Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Signals - Stoplights for student success

At the STS meeting in Kyoto, I had the pleasure of meeting France Córdova, the president of Purdue University. I took my first full pattern recognition course at Purdue long ago and far away (my brother Bill is a Boilermaker/Purdue alum, too).

France mentioned some cool education technology that had been developed at Purdue, called Signals - Stoplights for student success. Signals blends two key ideas:
  1. The patterns of student failure can be spotted early: much earlier than existing systems relying on failing midterms! Purdue can spot patterns that indicate a much higher chance of failure, and intervene early.
  2. Simple communications design that everybody gets: green light, yellow light, red light. And, get these signals to both students and faculty.
I was able to talk to one of the senior team at Purdue about this at the recent launch of Purdue's Silicon Valley presence. He was quite realistic about the limitations of the system. For example, a really bright student who can pull everything together just before the exams might present with a red light a third of the way into the quarter, but still be ok. But, the weight of evidence is that they can associate learning management system data with an increased likelihood of failure, and then intervene.

This really made me think about students with disabilities. Disabled Student Services offices can't supervise the students they serve: there's not enough resources for that, and college students don't need babysitting. But, a system that cost-effectively identifies any students at risk of failure is a great tool for all students, and might also serve as a flag for some of the disability services interventions that might be needed. For example, an accessible version of a key book or item of course content.

Purdue has made a deal with Sungard to support Signals more widely at other universities: I hope this kind of tool makes a much wider impact!

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