iSchool Faculty, Peter Brusilovsky, wins “Innovation in Education” Award to promote student engagement in online course readings


Peter Brusilovsky, Professor at the iSchool, was recently honored by the University of Pittsburgh Provost’s Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence with an “Innovation in Education” Award. The awards are designed to support projects that enhance teaching, foster new instructional approaches, facilitate collaboration among faculty, develop innovative course materials, and create significant curricular improvements.  Dr. Brusilovsky’s funded project will develop a visualization interface to promote online reading through a visual comparison of peer students’ progress with the same reading material.

Instructors depend upon students to complete weekly reading assignments so that class-time can be devoted to more interactive and advanced learning activities. However, it can be difficult for instructors to track completion of the assigned readings, normally through leading questions or pop quizzes, particularly in large classes. Therefore, students might not be motivated to actually complete the readings, resulting in lackluster course performance and diminished understanding of critical theories. Dr. Brusilovsky suggests that, through his proposed progress tracking interface, students would be motivated to complete the online assigned materials.  

Based on recent research on open student modeling, social comparison and social visualization, this project will provide visual representations of a student’s reading progress on several levels (from chapters to sections to pages) and allow the students to visually compare their progress with both the progress of the class as a whole and the progress of individual peers. Initially, the interface will be utilized in Brusilovsky’s Interactive Systems Design course (INFSCI 2470) at the School of Information Sciences. However, the design of the interface will be such that it can be applied to any class which incorporates online reading materials.

This project will build on Brusilovsky’s NSF-funded project to design a visualization tool to assess mastery of programming language techniques. That project resulted in Progressor, an advanced visualization of student problem-solving progress. Because the new project will deal with extensive reading materials, rather than discrete computer programming exercises, the new interface will have to be more robust and capable of handling dense content. Brusilovsky has proven (in the prior NSF project) that the peer comparison functionality significantly increased students’ motivation to undertake and complete the programming assignments. Thus, the comparison aspect will be enhanced as well in the proposed interface.

Peter Brusilovsky has extensive experience in designing and evaluating e-learning and social systems. He is internationally-renowned for his work in the areas of adaptive Web-based systems, adaptive hypermedia, intelligent tutoring systems, human-computer interaction, and adaptive interfaces. Here at the iSchool, he has led the development of two significant research and educational efforts: the Personalized Adaptive Web Systems (PAWS) Lab and the Teaching and Learning Research Lab (TALER).