White Paper

Plan for Pitt Goal

We aspire to be a university that prepares students to lead lives of impact through a supportive environment focused on a holistic and individualized approach to learning inside and outside the classroom. 

Plan for Pitt Strategy

We aspire to serve as a leader in personalizing educational experiences of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, with particular attention to mentorship, advising, and tailoring engagement to the goals of individual students.

View the Plan for Pitt (PDF) »

What is personalized education?

We define Personalized Education as: Enhancing learning through tailored engagement in educational activities that reflect each student's unique identities, experiences, interests, abilities, and aspirations.

When educational experiences and activities are designed around students’ individual needs and interests, students learn more. Through Pitt’s Personalized Education Initiative we seek to develop and refine approaches to tailoring the educational experiences of all students across the University within individual courses, in the curriculum, and in extracurricular activities. Intensely personalized educational experiences have long been an important part of the experience of small colleges, where individual faculty and advisors help students choose from among a selected set of customized opportunities based on each student's needs and interests. We believe that we can personalize educational experiences to students at scale across a large and diverse university.

We see great potential to develop approaches to individually match Pitt students to the vast array of opportunities and experiences across the university and region, and to do so at scale. Availability of student data, advances in analytics, and new approaches to advising and recommending will be key to the success of this effort. We also will assess the effectiveness of the approaches being implemented as measured against clear goals linked to learning outcomes and student success. 

How can we personalize education at Pitt?

Pitt strives to prepare students for lives of impact through immersive educational experiences that are tailored to the specific goals and needs of each student. Pitt has created an intellectually rich and diverse environment with many opportunities for students to engage in formal and informal learning in the classroom, through research and service opportunities as well as by participation in and leadership of student groups and projects. Pitt students are immersed in this environment, dense with opportunities to learn, but many students, especially students less familiar with universities, need expert guidance to discover the opportunities that would most enhance their education and consequently, their lives.  

This critical matching of students to opportunities and activities is facilitated by advisors, faculty, staff and peers who work to inform students about areas of possible interest. It can also be achieved by empowering students, providing them directly with better information  about the choices they might make. Students often do not or cannot consult their advisors about every important choice - and even the best advisor can work more effectively when given tools that help provide insight into the interests and abilities of advisees, along with detailed knowledge of the opportunities available across the university. By providing students, advisors, and faculty with better information about educational programs and opportunities that match the needs and interests of individual students, we believe that we can improve educational outcomes for all students across our campus.  

We see personalization as enhancing education in three domains:

  • Within the classroom through innovations in teaching methods and technology
  • In curricular planning by allowing students to understand the connection between courses and majors and their educational goals
  • In extracurricular activities by matching students to experiences that foster immersive learning.

In all of these domains we see opportunities to enhance education through adaptive data driven approaches that continually learn about students' actions and priorities and facilitate the discovery of opportunities that may suit the needs and interests of specific students.

Examples

Personalizing Courses: Students entering a given course, such as Introductory Biology  will have a wide range of backgrounds and interests. Some will have had AP Biology in high school, others will have had college chemistry. Some will be art majors, some will be interested in applying to medical school. Some students will feel like they were born to be biologists, others will be unsure of whether they belong in this class.  Pre-assessments plus adaptive learning approaches can even the playing field for students, allowing all students to maximize the benefit from the  class and to understand how that educational experience matches with their goals.

Personalizing Curriculum: Students choose courses and majors for many reasons, but rarely do students have the information or advice needed to fully appreciate the impact of the choices that they are making. As students build a schedule or consider adding or dropping a class, we seek to provide real-time  information on how such a choice may impact their time to degree or restrict their ability to choose a major. Students could be shown the relationship between particular degrees or courses and possible career choices post- graduation. A set of  course recommendation systems could provide a valuable tool for engaging students in an exploration of their educational choices.

Personalization Outside the Classroom: Most of a student’s life is spent outside the classroom, and the experiences of students outside the classroom are a critical part of the residential college experience. The university and the city provide an array of services, opportunities, and experiences that can enrich a student’s life and education. By informing specific students about academic support services we may be able to improve learning and academic performance. By directing interested students to a particular student organization or activity we may enrich their educational experience at Pitt. 

What are we doing now?

Under this initiative, we are working within  the Office of the Provost  to expand our capabilities to support personalized education through better access to student data and analytic approaches in areas such as student persistence, graduation rate and student satisfaction. Through the University Center for Teaching and Learning, we are also supporting the adoption of innovative teaching approaches including those that allow faculty to personalize learning in their classes. We are trying to better coordinate and integrate the data from student surveys to gain a better understanding of which programs and resources might be valuable for particular students.

To succeed in this effort we need to make personalizing education at Pitt a team effort that engages people from across the university. Currently we are looking for information and stories about the ways that faculty, staff and students across the university are already working to personalize education at Pitt. Please contact us if you want to share this information. Some of these efforts are well-developed and others are just beginning. We want to support and enhance these efforts by promoting coordination and integration, helping with assessment and by supporting new ideas by providing the infrastructure needed to scale those practices and programs that are shown to be effective.

What’s next?

You will see more about this initiative in the coming weeks and months. We are planning to engage faculty, students and staff from across campus in discussions about what they are doing now and what they would like to do. In parallel with this engagement, we are in the process of developing plans for making better use of student data in advising and connecting students to mentors, and programs. We hope to support a series of projects proposed by faculty staff or students designed to enhance the personalization of education. If you have ideas that you would be interested in sharing, contact us.