College of Liberal Arts

Early Academic Warning System

By Emily Cicchini
Posted: Jan. 3, 2011

The Early Academic Warning System (EAWS), a new tool available for faculty use at The University of Texas at Austin, was developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning  with support from Liberal Arts Administrative Computing. The system enables instructors to alert students at the first sign of struggle with academic work and provides resources to help improve performance. 

Although the system can be used in any class size, it's deisgned to support large enrollment classes where individualized progress reports from the instructor may not be possible.

"The EAWS is a powerful yet easy to use tool that leverages technology to improve communication about students' progress and help them get assistance when they need it," said Harrison Keller, vice provost for Higher Education Policy and Research and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning. "UT Austin is becoming a leader in the development and strategic use of instructional technologies, and in the Center for Teaching and Learning we are excited to collaborate in these important projects to improve student success."

Keeping track of grades and coursework can be a challenge for all students. While there are many resources available for a student to get feedback on their progress, they are not always integrated, nor has there been any proactive way of identifying students "at-risk" of academic failure. Advisors can support long-range academic planning but don't typically keep tabs on an individual student's progress. Now EAWS can help instructors identify "at-risk" students and notify advisors of their concerns in real time.

For the purposes of the EAWS, "at-risk" means a running total or weighted total grade of C, D or F in the course. Although it can be used anytime throughout the semester, it's suggested that instructors use EAWS early on in the coursework, after some grading has been recorded. The tool uses test and assignment grades for primary identification, but instructors can use their own criteria in notifying students, and may elect to provide individualized feedback to each student via e-mail.

The tool has been tested on campus and is now available to any instructor who wants to use it along with their Blackboard-supported courses.  

Karen Silcox, a lecturer in Human Development and Family Sciences, used the Early Academic Warning System in a Fall 2011 semester course with over 90 students. She said students responded very positively to using EAWS.

 "Students are accustomed to immediate information in this digital age, and although they may be able to calculate their grades by hand, they may not do it early enough in the semester to make a change," Silcox said. "The EAWS system is an easy means to notify students of their standing, but ultimately students remain responsible for making any academic changes."

In practice, some of her students who received the warnings did seek additional assistance, and as a result were able to raise their running total grades to "low risk" (A or B).

"EAWS is not just an academic ‘warning' system," Silcox said. "I sent the email out to all students so that those in good academic standing could receive positive feedback, and those with borderline grades could become more academically aware."

Silcox praised the system for sending e-mails through her personal account, rather than an impersonal do-not-reply address.

"Students are more likely to respond directly to me with questions about how they could improve their academic standing," Silcox said. "Getting an e-mail directly from a professor adds a personal connection that is not always feasible. I teach a large class that only meets once a week, so I am looking for creative ways to get to know students more personally.  I think EAWS is one tool that can help with that goal."

The Early Academic Warning System is an example of some of the new ways The University of Texas at Austin is striving to create a culture of communication among instructors, students and advisors, collaboratively focused on the student's success.

To learn more, visit the Early Academic Warning System website.