Professors given ability to track our reading and studying habits

Svein Halvor Halvorsen/Courtesy

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You may think that your professors have a considerable influence — some may say an unnecessarily large one — in your life. They wield the power to summon you to a room at their discretion, hold you in said room for inordinate amounts of time, consume your time with incessant amounts of work and see into your mind with incomprehensible exams. Well, students, brace yourselves, because their influence just multiplied with the ability to track our reading and study habits even when we’re in the relative safety of our dorms.

CourseSmart technology has created a system that tracks your progress using digital textbooks or e-books. It has the capabilities to log the time that you spend on each page, when and how many times you access a book and whether you highlight or take notes on specific parts of a section. And the best part for the professors is that all of this data can be consolidated into a single number — an engagement index. Effectively, they can know if you’ve fallen asleep while studying if you stay on a page for hours, if you’re a stereotypical procrastinator who waits until the night before to open the figurative cover or even if you’ve subtly been scrawling obscenities about them with the note-taking feature. It’s been deemed as a sort of “Big Brother” by a dean who employs it in her school. Yeah, that’s how creepy it has the potential to be.

There are many flaws with this technology. Some of us have the enviable superpower of never having to open a book and passing the class — so would we be penalized for having a low index score if we can still ace an exam? Would a professor be more biased when grading your paper if he or she knew you hadn’t opened the book — even if you had somehow managed to compose a masterful work worthy of publication?

But we suppose every evil has its advantages. Professors — especially the ones who require you to buy books they’ve personally written — will finally be able to see how effective (or ineffective) these books are to the class. A potential benefit — well, it could swing either way from a student’s perspective — would be that professors have the ability to gauge the difficulty of their classes and adjust their teaching style and content. A broader issue would be whether this would mandate the use of e-books throughout classes. Some students have claimed that e-books are not conducive to their learning, as they are a mouse click away from the infinitely more entertaining options of Facebook and Netflix. More importantly for the well-being of the average student’s wallet, mandating e-books would probably decrease the spending output for textbooks, as even the least tech-savvy people have mastered the two-finger flick of Control-C (or Command-C for all you fancy Mac users), enabling them to share the data.

A common inspiration for this was whether students are “really learning if (they) only open the book the night before the test.” Well, the response to that, Mr. Guardia — the utterer of that nonsense — is a resounding “damn right,” which you would have known if you looked at our test scores. Fortunately, this new technology hasn’t been adopted by Cal administration yet, and hopefully it never will be. Students have always found ways to circumvent their educators’ flawed attempts to control their home lives, and this is no different.

Class dismissed.

Contact Uday at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mehtakid.