Gathering Book-Reading Data For Technophobes

I have a sneaking suspicion that technophobic people bemoaning the death of the physical book and reminiscing about the smell of books might yet find a reason to fall in love with them. Particularly if they’re parents or teachers trying to encourage reluctant readers across the reading line. The reason? Fast Company reports that ebook publisher CourseSmart has released a platform that enables teachers to collect data and analyse their students’ interaction with and, ultimately, understanding of texts.

This means that teachers will be able to tell how many pages students read, what (if any) electronic notes they made, and how long they spent reading. The program delivers this information in an infographic form, likely making it easy and fun to use (see opening paragraph re: winning over technophobes).

Of course, the usual grumps have been vocal, including a teacher Fast Company quote who said: ‘I will not be using this tool because I have a better way of measuring their engagement. I call it “their grade”’. Yeah, that’s true, and this tool could and never should replace teachers’ first-hand experience and analysis. But this could be a complementary tool that could lead to some interesting insights—ones that physical books can’t currently show.

When I was at school (and yes, I realise that opener makes me sound old), you could often get away without reading the book if you watched the film or read the Cliff Notes or copied off your friend. Being a booklover, I always read the book and always found it better than the eventually watched film. I wondered and felt slightly sad about what my classmates were missing out on (and yes, I realise that also makes me sound old and vaguely cruddy).

Sure, ebook reading data can be fudged. But if knowing the program is installed encourages a student or two to actually read the book, or even part of the book, it might not be a bad thing (I mean, it would take almost as much effort to flick through the pages to believably falsify reading the book as it would to just get on and read it). That’s in addition to the fact that the ebook format, with its likely interactivity and note-taking functions, might be a better fit for students disinclined to read physical copies.

I don’t for a moment think CourseSmart’s program is going to revolutionise teachers’ teaching methods or students’ reading habits, but I do think it’s indicative of a shift. Twelve months ago I could have sworn the publishing sky was falling down with all the flapping about ebooks and the death of the physical book and, with it, traditional publishers. Now, not only has the sky not fallen down but we’re seeing programs such as CourseSmarts’ emerge that see the potential of the new book formats and how we interact with them. That’s more investment into how and why we read and, hopefully, an increase in reading overall. That can only be a good thing, right?