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Signals to provide early academic intervention at Purdue

MALVERN, Pa., and WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Signals, an innovative early intervention system that warns students that are at-risk of underperforming in a course and facilitates faculty interventions, will be enhanced and brought to higher education institutions through a joint effort by SunGard Higher Education, Purdue University and the Purdue Research Foundation.

signalsThe collaboration is among the first examples of SunGard Higher Education’s new Open Digital Campus strategy in action.

Developed by Purdue, the Signals software monitors students’ behavior patterns and academic performance to determine if they are at risk of earning a low grade and allows faculty to intervene with suggestions on actions they can take to help students improve their grades. An intuitive stoplight provides indications to students if they are underperforming and prompts the students to take action.

Today, campus sources for data about students vary greatly and come from different systems, applications and vendors. The power of Signals’ predictive modeling comes from employing multiple data sources to create a more complete picture of a student’s academic performance. That picture helps identify students at risk in a course so an intervention can happen early enough to actually make a difference – as early as the second week of class.

Officials from Purdue University, the Purdue Research Foundation and SunGard Higher Education signed a memorandum of understanding outlining key points of the parties’ collaboration efforts and have begun work on a definitive agreement. Their planned efforts will bring Purdue’s original design and expertise together with SunGard Higher Education’s development resources. SunGard Higher Education will create and market a new next-generation software product based on Signals that will be architected to work with multiple course management systems and student information systems. The solution also will provide flexibility for institutions so that they can refine and customize it to fit their needs and environment.

“The old idea of weeding out students, of ‘look left, look right, and one of you won’t be here next year,’ is an incredibly wasteful process for both universities and families. No one thanks educators if their kid lasts two years and then drops out,” said Gerry McCartney, Purdue’s vice president for information technology and chief information officer. “Signals helps us keep the students on task and focused, and offers students real opportunities for improvement.”

Signals was piloted in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 academic years. According to Purdue, the pilot involved nearly 2,000 students, where a double-blind study found that 67 percent of students receiving a yellow or red warning improved their effort and grade. For students who received a red light only, 78 percent improved their grade and effort during the mid-term period.

“Our faculty loves Signals because it helps them quickly identify students who need help and reach out to them in an effective and efficient way,” McCartney said. “But the students love it even more, which is both pleasing and a bit of a surprise, honestly.”

“Signals provides educators and leaders in higher education with valuable information to help them meet the individual educational needs of their students,” said Joseph B. Hornett, senior vice president, treasurer and chief operating officer of the Purdue Research Foundation. “The flexibility of the Signals software is also important, enabling it to fit different needs at different institutions and be modified as new technologies are introduced to the educational environment.”

Through its recently announced Open Digital Campus vision and technology strategy, SunGard Higher Education is giving colleges and universities new flexibility to shape how technology meets their evolving needs. The open strategy helps reduce dependencies and expand an institution’s ability to choose the technologies, delivery models, open source and vendor solutions that fit its needs. In academics, an area in which SunGard Higher Education has strengthened its efforts over the past year, this includes new opportunities for collaboration such as this project with Purdue.

“Through the Open Digital Campus, we are collaborating with our customers and working to deliver more modular and specific components that address precise institution needs, like course success,” said Tom Wagner, vice president at SunGard Higher Education. “We will build on the Purdue team’s outstanding work to offer a flexible solution that helps institutions extend the value of their investments, improve student success and further the core mission of the institution.”

Signals will complement SunGard Higher Education’s existing Banner Enrollment Management Suite by focusing on improving student success within a course, while components within Banner Enrollment Management focus on retaining the student at the institution or within a particular degree program and creating a loyal relationship that lasts beyond graduation. Data from Signals about student risk within courses will feed into Banner Enrollment Management to help create a complete picture of the student’s education experience.

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