Purdue flags flailing students with course mgt. software

Logging student activity helps administrators quickly understand who's lagging behind. Coming next: automated intervention tools that can reduce drop-out rates.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Officials at Purdue University are getting an excellent handle on which students are in danger of failing -- by using the same software that delivers online courses and class exercises. Purdue uses its course management software - provided by Blackboard-owned WebCT - not only to deliver online course but also for online activities that augment traditional classes. By using the basic activity logging features of the software, administrators are getting a good understanding of who's doing well and who's not, eSchool News reports.

By measuring the amount of time students spend in web-based classroom activities and using other simple metrics provided through the software's basic functionality, Purdue officials believe they have identified the strongest indicators of student failure.

The school's digital content group combines standard preadmission information on a student with real-time data collected through the course management system to see if a student is attending class and doing homework.

Though it might seem obvious that students who do their homework are more likely to achieve greater academic results than those who do not, administrators are excited about having some measurable--rather than anecdotal--way to account for that difference, thanks to observational figures pulled from the CMS.

"By virtue of having real-time data that ... function as an index of whether or not a student is really attending class" or doing what is required of him or her, the information can be measured to determine how likely students are to drop out, Bart Collins, director of Purdue's digital content and instructional development center, said.

"Are they logging in? Are they doing the work that their teachers want? You can get a pretty good idea looking at usage patterns. We're learning how students are engaging the system relative to others in their class," he said.

From here the plan is to develop automated tools that would alert professors and TAs about who need help. 

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