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Digital books may help track efforts of students and to predict their grades

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Posted September 24, 2015

Nowadays students in universities rarely touch a conventional physical textbook. Digital textbooks are becoming more and more popular as they are cheaper, easier to carry (one device can have thousands of textbooks) and very convenient to use as searching for needed part is very easy.

Digital books have a variety of obvious advantages – they are cheaper, generally lighter to carry around, easier to use. But now instructors can benefit from them too, by tracking how much time do students spend reading assigned material and adapting the course accordingly. Image credit: Christopher Gannon, news.iastate.edu.

Digital books have a variety of obvious advantages – they are cheaper, generally lighter to carry around, easier to use. But now instructors can benefit from them too, by tracking how much time do students spend reading assigned material and adapting the course accordingly. Image credit: Christopher Gannon, news.iastate.edu.

However, now scientists at the Iowa State University’s School of Education conducted a research and found that Digital textbooks may help to predict student outcomes by providing real-time analytics. In other words, teachers themselves can learn a lot from pages of textbooks they assign students to read.

Team of researchers collected data from 236 students using e-books in various classes. Scientists found that average student spent nearly 7.5 hours reading over 11 days throughout the 16-week semester. Rather unsurprisingly, those students who devoted more of their time to reading assigned texts typically got higher grades. Even though such conclusion is obvious, scientists say that the fact itself that it was possible to make it is rather significant. It is because instructors can unobtrusively track the time students spend reading.

Reynol Junco, one of the authors of the study, described new possibilities digital textbooks provide using his own example: “if students are not reading the textbook, they’re not getting the important material that they need. My lectures only cover the general ideas and then we do hands-on work in class. As an instructor, you don’t really get a sense of how students are doing in a class until they turn in a graded assignment. With the analytics from a digital textbook I can know right away if students are struggling.”

There is a wide variety of reasons why students may not read assigned texts. For some students it may not look worth to spend time on reading the book, while in other cases motivation of students to read may depend on the method how the instructor incorporates the book into the class. However, reason why students are not reading may be completely different and teacher has to know it.

Material provided for students may be simply too complex for their reading level, which means instructor should adapt the course material and help students to succeed. This information can be easily observed using such digital textbooks, which is probably one of the most important advantages for teacher.

Predictions about student’s academic outcomes are actually pretty common. However, they are based on grade point average, which is used to identify if he or she may need academic assistance from the instructor. In other words, future academic performance of the student is based on past achievements, which, according to authors of this new study, is not entirely effective, because it is a broad, static measure.

In this case analysis from digital textbooks provides much more accurate data for predictions of student’s academic performance. It is an individualized measure that also gives some additional information about student’s behaviour. Scientists say that it is possible to use these behavioural and real-time data to make decisions about student performance, without clumping students into these categories of ‘will succeed’ or ‘won’t succeed that are prominent in high schools or community colleges.

This research just points yet another advantage or a value that conventional textbooks do not possess. However, although digital textbooks are certainly getting more popular and commonly used, they are still far from universal in higher education.

Surprisingly, one of the reasons why digital textbooks are not as popular as their advantages would suggest they should be is because not all students like them. 307 students were offered digital textbooks, with the option to print the material, and 236 used the digital version exclusively. Therefore, even though majority of students use digital version when one is given to them, there are still a significant number of those who decide to go on a trouble of printing material out. We can suspect, numbers would be different if students were given a complete freedom of choice between digital and physical books.

This research also shows how important it is for students to read in order to have better grades. It also shows that instructors need additional information to make courses better for the students so they would gain as much knowledge with as little stress as possible. But lead author of the study says that more research needs to be done to provide instructors with specific recommendations.

Source: iastate.edu

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