For more complete records of my academic career, see the PDF versions of my curriculum vitae and teaching dossier.

Research

Teaching and Learning

Attendance at post-secondary institutions has steadily increased over the past decade. With more and more individuals entering the higher education system there is an increased need for ensuring that students are a part of a high-quality learning environment. Thus, there is an immense value (financially and otherwise) in identifying factors, and developing mechanisms that contribute to student success. Alas, the primary objective of my postdoctoral research was to identify and promote effective teaching and learning practices for higher education. My approach to refining educational practice was through examination and application of principles in cognitive psychology.

My studies addressed the following three questions:

First, how can educational testing strategies be used to enhance learning? Previous research has demonstrated that material that is recalled on an initial test is better retained on future tests than the material that is studied for similar periods of time. This is of critical importance for how educators use assessment in their classrooms, and how students approach their studying sessions. I worked on isolating retrieval conditions (e.g. focus on initial encoding; test formats) that lead to successful long-term information retention and perhaps most important, tried to establish methods for instructing students to take advantage of this benefit.

Second, what are the ideal approaches for integrating technology (e.g. slideware presentations) into learning environments? Technology use is ubiquitous within university classrooms, but often in a manner that hinders students’ learning. This situation must be rectified. I was involved with a number of projects aimed at refining principles of design (i.e., not death-by-bullet-point) so as to foster student engagement and information retention. The theoretical perspectives of cognitive load theory and working memory capacity heavily influenced my approach to this work.

Third, can academic skills be taught in a standardized course/program to first-year students to ease their transition into post-secondary education? The first year represents a significant life transition for students, as they must adjust to new academic, social, environmental and personal demands. This transition could be facilitated by skills that are typically not explicitly taught in the classroom (e.g. time management, note-taking, test-taking, and self-regulation). Teaching students these skills early in their academic careers could have direct effects on performance and sense of self-efficacy, leading to improvements in academic outcomes and progress to graduation. In collaboration with various support systems on the McMaster University campus, I examined the influence of a facilitated learning group program that explicitly taught transferable academic skills to first year students.

This research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Joe Kim. Below, I have provided links to a recent lecture that Joe gave related to the research conducted in our lab, and to media coverage of the research that we conducted.

Spatial Cognition

Anytime we move within an environment we are drawing on spatial memories and creating new memories. It is important to consider that the development of a mental representation of a space requires an integration of the static distance between oneself and environmental landmarks (egocentric distance), with a continuous monitoring/updating of dynamic distance information gained while traveling from one point to another. Both visual and non-visual sources of information may be used in accomplishing this feat.

My doctoral research demonstrated that the non-visual component (i.e. body-based information from muscles and joints) may have a much greater impact than has been considered to date. One effect of the contribution from body-based information is that our mental representations of space are automatically updated to be in line with the current facing direction. As a result, it is difficult to retrieve spatial information from an imagined perspective that differs from the current physical perspective.

Here are a few of the questions I pursued as part of my doctoral research:

  1. Do the demands of a situation lead to differential reliance on the formation/retrieval of spatial memories?
  2. Which part of the body is dominant in guiding an individual’s awareness of their facing direction? Is it the head, or is it the trunk of the body?
  3. Are different features of an environment remembered differently?
  4. How is spatial memory different/similar from other forms of memory?

This research was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Hong-Jin Sun.

Teaching

If you missed the link to my teaching dossier at the top, you can get it here.

My teaching philosophy has emerged through my time as an undergraduate at Mount Allison University, and my training as a teaching assistant, graduate student, and course instructor. My focus as an instructor is on challenging students, motivating them to feel confident in their abilities, and ideally instilling a desire for learning. I integrate evidence-based principles into my courses in order to be a positive influence on students and fellow educators throughout the learning process.

Instructional Skills Workshop

Having completed the Facilitator Development Workshop (FDW), I am a qualified facilitator for the Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW). The ISW is a small group workshop aimed at enhancing teaching effectiveness of new and experienced educators. Throughout the workshop participants focus on reflection and examination of their own teaching practices, which is facilitated through peer-feedback.

More information about the ISW can be found on the ISW network’s website.