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Students are often faced with pages upon pages of reading as part of the curriculum handed to them by their professors. Traditionally, in order to gauge whether or not students are reading books and articles, professors either turn to asking questions in the classroom or assigning papers and essays on the allocated material. With the use of new classroom technology from CourseSmart, however, it has become a lot easier to tell whether or not students are skipping out on their reading.
CourseSmart is a library of eTextbooks and digital course material available to instructors and students. With CourseSmart, professors can evaluate eTextbooks and students can rent them instead of purchasing in order to save money. CourseSmart already provides over 40,000 titles from fifty publishers and is used in over 100 institutions, according to Good E-Reader.
Senior vice president of marketing at CourseSmart, Cindy Clarke, says that the program is also compatible with other digital learning portals used by colleges and universities, such as Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Pearson LearningStudio, and Moodle. CourseSmart was launched last year and many universities across the United States plan to adopt the technology for the fall semester.
With Coursework, students are given the option of reading eTextbooks on the computer or downloading CourseSmart Apps for iPads, iPhones, and Android devices.
In addition to providing cost-efficient renting of eTextbooks, CourseSmart also gives professors and publishers insight into whether or not students are reading, taking notes, or making highlights into the digital material. By using an engagement index, CourseSmart offers profiles to professors of how students are using the material, and whether or not they are regularly reading the material or accessing the eTextbook the night before the course. “It’s Big Brother, sort of, but with a good intent,” said Tracy Hurley, the dean of the school of business at Texas A&M, in an interview with the New York Times.
Students do not have access to their engagement index and there have been concerns over the issue of privacy. As the New York Times points out, students can also interfere with the data collecting process by highlighting paragraphs at random or by opening eTextbooks and leaving them open while they do other non-class work related things. Tori Floyd, a blogger for The Right Click, also questions whether or not the data collecting attempts are accurate considering that students differ in how they learn and take notes, with some students still opting to take notes on paper or in the classroom, as opposed to highlighting in eTextbooks.
In a blog post about CourseSmart, Mercy Pilkington for Good E-Reader wrote, “It’s no longer enough to create a digital edition of a standard academic textbook; today’s learners and educators want all-in-one solutions that allow access anywhere, while also providing self-evaluation and feedback on curriculum engagement.”
CourseSmart is far from perfect, but it does provide a far better glimpse into how students are utilizing their textbooks than before. It also gives an idea about what classrooms will look like in the future, as technology becomes the norm and hardcopy textbooks less common. At the very least, and as college textbook prices continue to increase, eTextbooks, for purchase and rent, will create a cost-effective option for students if the option is available.