September 1, 2009

Purdue uses new student warning system

Purdue University freshmen and sophomores this fall will be using a first-of-its-kind computer system that will warn them if they need work in certain areas.

The system, called Signals, will be offered to more than 11,000 students enrolled in so-called gateway courses. Signals -- using traffic-like signals of red, yellow and green lights -- tracks student academic progress and warns students as early as the second week of classes whether their effort is putting them on a path to success.

Purdue officials said the system uses a sophisticated data mining and analytics algorithm that checks more than 20 data points, focusing more on the student's effort, rather than just their grades.

Signals, based on the research of John Campbell, associate vice president of Purdue's Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, was piloted during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 academic years with nearly 2,000 students. A double-blind study found 67 percent of students receiving a yellow or red warning improved their effort and grade. For students who received a red light, 78 percent improved their grade and effort during the mid-term period.

College is the first opportunity to be independent for most of these students, Campbell said. What we should be doing is not expecting them to climb that mountain all alone, but instead we should offer a lot of scaffolding early in their college career that fades away as they become more experienced.

Examples of the Signals system using fictional students are available at