Pitt grant to fund research experience portal for iSchool students


The University of Pittsburgh has awarded a grant ($17,000+) to Brian Beaton, Assistant Professor, and Wesley Lipschultz, Manager of Student Services, to support the creation of a Web portal to facilitate the participation of graduate students in iSchool research projects. The “Research Experience Portal” will feature faculty-led research problems and projects, describing the available research opportunities and how students can interact with the project and faculty outside of the classroom. Students will be able to volunteer for specific tasks and projects of interest to them, completing the tasks and uploading them back into the system for faculty review and comments. The system will enable students to work with faculty from across the School’s degree programs, to gain specific research skills and experiences, and to participate in rigorous research endeavors on their own time. It also offers them the opportunity to apply what they learned in the classroom about research methodologies to real-world research efforts, thus experiencing the dynamic, challenging and cross-disciplinary nature of research in the Information Sciences.

This project will be funded by the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of the Provost through the 2013 Innovation in Education Awards Program. The awards, which were created in 2000, encourage innovative approaches to teaching and providing learning experiences to students. The program provides seed funding for the projects, with the expectation that the results can be adapted throughout the University.

The project was developed by Beaton and Lipschultz to meet an ever-growing need -- in the School and across higher education – to provide graduate students with hands-on research experience. Unfortunately, students do not always have the luxury of taking multiple independent study courses or capstone courses due to the credit limitations of their degree program. The Research Experience Portal project permits students to gain research experience outside of the classroom, on their own schedules and mapping to their own interests.  Similar to a course management system, students will have a menu of research projects and problems to address, and they can select those of the greatest interest. The system will also host student-faculty interactions and feedback, ensuring that students have the guidance needed to complete the project. The students will be able to generate reports on their participation in research projects, as well as evaluations of their performance, to document their research skills and competencies to future employers. Project evaluations and outcomes will also be used to assess the effectiveness of the iSchool curriculum in providing foundational research knowledge.

The portal will expose students to collaborative work models, as well as the breadth of research and expertise within the iSchool. The Information Sciences comprise many different disciplines and the research interests of the faculty are equally diverse: database management, decision support systems, Cyberscholarship, history of archives, information assurance and network security, policy implications of new technology,  information-seeking behaviors of children, and Science & Technology Studies are just a few of the iSchool’s signature research areas. This project leverages the School’s expertise in social computing and crowdsourcing to meet a curricular need by personalizing and maximizing student and faculty relationships on an individual project-by-project basis.

Dr. Beaton joined the iSchool faculty in 2012 and has built robust research and education programs around Science and Technology Studies, the role of information in society, and Web-based citizen science. He has won several notable fellowships with the International Center for the History of Electronic Games and the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). He also served as a co-PI on a collaborative research grant from Pitt’s Humanities Center. Mr. Lipschultz serves as the Manager of Student Services here at the iSchool, supervising all processes related to student success and student life. A particular passion of his involves providing enhanced professional development and outside of the classroom learning opportunities for students at the iSchool. In 2009, Lipschultz was selected to receive the 2009 Service to Commission Award presented by the National Academic Advising Association’s (NACADA) Technology in Advising Commission, which helps academic advisors and advising administrators to understand the impact that technologies have on academic advising.