Many high school students have counselors who continually guided them or parents who asked lots of questions. But when they reach a university, they have take responsibility for their own learning.
And the challenge they face is understanding where they are in class, said John Campbell, Information Technology at Purdue associate vice president for academic technologies and chief architect of the application Course Signals. After all, most faculty don't ask you how you're doing every day.
Through the Signals app, Purdue University focuses on giving freshmen and sophomores early and continual feedback on how they're doing in class. And on Sept. 1, that application earned a Digital Education Achievement Award from the Center for Digital Education.
This year, 7,000 to 8,000 students are using Signals regularly. And the app is available to all instructors and advisors on the West Lafayette campus. The university is working toward a goal of having 20,000 students regularly use the system.
By using analytics, the app predicts which students are doing well and which students might be at risk in a course. Through a stoplight system, the app communicates status to students, faculty and advisors.
Red means stop and get help. Yellow means caution, you're falling behind. And green means keep on going.
Along with these icons, students see what they can do to improve or get help, including going to faculty office hours.
In spring 2010, Signals users scored up to 26 percent more As or Bs. They earned up to 12 percent fewer Cs and up to 17 percent fewer Ds and Fs. And students asked for help earlier than the control group.
When Campbell asked students how they were doing before the app, they would say, "I think I'm doing OK." But now, they tell him the color of their signal right away.
"It does catch their attention," Campbell said, "and so we're finding it to be a quite effective mechanism."
By looking for ways to pull in data from sources other than the course management and student information systems, the university hopes to ensure that students are as successful as they can be. These other sources could include practice exercises from publishers' websites and student response tools that instructors use.
Purdue also wants to find out whether students respond to the app's recommendations. And if they don't respond, how does the system integrate that information into the larger picture?
Last year, Purdue worked with the Purdue Research Foundation and SunGard Higher Education to commercialize Signals. So far, four community and technical colleges are using or planning to implement the app.
Capturing the attention of a larger community is probably the most exciting thing about this project for the Information Technology at Purdue team, Campbell said.
"There are people from around the world who are doing their own approaches to this, and I think in the long term, it's going to become an increasingly valuable approach for higher ed."
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