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Learning analytics tools aim to boost student retention, outcomes

Ellucian’s Course Signals

Course Signals, a product originally developed by Purdue University, uses online signals to alert students of their progress in a given course. Purdue officials piloted the software for three years before joining efforts with the former SunGard Higher Education to market the software to other schools.

Course Signals sends students graphical representations of their progress, depicted as red, yellow, or green circles resembling traffic signals. A green circle indicates good progress, a yellow circle signifies there is room for improvement, and a red circle shows that a student needs immediate attention. The colored graphics are sent to students via eMail and are based on the recorded grade data entered by professors.

Though SunGard Higher Education merged with Datatel in 2011, the newly formed company that resulted, called Ellucian, has continued to promote Course Signals. Ellucian Course Signals offers students the same traffic light alert system, indicates when professors need to intervene with struggling students, and suggests ways that students can improve their grades.

A major benefit of Course Signals is its ability to identify at-risk students as early as the second week of the semester, its makers say. Both students and professors benefit from the continuous feedback.

“The predictive model in Course Signals gives students a good indication very early in the course of how they are performing and whether they are starting to lag behind others in the class,” said John Campbell, Purdue’s associate vice president of the Rosen Center for Advanced Computing. “This very early alert to the students is extremely valuable, even in populations where you might not think it is necessary. Signals is helping Purdue improve [student] retention rates by identifying underperforming students early on and providing them with course-specific advice on how to change their trajectory.”


As student retention rates continue to pose a problem for many two- and four-year colleges, users of Course Signals say the product can help.

“We found in our research that this can improve student performance an average of one letter grade for many students,” said Gerry McCartney, Purdue’s chief information officer and vice president for information technology. “Course Signals is an important step forward for higher education that can be implemented successfully at many universities and community colleges across the nation to improve student retention and success.”

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