Friday, September 27, 2013

Purdue Signals -- giving students feedback on how they are doing

I give my students feedback as to how they are doing relative to the class on assignments and quizzes throughout the semester. I also do informal, anonymous surveys to give them feedback on their relative level of effort, for example asking how many many actually watched a video that had been assigned or how long they spent studying a module or doing an assignment. These low-tech surveys take only a few minutes to administer and tabulate. My goal is to put information, and therefore responsibility for the outcome, in their hands.

Purdue University has a more ambitious effort for monitoring student progress and giving them feedback during the term. Since 2007, they have used Signals, a system that mines student data to predict their success in a course. They look at demographic, help-seeking and performance variables to judge how well a student is doing as the term progresses. Student feedback includes a red/green/yellow signal to indicate their overall progress as well as "canned" emails from their instructors and suggestions as to how to improve and where to get help.

Purdue reports that graduation rate, retention rate and grades have improved for students taking Signals courses. For example, Signals students got better grades in these courses:


This and the other results reported by the Signals team are encouraging, but there are many confounding variables. For example, professors choose whether or not to use Signals in their courses and those who choose to do so may be more more committed to teaching than those who don't.

If this sounds interesting, you can visit the Signals home page, read this short report on the project, read this discussion of ethical considerations in mining student data in this manner or watch these one minute videos.

Explanation of Signals for students:



Comments from two faculty members:



I am not sure whether I would use Signals if it were available to me as a teacher, but my low-tech approach to feedback on relative performance and effort is simple and I can do it on my own.

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Update 9/28/2013

Andrew Stewart suggest that we look at JISC's work in this area, writing:
Some interested findings emerging from Jisc's Assessment and Feedback programme around this area. As a distance learning student myself I'd love to have this kind of information at my fingertips.