Digital Textbooks Can Help Professors Predict Student Outcomes

New research suggests digital textbooks can predict how students are doing in class.

Researchers from Iowa State University found that college professors and instructors can unobtrusively track the time students spend reading. According to Reynol Junco, an associate professor in Iowa State University’s School of Education, this is significant.

“If students are not reading the textbook, they’re not getting the important material that they need. My lectures only cover the general ideas and then we do hands-on work in class,” Junco said. “As an instructor, you don’t really get a sense of how students are doing in a class until they turn in a graded assignment. With the analytics from a digital textbook I can know right away if students are struggling.”

For the study, researchers collected and analyzed data from more than 500 students. Some students were offered digital textbooks, with the option to print the material, and the rest used the digital version exclusively.

They found that students who spent more time reading the textbook earned a higher grade in the course, according to the study

The findings highlight a value that regular textbooks cannot offer, but adoption of e-books is far from universal in higher education, Junco said.

Instructors generally use a student’s high school or community college grade point average to identify if he or she may need academic assistance. Junco says GPA is a good indicator of academic performance, but it is also a broad, static measure. His research shows the data from digital textbooks is a much stronger predictor of student outcome than previous academic performance.

“Now we have an individualized measure of how well students will do in class,” Junco said. “It’s also a behavioral measure. We can use these behavioral and real-time data to make decisions about student performance, without clumping students into these categories of ‘will succeed’ or ‘won’t succeed.'”

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