New software could help identify ‘at risk’ students

A physics lecturer has developed a new piece of computer software that can help identify students with potential stress, wellbeing or mental health related problems at University.

Dr Andrew Markwick, a lecturer in the School of Physics and Astronomy at The University of Manchester, has come up with a simple system that allows lecturers and other university staff, such as student support officers, to view and amend different data on the students that relates to their wellbeing.

For example, some of the tell-tale signs a student could be at-risk are non-attendance, a drop in grades or failure to submit work at all. However, these problems viewed in isolation across several different classes or departments can sometimes be easily missed or overlooked. But, together and when viewed holistically, they can paint a picture of a student who is struggling with classes or perhaps even something in their personal life.

This new system, called StudentCRT, allows teaching and support staff to see this data in real-time and update it. For each student the system maintains a score, which is affected by certain outcomes. This score is then used to identify ‘at risk’ students presenting a leader board to student support services.

Dr Markwick explains: “In recent years, as with any university, we have had cases of suicide and attempted suicide among the student population.

“My area of expertise isn’t in mental health or wellbeing but I felt I could help in other ways use my own skillset. So I decided to look at the way we use student data and figure out a better way to utilise it so we can identify at risk individuals before things escalate.

Dr Andrew Markwick, School of Physics and Astronomy
We wanted to be sure we were doing the best we could to protect our students using the information we collect about them anyway, that’s why we created StudentCRT. 
Dr Andrew Markwick, School of Physics and Astronomy

“We wanted to be sure we were doing the best we could to protect our students using the information we collect about them anyway, that’s why we created StudentCRT.”

So successful was the initial trial in the School of Physics and Astronomy, the system has now been in place for two years. Geraldine Garrabet, Student Support Officer in the school, said: “We’re now able to identify students we need to follow-up personally almost as soon as problems start to manifest themselves.”

The product has since been successfully trialled and tested in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) where it has now also been adopted. Tim Jones, Director of Teaching and Learning in MACE, added: “StudentCRT allowed us to identify several serious welfare cases that had gone undetected and reported. We were able to act swiftly to prevent their circumstances deteriorating further.”

The software has been such a success it has reached the final of Pitch@Palace competition which was founded by The Duke of York to provide a platform to amplify and accelerate the work of Entrepreneurs. You can vote for Dr Markwick in the Peoples Vote Award.

With support from the University’s innovation company, UMI3 Ltd, Dr Markwick has now launched a start-up company, Third Floor Systems, to make the product available to other universities. It can also be adapted for other large organisations.

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