Ivory Towers: Purdue uses online data to identify and aid struggling students

Students at Purdue University will no longer be able to fly under the radar, thanks to new course-management systems put into place this academic year. According to John Campbell, associate vice president for teaching and learning technologies at the university, “As long as tuition keeps going up, people are going to want more value for their money.” The way to do that? “Keep students from failing.”

Purdue collects a variety of data from its courses, using online course-management systems to determine students’ participation in assignments and in-class “clickers” to monitor answers to questions. Campbell has used this data to develop a model for identifying struggling students.

Looking at 27,276 Purdue students enrolled in 597 courses, Campbell has been able to predict which students are heading for a grade of C or below over two thirds of the time. Students who fail to log on to course Web sites or participate in class fair the most poorly.

Once identified, students are sent an initial e-mail detailing the options available to them for extra help. If the students fail to improve, professors initiate a direct dialog. The university has reported success with the program. Referring to the system, one student said to his instructor, “Your message was a ‘kick in the butt’ that woke me up.”

-The Chronicle of Higher Education

Brigham Young hires students to evaluate professors

While many college students are asked to evaluate their professors for free, some students at Utah’s Brigham Young University are paid to do so. Every year, 25 students are employed by BYU’s Students Consulting on Teaching program to sit in on classes and help the professors make improvements.

The program was started in 1991 and has recently expanded. It began as a small project in an education class, but now the student consultants evaluate 80 of the 1300 professors each year.

The consultants earn $8.50 an hour for a few hours each week. In order to be chosen for the program, students must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and attend biweekly training sessions in order to learn about teaching methods and how to best review the classes. Some consultants sit in on a class and take notes as if enrolled in the course, while others record every aspect of the class, including how many students are participating, taking notes and actually paying attention.

Many of these student consultants – known as “Scots” after the program’s acronym – also videotape lectures so that professors can see and evaluate their own performance. They often interview students in the courses as another evaluative tool.

Department chairs may request Scot service for professors who seem to be struggling, but consultants will only work with permission from the instructor. All results and evaluations remain confidential.

-The Chronicle of Higher Education