E-nudging for success

E-nudging — reminders and advice based on data analytics — can help move students through the academic pipeline, writes Ben Wildavsky on The Quick and the Ed.

In one experiment, low-income high school graduates’ college plans were less likely to “melt” over the summer when they received texts about college deadlines and where to find counseling.

Once on campus, first-generation students rely on counselors to figure out which courses to take. Mistakes are common. At Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, Degree Compass analyzes student success data to recommend the “best-fit” courses for each student.

Purdue’s learning management system warns students if they’re falling behind. Course Signals analyzes class performance, effort (measured by how often students interact with the learning management system), high school grades and standardized test scores and student characteristics, such as age and number of credits taken. Students see a traffic signal: “Red (Stop and get help), Yellow (Caution, you are falling behind), or Green (Keep on going).

By clicking on the signal, students facing difficulties can receive specific feedback from the instructor, including guidance about which tutoring or study resources they can access to improve their academic progress.

. . . When Signals was used for some sections of a large biology course, for example, students who received messages from the Signals system were much more likely to visit the biology resource center than their counterparts in non-Signals classes. Overall the Signal students received better final grades. The four-year retention rate for the 2007 cohort of Purdue undergrads who used Signals at least once is 87.4 percent, versus 69.4 percent for those who did not—an impressive 18 percentage point difference.

Students who took two Signals courses did even better, even though they had lower SAT scores on average.

Cover edit 3A for-profit start-up called Persistence Plus nudges students about time management and class deadlines through texts or iPhone or Android apps. Other messages offer “help coping with setbacks,” and connect students to classmates “in social networks organized around academic goals.”

For example, the iPhone app might text: “Students who pick specific times to finish assignments do better. Your personal essay is due soon. When and where will you finish it up? To which a student might reply, “Tuesday at the library.”

Text messages also ask students about their sense of well-being, If the reply indicates a problem, “Persistence Plus sends the student messages geared toward the challenge he or she faces, or can connect students who have larger needs to campus counselors for individual support.”

The Community College Research Center summarizes what we know about non-academic student supports. The packet lays out the Sustained, Strategic, Intrusive and Integrated and Personalized (SSIP) approach, suggests how to apply SSIP to advising at community colleges and makes recommendations on student success courses.

Chart pathways to help students succeed

Instead of focusing on outcomes — degrees attained — researchers need to understand students’ pathways through community college, argues Peter Riley Bahr of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in What We Don’t Know About Community College Students.

“Pathway” includes: “student course-taking behavior; enrollment patterns; course outcomes; choice of program of study; use of advising, tutoring, and other support services; and a variety of other features that ultimately determine long-term student outcomes.”

. . . student pathways are treated as a mysterious blackbox: students enter college with a given set of characteristics and exit college with or without a credential, but the term-by-term decisions and experiences of students between entry and exit remain largely a mystery.

The policy brief is part of The Changing Ecology of Higher Education series for the Center for Education Policy Analysis at Stanford.