Site Helps Profs Find the Right Words

Professors often convey information to their students about everything from attendance and grading to extra credit and office hours.
Site Helps Profs Find the Right Words

But no matter how often professors repeat themselves, some students inevitably don’t get the message.

Purdue PassNote is a free website designed to help professors fi nd the messages most likely to get students’ attention. Developed by faculty at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, the site offers a drop-down menu from which instructors select green, yellow, or red tabs to describe their level of concern regarding a specifi c student behavior. The site then suggests statements, which instructors can cut and paste into an email, posting, or Facebook or Twitter message to students.

The statements are based on a study led by research scientist Matt Pistilli, who examined effective communication methods in education.

His research indicated, for example, that sentences intended to correct student behavior should be no longer than 54 words—students tend to stop reading after that.

If instructors want to improve students’ work ethic, the site suggests statements such as “it is very important that you seek additional help before the next test to improve your grade.” To improve attendance, it recommends a message such as “attending class each day on time can improve your chances of success.”

The school will refine the site as more instructors use it. “We’ll be looking at which phrases get used, which ones are never used, and what the final messages look like,” says Pistilli. “We’ll take this information and combine it with the direct feedback we get from users to continually improve the tool.”

PassNote is available at