For much of his career as a professor of physics at Chabot College, Scott Hildreth struggled to figure out which concepts he should try to reinforce in his lecture. “Now, it’s totally different,” Hildreth says. “I literally spend my time now tuning my delivery for each class according to so much more information.” What changed, USA Today reports, was that Hildreth started instructing his students to do their homework online through a suite of “Mastering” tools from Pearson, which the publishing giant is marketing alongside its textbooks. Not only does the software tell Hildreth which problems students are getting wrong, it tells him why they are getting them wrong, so he can tailor his class sessions to reinforce certain concepts accordingly. It also relieves him of the burden of grading homework for dozens of students. While some professors are leery of automatic grading, Hildreth believes it has made him more efficient, and therefore effective. “It totally, for me, has changed the dynamic of teaching,” Hildreth says. “I feel like I’m a much better teacher now.” Over the last two decades, such software has gone from a pet experiment for computer-savvy professors on a handful of campuses to a must-have for textbook publishers who wish to stay competitive. Other major publishers, such as Cengage, W.H. Freeman, and McGraw-Hill, have developed similar add-ons that they now offer in hopes of persuading professors to adopt their textbooks. Still other companies have partnered with WebAssign, a company that produces online questions, exercises, simulations, and other e-tutoring complements to textbooks from a variety of publishers…

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