Data analytics. Data-driven. Big data. Data mining. Data, data, data. It’s the buzz-word these days in the publishing industry. And for good reason. All our data is being collected – regardless of we’re aware of it or not. Whether it’s through the big three: Facebook, Amazon, Google, or just by loyalty cards at your grocery store or apps to track your fitness. In the Canadian book market, BookNet helps the industry by giving publishers consumer data, metadata from other publishers, and more. It would be silly for a publisher to not capitalize on this wealth of information to try to sell more books and try to survive in a tough market like books.
There’s so much data to scan through and collect. It’s important to identify what exactly would be beneficial for you as a publisher and how you can use that data to improve your services. Personally, if I was a publisher I would want disengagement data. Specifically, I would want data telling me what sections of the text the reader started to disengage. I think this would be an especially useful tool to have in education publishing.
Educational publishers provide students with textbooks, course packs, non-fiction books, educational picture books, etc. If I could get data on when students start to lose focus, skim over passages, get frustrated, or simply lose interest, I could then hopefully make the learning experience much better. The process of taking complex subjects and translating it to a lay audience can be quite challenging. I saw this issue time and time again in my undergraduate lectures. I had super smart professors that were highly specialized in their fields, however, when it came to deconstructing the material to explain to students in a simple manner, many of them did not do a good job. We would leave lectures feeling confused and frustrated. We would then to turn to textbooks or other reading material that would also fail to help us understand. Sometimes professors can’t be helped. But I think books can be improved – especially because there’s a team of people working on them.
Knowing disengagement data can help publishers, editors, and writers improve their work. In future editions, visuals can be added, paragraphs can be rewritten, chapters can be restructured, supplemental resources can be offered. This data can also be offered to educators who can see where students are losing touch, and lesson plans can be modified to address these issues. I’m a big believer in that anyone can learn anything if it’s taught properly. Over the past year, I’ve heard many of my peers say they hate numbers or they’re not good at math. I don’t buy it. I think everyone could be good at math. They just need the right learning tools and methods that are suitable for them.
To collect this data in a non-intrusive way I think the most straight forward way would be to ask students. When they buy a textbook or a digital textbook, perhaps they are given the option to highlight or mark up pages or passages that are confusing to them. They can offer suggestions of what other things they’d like to see – maybe more definitions, maybe more diagrams. This would make the learning process more dynamic as well instead of in a one-way direction from teacher/book to student.
The other option would be to tell students they’re tracking their learning process as they go through the book. For example, a digital e-book can inform students at the beginning that their reading process is being monitored and explaining why. Students can then have a choice to opt-out. Offering perks (like a $50 Starbucks card) may motivate students to opt in.
Though I make this sound easy, I’m aware of all the challenges that can arise. It’s expensive to collect your own data… to have the tools and means to do so. Knowing exactly why students disengage can be quite challenging to understand. It can be due to personal learning challenges, it may have to do with their personal history with the topic at hand (maybe they had an awful math teacher that scarred them for life and now they can’t look at a math textbook without puking). The technology might not be there yet either.
Overall, I’m in the opinion that education is the key to most things in life. If there was a way to make teaching tools better, I would jump at the opportunity – while being respectful of peope’s privacy and information.