Centenary psychology professor receives grant for collaborative research

SHREVEPORT, LA — Dr. Jessica Alexander, assistant professor of psychology at Centenary, has been awarded a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) to explore cognitive science in the college classroom as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration. Alexander will work with colleagues at Rollins College and Sewanee to build web-based modules to help faculty incorporate important developments in cognitive science into their classrooms.

The ACS is a consortium of 16 private liberal arts colleges spread across 12 states in the southeastern United States. The organization facilitates collaboration and partnerships between its member institutions, including through its grant program that focuses on themes of innovative instruction, collaborative curriculum, and diversity and inclusion.

Alexander and her colleagues applied for an “innovative instruction” grant to create web-based modules on pedagogy design that will be available to ACS faculty members in any discipline. Drawing on human learning and information processing studies in the field of cognitive psychology, the modules will provide professors with tools to craft syllabi, courses, and assignments with students’ cognitive systems in mind. As the grant proposal explains, the project is an attempt to “bridge the traditional gap between cognitive psychologists who actively research teaching and learning and the instructors who design courses and engage with students.”

Alexander’s faculty collaborators for the grant include Dr. Jennifer Queen, associate professor of psychology at Rollins College, and Dr. Brandy Tiernan, assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee. Amy Sugar, director of instructional design and technology at Rollins, will work with her IT team to design and implement the online modules written by faculty members.

“Jenny Queen and I came from the same graduate lab but have never worked together directly,” explains Alexander. “Brandy Tiernan and I had talked about starting a collaboration when we met at the ACS Teaching and Learning workshop in 2016. So when Jenny approached me about the project, I thought the three of us would make a great team.”

Alexander and her colleagues plan to have three modules ready for beta testing by other faculty members by the end of summer 2018, and will use evaluations from the pilot participants to edit the modules and prepare them for wider use in early 2019.

“Our project will provide development materials for faculty members who want to design or revise aspects of their courses,” says Alexander. “For example, from research on skill learning, we know that it’s important not to just give feedback but to give feedback tailored to the learner’s point in the process. Early on in the learning process, more frequent feedback is useful, but as the learner makes progress, less frequent feedback becomes more useful. It turns out that many good teachers structure feedback this way, and we hope to give instructors the tools to deliberately incorporate research-based teaching practices into their own classes.”

Alexander joined the Centenary faculty in 2014 and teaches courses on cognition, sensation and perception, neurolinguistics, and behavioral statistics. Her research focuses on perception of spoken language and how vocal characteristics interact with the linguistic properties of speech. She is currently collaborating on research projects on memory for spoken language and vocal fry with current and former Centenary students.