Pivotal Big Data Suite Sets Purdue University Students Up For Success

June 19, 2015 Estelle Hayes

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For a university system steeped in a 146-year history of innovating in the fields of technology and science, it’s no wonder Purdue University would lead the way in data analytics. Using Pivotal technology, Purdue had enjoyed success with their Signals application, which uses data to track student performance in certain classes and red flag low performance. Looking ahead, the school’s IT department was ready to take their wealth of data to the next level by expanding the scope and potential of their big data capabilities and benefits with Pivotal Big Data Suite.

“Technology is really important at Purdue. It’s what we stand for,” said Gerry McCartney, Chief Information Officer and Oesterle Professor of Information Technology at Purdue University. “The promise of information technology has always been the promise of data. The real impact of information technology will be felt from the management, processing and analysis of data in real-time or near real-time because it will give us critical decision-making capabilities.”

McCartney explained that, while Purdue had been successfully using a data-mining and analysis software program since 2009, the administration was ready to catch up to leading-edge industry standards for enhanced data analysis.

The Challenges

While the system in place was effective, it only impacted current students who were enrolled in very specific classes. There was huge potential in extending the capabilities to the untapped population of high school students who were weighing college options as well as potential courses of study based on limited information. It also neglected the remaining Purdue student body who may have been unprepared for their particular major.

The University set two goals to help students achieve maximum success. First, they ensured students were prepared for the academic expectations of the institution. Second, they alerted students who were unprepared or not suited for certain classes and majors, helping them only spend time in areas that supported their strengths. “The fact is that many students make the mistake of picking a university simply based on location or if they know someone who goes there,” said McCartney. “Around something important like education, we like the idea of using even more data sources to help inform decisions and improve student success with higher education. We also like the idea of using data to help faculty teach better,” McCartney says.

The Solution

Purdue selected Pivotal Big Data Suite and Pivotal Data Science as the foundation of the next generation Signals program because the solution met its emerging real-time, and expanded big data analytics requirements.

“The analysis of data in real-time or near real-time is important. And the infrastructure that does this—the analysis, the storage, the presentation and discovery tools—Pivotal offers all of this in its Suite,” says McCartney. “They understand the nuances of our market, the tools that are appropriate and the kind of data the market produces. We consider Pivotal a very good partner in this quest.” As Purdue’s updated course analytics system moves into production, leaders are looking forward to seeing how the next-generation system provides even more help to students and faculty.

The Benefits

By leveraging Pivotal Big Data suite, Purdue identified student segments and behaviors where student success programs could be applied. Purdue plans to incorporate near real-time and real-time analytics to improve the Signals student tracking system and deliver data-driven alerts to warn students of potential pitfalls throughout their higher education experience. The next generation system will also allow the University to recruit better-prepared students by helping high school graduates make informed decisions about colleges based on specific strengths and abilities, rather than anecdotal information. Finally, advanced course analytics will improve teacher effectiveness and intervene with students early on when trouble is encountered.

We also like the idea of using data to help faculty teach better,” McCartney says.

Ultimately, Purdue’s community looks to see tremendous gains in recruitment, student academic experience, as well as faculty effectiveness—ensuring the big data impact is felt throughout its campus for years to come.

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