Prof: This tech is a canary in the student outcomes coalmine

By Julie Ferrell, Ames Tribune
October 12th, 2015

ISU professor will strive to ID ways to better assess student performance

digital-textA recent Iowa State University study has found instructors may be able to better assess how a student performs in class through the use of digital textbook analytics.

Reynol Junco, an associate professor in Iowa State University’s School of Education, said the study stemmed from his interest in how students use social technologies, and how those uses influence their development and academic performance.

“In that work, I went from looking at time spent on sites and how that relates to academic outcome. One of the things I discovered is it looks like certain activities can predict how well a student will do academically,” he said. “So I merged that idea with my interest in quantitative social sciences.”

Junco and his colleague Candrianna Clem created a study involving 307 students at Texas A&M – San Antonio. Each student was offered a digital or print textbook, and 236 chose to exclusively use the digital version.

Junco said the study used an “engagement index tracker,” which used a formula to collect the number of pages read, the number of times a student opened or interacted with the textbook, the number a days a student used the textbook, the time spent reading and the number of highlights, bookmarks and notes the student made.

Of those 236 students who opted for the digital textbook, the average spent nearly 7.5 hours reading over 11 days through the 16-week semester. Junco noted students who spent more time highlighting their readings also earned overall higher grades in the course.

The study was then published in the journal, Internet and Higher Education.

While most students in the study opted for the digital version, Junco noted a majority of students also say they prefer to read the print version.

“For the functionality, they prefer paper but for convenience, they prefer digital,” he said. “But certainly in our School of Education, at least with my students, I don’t see a ton of digital textbooks.”

But incorporating the digital versions of the print textbooks into classrooms could have several benefits, Junco said. Based on his study, Junco said the analytics could help instructors identify individual student problems earlier on in the school year.

“Oftentimes, by the time the instructor realizes something is wrong, it’s too late for the student. With digital textbook analytics, we can get these kinds of predictions early on, well before any kind of gradeable content has been turned in,” he said. “If there are reading assignments due in the first few weeks and students aren’t spending any time reading, you’ll be able to see that something isn’t working there.”

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