SCOTTISH university students are taking part in trials of a new smartphone app which allows them to track their academic progress compared to their peers.

Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, and Abertay University, in Dundee, are taking part in the pilots which will see students log details such as how long they spend in the library, how much time they work on computers, the scores they achieve in tests and attendance in lectures and tutorials.

Edinburgh University is also using data in a different way to highlight to students which courses they would be best suited to based on previous choices and performance.

The new app, developed by the higher education technology company Jisc, is designed to show students how engaged they are in their course and how they compare with others. They can even compare themselves to individual students on their course if they agree to share the data.

In addition, the pilots also allow lecturing staff to be given access to the results so they can monitor where the performance of students is slipping.

Where a student is at risk of dropping out the app can send warning messages to staff as well as alerting the student to the need to spend more time working and suggesting they speak to a tutor.

A number of Scottish universities have identified improving drop-out rates as a key priority, particularly those who take greater numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds who can find study more difficult because of a lack of family familiarity with higher education.

Niall Sclater, a learning analytics specialist at Jisc, which is a is a not-for-profit company funded by the higher education sector, said better use of data was fuelling improvements.

He said: "Strathclyde University and Abertay University are particularly interested in the app which gives students detailed information about how well they are engaging with their course on their mobile phones.

"Students at university have very little idea of where they are as they are progressing through their studies compared to when they were at school because feedback is much less frequent in higher education.

"This app will allow them to compare themselves to other students in terms of how well they are doing, but it will also allow lecturers to spot trends and intervene when someone is looking as if they are dropping off where they should be."

Dr Alastair Robertson, Abertay University's director of teaching and learning, said the new app was currently being piloted with students taking part in accelerated degree programmes, which involves a three year degree rather than four.

He said: "Over the last few years we have gone through a transformation in learning, teaching and assessment and, as a modern university, we have a high number of local students who come from college.

"We have identified this as a very useful tool to improve student attainment through technology and it is also an opportunity to identify students at risk which helps to support our programme to improve student retention and progression."

Mr Robertson said the university was also piloting additional software which allowed staff to interact with students online on issues such as how satisfied they were with their course.

He added: "There is a lot of literature and research which shows that engaged students are the ones more likely to complete their courses and do well and this additional data will help us take a more sophisticated approach."

Rob Henthorn, NUS Scotland vice president of education, said: "It’s incredibly important that universities do everything they can to make the transition into university, whether that’s from school, college, or elsewhere, as easy as possible for students.

"While it’s also crucial that support services are made as accessible to students as possible, we need to make sure that technology doesn’t become a substitute for the face to face support services that provide vital help for students throughout their academic journey."