be stepping into the realm of “big brother” and taking their ambitions too far.

Acceptable use of technology, or overstepping?

Recently, CourseSmart® began testing the ability for instructors to track their student’s progress through their course materials. Tracy Hurley, Dean of Texas A&M School of Business says of the new program, “It’s Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent.” Yet, how much of a good intent can it be to treat adults like children and monitor their every action? The software would track whether students are skipping pages, highlighting appropriate passages, and even taking notes.

In addition, for students, it raises a concern of judgment by faculty. If students are deemed to be less engaged, will this affect how the instructor treats them? Will this create more or less monitoring and pressures in already demanding classrooms? In a recent whitepaper titled Online College Students 2012: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences by LearningHouse, the research showed, “Most online students are older… have several responsibilities in life.”

In the survey, 68% of students stated their reason for enrolling in online courses is the “ability to balance work, family, and school responsibilities”. Will this “big brother” style of monitoring impede the ability for students to juggle the many demands of college life? Or will it serve to improve the learning experience?

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CourseSmart® intends to introduce the program this fall. Aside from Texas A&M, Clemson, Central Carolina Technical College and Stony Brook University are testing the program as well. Currently, CourseSmart’s® eTextbooks are purchased by 3.5 million students and faculty.

Written By

Charity Kountz is an award-winning fiction and nonfiction author as well as a Realtor and certified Paralegal. Her writing has been featured in Coldwell Banker, iPhone Life, Strategy magazine, Duck Soup magazine, and more.

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