The books are watching them

That arresting clause occurred in a NYT article yesterday: “Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the E-Reading” by David Streitfeld.

The context:

SAN ANTONIO — Several Texas A&M professors know something that generations of teachers could only hope to guess: whether students are reading their textbooks.

They know when students are skipping pages, failing to highlight significant passages, not bothering to take notes — or simply not opening the book at all.

… The faculty members here are neither clairvoyant nor peering over shoulders. They, along with colleagues at eight other colleges, are testing technology from a Silicon Valley start-up, CourseSmart, that allows them to track their students’ progress with digital textbooks.

… Adrian Guardia, a Texas A&M instructor in management, took notice the other day of a student who was apparently doing well. His quiz grades were solid, and so was what CourseSmart calls his “engagement index.” But Mr. Guardia also saw something else: that the student had opened his textbook only once.

… Students do not see their engagement indexes unless a professor shows them, but they know the books are watching them. For a few, merely hearing the number is a shock. Charles Tejeda got a C on the last quiz, but the real revelation that he is struggling was a low CourseSmart index.

Pieces of technology, like e-books (and Siri and GPSes etc.), are easily personfied. So an e-book ends up being a kind of book, a piece of technology, and a kind of intelligent being, all rolled into one.


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