Digital Textbooks Offer New Way to Assess Progress

Oct 2, 2015

Rey Junco, an associate professor in the school of education at Iowa State University, believes the long-held wisdom is true--if you want to do well in class, you have to spend time with the material. But with shifty students who might inflate how much time they're spending reading, he's had to get more creative with how he collects data.

"We often identify students who are struggling by their grades--by their poor grades or their poor attendance or something that we can measure. But often by the time we've measured it, it's too late."

So, instead of using self-reported habits or the typical GPA, he's using real-time reading data, sent to him by digital textbooks students are already using for class. Those textbooks tell him how often students are reading, and for how long. From there, he discovered that the students who read more, unsurprisingly, get better grades. The value, however, doesn't lie in the conclusion, but in the ability to track students' outcomes before, instead of after, their grades are set.

"One of the ways we can identify people at risk is by using a system like this, which shows us through actual real-time behavior how the student is doing. So instead of me having to give an exam and seeing how my students score on it, I can actually look at textbook use data and say 'Oh well look here's this student that hasn't been reading, and we know from this predictive model that they're not going to do well, so I need to intervene in some way.'"

On this News Buzz edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer talks with Junco about his study. Also in the hour, the efficacy of biofuelsa discussion with a Grinnell Prize winner, the Planned Parenthood debate in Iowa, a ridealong with a bicycle cop, and a service dog that's making Iowa history.