What is Blackboard Learn’s Retention Center?

Envision this. You are an instructor who wants real-time tracking in the course management system you’re already established in. You enjoy simplicity in picking your criteria for monitoring student performance and fancy something that provides an easy mechanism for informing students who are falling short of the course’s expectations.

Retention Center can be that tool for you. It is a replacement for its predecessor, the Early Warning System and has been available since the start of the Fall 2013 semester.

And now, here is a Frequently Asked Questions roundup:

Give me a quick definition: The Retention Center is defined by Blackboard as a tool that can determine if students are at risk compared to the criteria you choose to setup and monitor. Once the criteria settings are in place, the instructor is notified which students are currently at risk.

Doesn’t Course Signals already do something similar?: First, it is based on the same basic philosophy as Course Signals, meaning it is a tool that enables you to take action to improve student performance in your course(s). Second, while Course Signals requires reports to be generated, Retention Center provides automatic monitoring. It is important to note that Course Signals works to predict where a student will finish performance wise in a course, given their current grades and interactions with content in Blackboard Learn. Retention Center is designed to give the instructor an up-to-the-minute picture of how students are performing, but does NOT predict performance. Lastly, there are benefits to using either or both tools, and an article in the near future will provide a comparison.

So, what allows the Retention Center to work?: Retention Center is built on the idea of using different types of monitoring guidelines, called Rules. Currently, it employs four types of rules, and here is a breakdown of each type:

  • Course Activity: This monitors the overall activity of students using your course, such as viewing pages, clicking links to items, taking online assessments, and writing in the collaborative tools (blogs, discussion board, journals, wikis).
    • Criteria for measuring: student’s activity in the last # of days/weeks/months compared to a above/below the # percentage of the course’s average.

  • Course Access: Tracks the number of days since a student was last recorded accessing the course.
    • Criteria for measuring: # of days since last course access.

  • Grade: Determines if a student is above/below a specific or average point/percentage value in what they have earned as a final grade or from other grade items (assignments, tests, etc.).
    • Criteria for measuring: Choosing to monitor final grade or specific item. Set Grade Value above/below # of point/percentage value. Or, grade is above/below the average grade by a percentage of #.

  • Missed Deadline: Tracks if a student has many or a specific deadline for an assignment, test or survey.
    • Criteria for measuring: Choosing to monitor all or a specific deadline(s) if # of deadlines have been missed by missed by more than/less than # of days.

Fair enough, so do I need to set them up by scratch or are there already some in place?: Each course is given four default risk rules, one for each rule type. They are…

  • For Course Activity: Activity in the last 1 week(s) is 20% below average
  • For Course Access: Last access more than 5 days ago
  • For Grade: External Grade is 25% below class average
  • For Missed Deadline: 1 deadline(s) have been missed by more than 0 days

^As an added note, you can edit these default rules to change their criteria.

Can I make as many rules as I want?: Yes you can. While you will not see more than four columns in the Retention Center risk table, each new rule is a part of each rule type. Thus, if you use the rule for 1 deadline that was missed in 0 days, and create a new rule for alerting if a student missed 2 deadlines in the last 30 days, both will show when you click on the red dot indicating an active risk. Here is an example below:

*In another blog article in this series, we will cover the advanced features in the matching risk factors dropdown.

On another note, do I always have to monitor students at risk? Can I monitor students who are doing well?: Students will appreciate your constructive criticism when it comes to issues in their performance, but they may enjoy your insight even more if decide to let them know they are doing well and to keep up their on-time, excellent work.

Can I pick out certain students to monitor for risks?: Definitely. Click on any of the red dots that appear to the right of the student’s name, and then click the Monitor button on the Matching Risk Factors dropdown box. The students you are monitoring will appear on the right side of the Retention Center page. Here is an example of the data on a student being monitored:


Can I track my own activity?: Certainly and its encouraged. Just as you expect your students to be involved and turning in high-quality work, you too should be involved in how you contribute to your course. The types of course activity tracked for instructors are assessment grading, interaction & collaboration with the collaborative tools (discussion board, blogs, journals, and groups), announcement creation, and content created/uploaded. Here is an example of the activity interface:

I am already a month and half into teach my course, is it too late to get started?: The beauty of Retention Center is that you can get started at any point in the semester and the data generated is instantaneous and relevant. The midterm period of the semester is an important time to inform your students of their performance in your course. Think of it this way, while they may have made mistakes and earned average scores so far, there is always a chance that your intervention will influence them to make more of an effort in the second half of the semester.

How do I email multiple students who have the same risk?: By clicking on the red bar with the current number of at risk students, you can view which types register a student being at risk (first image below shows an example). Once you click one of the risks, a dropdown option box will appear and by hovering over the Notify button, you can then send out a message.


Is there any documentation available for me to use to get started?: Purdue does not currently have documentation for Retention Center, however Blackboard Inc. has materials that can walk you through the features. However, like other features of Learn we will plan to release how-to documentation and best practices resources in the near future.

Please check back at the IDC blog for an upcoming blog article in November on Retention Center. In the meantime, feel free to contact us at tlt-consulting@purdue.edu should you have any questions and/or issues.

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