Thursday, April 11, 2013

Comment on "Teacher Knows if You’ve Done the E-Reading" NYT article

 The twittersphere told me about this article in the New York Times online by David Streitfeld Published: April 8, 2013.

Basically it's about an online text book provider CourseSmart providing analytics to lecturers that show individual students' engagement with the textbook.
I don't actually have a problem with this - but I do have some problems with how the data might be interpreted - particular what's correlation and what's causation.

It bought to mind Dave Pattern's U of Huddersfield data analysis that showed a correlation between academic success and the number of library books borrowed.  It doesn't prove causation - maybe the type of people who borrow books are the type to shine using our methods of measuring academic achievement - it doesn't necessarily mean borrowing books will improve your grades.
Which in turn reminds of the urban legend that said social researchers had analysed data that showed the children of parents  that owned Ferraris ranked significantly higher in national indicators for education, nutrition, health, employment prospects, income earning potential and life expectancy. So recommended buying a Ferrari for every LSES family in lieu of other forms of government assistance.
But my real point is about this apparently throwaway couple of paragraphs:
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.

“It was one of those aha moments,” said Mr. Guardia, who is tracking 70 students in three classes. “Are you really learning if you only open the book the night before the test? I knew I had to reach out to him to discuss his studying habits.”

 There is no follow up to this anecdote and it wasn't until the end of the article realised there wasn't going to be. I had made the erroneous assumption Mr. Guardia was going to talk to the student to find out what he did to succeed without consulting the textbook - as the article moves on you come to realise that Guardia's apparent intention was to make encourage the student to read the student text book for his own good.
 What an odd but all too common approach - 'you're not succeeding the way we want you too - you should change', rather than 'this approach is succeeding maybe we can learn about it, build on it and help other people'.

No comments: