Monday, November 12, 2012

Reply to "Putting Learners in the Driver's Seat With Learning Analytics

Over at Online Learning Insights, Debbie Morrison gives an overview of learning analytics and posts about a worrisome announcement made by e-textbook vendor Course Smart. The company is now offering to instructors data on student engagement with textbooks.  Ms. Morrison's concern is that "eyeballs on textbook" do not equate to learning:

"Yet Course Smart’s [in my opinion] program is an example of learning analytics gone awry. The ‘packaging up’ as mentioned by Ms. Clarke refers to the program Course Smart developed with data on students’ reading patterns. The program looks at how students interact with the e-textbooks, the number of times a student views a page and for how long, highlights made, etc. Course Smart compiles this ‘data’ and sends a Student Engagement Report to professors.  Are these metrics a true measure of a student’s level of engagement? "

I also find this announcement troubling but for another reason besides for the assumptions it reveals about student engagement.  I find the monitoring of online textbooks troubling for the same reason that I sometimes feel uncomfortable when someone looks over my shoulder and asks, "What are you reading?" My question is, will this type of surveillance have a chilling effect on intellectual freedom of the learners? Learning should be a time to be able to engage in low-stakes "play" that is not constantly monitored and evaluated.  If a learner knows that her every move in the textbook is being monitored, it raises the level of stakes for that learner.  In my opinion, it is not necessarily the monitoring of material that has actually been assigned that is troublesome -- it's monitoring of the material that was not assigned, but that the student found through serendipity or just looks interesting.  What about material that is controversial, or resonates with a learner for personal reasons?  What about the learner who is interacting with text related to a personal health issue, or a relationship problem? Do you really want others to see what we have highlighted in our own books, especially if we know that others might learn something about us that we don't necessarily want them to know? Knowing that our reading is being monitored -- not just by an impersonal vendor like Amazon or Course Smart, but by our own instructors --  will make us more careful about what we read.  It impinges on our intellectual freedom.