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Spotlight: Pitt Study Lab

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Recently, we’ve been putting the Knack Spotlight on academic support programs that impress us. In this piece, we’re turning our attention to the University of Pittsburgh to see what’s happening at the Pitt Study Lab in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.

Why did the Study Lab catch our eye? The recent changes they’ve made to their operations have garnered amazing results — appointments for coaching are up by 142 percent and tutoring utilization is up by 55 percent as well. They have also seen a 41 percent increase in total students served, with almost 600 students getting tutored in the first six weeks of the 2019 fall term. 

So, why is the Study Lab so effective? Here are three features about their program that might inspire you to improve the academic support services at your school. 

Feature #1: Masterful Messaging

Pitt’s Study Lab understands that messaging matters. In fact, their recent success has a lot to do with them completely reframing how they communicate the services they provide to students. According to PittWire, two Dietrich School staffers collaborated to make this change happen: Director of Academic Success, Mary Napoli, and Communications Manager, Rebecca Farabaugh.

Initially, Napoli and Farabaugh were interested in attracting more students to what was then called the Academic Resource Center (ARC). As a first step, they conducted surveys and focus groups to learn more about the experiences of students who were seeking academic support. While this seems like a natural place to start the process, it is often overlooked. The success of Pitt’s Study Lab shows that it pays off to include students in the process of designing support programs. While surveys are great for collecting quantitative data, Napoli and Farabaugh were smart to also collect additional qualitative data through focus groups.

Reframing messaging didn’t end with choosing a new name for the program. Pitt’s Study Lab utilizes the language and media that Gen Z is most comfortable with, integrating video content and using terminology like “on-demand” to describe their offerings. Clearly, Napoli and Farabaugh did their homework when it came to choosing the key words they wanted to associate with their new brand of support services.

Lastly, as reported by PittWire, the new messaging is reflective of recent research about students’ sense of belonging in higher education and their connection to the campus environment, all in an effort to normalize help seeking behavior. 

Feature #2: Services Built For Gen Z

The Pitt Study Lab won over students by delivering services in a way that fits with how Generation Z learns. While traditional academic coaching and peer tutoring can be effective options for support, Study Lab did a great job enhancing their services with a range of additional ways students can access assistance.  

One example of this is Study Lab on Demand, which is a video library of on-demand learning modules that students can watch online. The content ranges from course reviews taught by Pitt students (aptly named “The Knowledge Drop“) to modules on note-taking strategies, time management, and goal-setting. According to Education Technology, e-learning options such as these are growing in preference with Generation Z due to the flexibility, accessibility, and choice that they offer students. 

Understanding that outreach and flexibility are key with this population, the Mobile Study Lab meets students where they’re already studying with a “no-appointment-needed” policy and an online calendar of upcoming sessions. Furthermore, the new online chat feature, which is available during business hours, allows students to seamlessly book their appointment-based tutoring sessions.

Another service that the Study Lab provides is a study skills inventory. This practical tool is facilitated by peer academic coaches, providing students with the necessary support to understand their results and make a plan for improvement. They also offer on-site study skills experiences, one of which is a 40 minute “study skills bootcamp” focused on the four phases of the learning cycle.

Lastly, the Study Lab understands that Gen Z loves peer learning. All of the 60+ tutors employed by the lab are Pitt students, and the academic coaches are students too. The “Meet Our Tutors” page on the Study Lab website is an especially nice touch that helps to create an inviting atmosphere for students. From top to bottom, it is very clear that everything about the Pitt Study Lab was designed with the interests of Gen Z students at heart.

Feature #3: CRLA-Certified Tutor Training

While the Pitt Study Lab transformation has certainly demonstrated a willingness to adapt in order to better meet the needs of today’s students, it has also shown a commitment to maintaining a high-level of quality for all of its services. One way this is achieved is through a tutor training program that is certified by the College Reading & Learning Association. 

Through the program, all Pitt Study Lab tutors receive 10 hours of training, which teaches them how to most effectively serve the students they work with. Since peer tutors are usually members of Gen Z as well, it’s important to help these students understand the value of the experience they will gain through helping their classmates succeed. Conducting tutor training is a great way to orient these students to their new role, while educating them on what they can expect to get out of the job.

We already know that tutors make awesome hires. Helping these tutors understand how to talk about this kind of experience can certainly give them a competitive edge in future job interviews.