Sending Out an SOS: Signals of Success, an Early Alert Platform Designed by Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

Concurrent Session 1
Streamed Session HBCU

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Brief Abstract

The Chairs of English and Math were tasked with developing an early alert system that was user-friendly, created in-house, and cost-effective. Using traffic signals to indicate students’ progress, Academics worked alongside IT and Tutoring. This effort increased communication, recordkeeping, faculty participation, and success.


Dr. Jenny Billings is the Chair of English and Study Skills at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in NC. Billings earned a BA in English from Wake Forest University ('06), an MFA in Creative Writing/English from Queens University of Charlotte ('10), and an Ed.D in Community College Executive Leadership from Wingate University ('17). Since joining Rowan-Cabarrus in January 2011, Billings has been awarded the 2013 Excellence in Teaching, the 2014 Outstanding Employee, the 2016 OLC Digital Learning Innovation, Cengage Faculty Partner, and the 2019 Innovator of the Year 'Star Act'. She was also a top-10 finalist for the 2018 Bellwether Award.

Extended Abstract

Rowan-Cabarrus’ Signals of Success (SOS) is an in-house, early alert system that encourages participation through its faculty-friendly design, while retaining documentation and bridging students with college resources, such as: tutoring, wellness services, counseling, and advising.

SOS is focused around a traffic signal: red, if a student is failing, worsening, or in need of immediate assistance; yellow, if there is a worrisome change in behavior that may require intervention; green, if the student is passing, showing improvement, without requiring additional resources. With a click, faculty send color-coded signals, while tagging recommended resources. The faculty, signal senders, and the resource contacts, signal receivers, work together within individual student records.

In July 2017, SOS was proposed amongst Academics, High School Programs, Recruitment and Retention, Advising, and Career Coaching. Dr. Quillen, Vice President of Academics, asked Jenny Billings (English Chair) and Melissa Reid (Math Chair) to design a progress reporting system. In Fall 2017, a formal IT request was submitted. From Spring 2018 through Summer 2019, Billings and Reid tested SOS; it was implemented in English and Math courses during Fall 2019. All faculty and resource contacts were trained, on-campus or via Zoom, at the pilot term’s beginning. In January 2020, feedback helped create version 2.0 and additional training was offered.

In May 2020, SOS professional development was offered college wide. In Summer 2020, a tutoring referral system was added. In Fall 2020, 6 additional departments and student cohort reporting will be included.

Since implementing SOS, more students participated in office hours. Through progress reporting, advisors and high schools received timely information to monitor students’ success. In SOS’s first year, English and Math saw significant gains, even in the midst of emergency remote teaching due to a global pandemic. Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 were used as baselines; success was defined as grades of A – C.

In Fall 2019, transferrable Math and English courses encompassed 3,001 students. When counting grades of “W” as “F”, Math saw a 2.79 percentage point (pp) gain and English saw a 5.12 pp gain; when removing grades of “W”, Math saw a 2.73 pp gain and English saw a 3.75 pp gain. In Spring 2020, transferrable Math and English courses totaled 2,630 students. When counting grades of “W” as “F”, Math saw a 7.44 pp gain and English saw a 1.08 pp gain; when removing grades of “W”, Math saw a 10.35 pp gain and English saw an 8.8 pp gain.

Rowan-Cabarrus learned the following lessons: early alert systems do not have to be external or costly; student progress platforms should be user-friendly; it is critical to keep documentation organized, with the ability to export reports, to assist with grade appeals, office hour conversations, and performance evaluations; signal receivers must be clearly defined and trained; feedback must be incorporated to improve processes, add functionality, and remain current; finally, the platform must be accessible on all devices, from everywhere. While this effort was designed and driven by faculty, it was not academic’s sole endeavor; the entire college bought in.