The students in Whelan’s class are all using the same program, called ALEKS. But peek over their shoulders and you’ll see that each student is working on a different sort of problem. A young woman near the corner of the room is plugging her way through a basic linear equation. The young man to her left is trying to wrap his mind around a story problem involving fractions. Nearby, a more advanced student is simplifying equations that involve both variables and fractions.
At first glance, each student appears to be at a different point in the course. And that’s true, in one sense. But it’s more accurate to say that the course is literally different for each student.
Unnervingly, book apps record data about how we read, including which books we do and don’t finish, how long we spend reading them, and where we give up, if we do. And niftily, that information can be passed on to publishers.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the same technology is soon to be used by universities to monitor students’ reading. CourseSmart, which sells digital versions of the big publishers’ textbooks, announced [its] new program last week.
Luckily, for now, this software is being piloted at only three universities. But it is, almost inevitably, coming our way.
Textbooks are a thing of the past, says the common wisdom. Well, the common wisdom of the Technorati maybe. The problem with that thinking is that the number one publisher in the world is Pearson, a textbook publisher, who brought in $7.75 billion in 2009.
Pearson, as Tim Carmody noted in a January Wired article, owns 50 percent of the Financial Times, as well as the number two trade house: Penguin. The second largest textbook publisher, McGraw-Hill, owns Standard and Poor’s. To say textbooks are big business is like saying bullets are ouchie.
So writing the obituary for textbooks would be putting the cart before the horse. But pretending like they are not changing their shape, if not their nature, is to proclaim, from one’s buggy, that automobiles are a passing fad.
College e-textbooks have long been seen as salvation by many textbook publishers. That hope may be misguided. According to a Seattle Times report , in a study conducted on computer science students that will be released next week, researchers at the University of Washington found that, “Seven months into the study, more than 60 percent of the students had stopped using their Kindle regularly for academic reading — and these were computer science students, who are presumably more sympathetic to an electronic book.”