Kathryn T. Spoehr
Professor of Cognitive & Linguistic Sciences
Professor of Public Policy
BA, Brown University
     (Mathematical Psychology)
M.A., Ph.D. Stanford University
       (Psychology with minor in
       Computer Science)

Office Location:            
256 Metcalf

Office Hours:
email for an appointment

Contact Me
Kathryn_Spoehr at brown.edu
Dept. Cognitive, Linguistic, &
  Psychological Sciences
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912-1821
Office Phone:
"Website Design <==>
    Course Design"

(article published in the Sheridan Center publication, The Teaching Exchange)

Programs at Brown
Research Interests
    •    Assessment of adult vocabulary literacy    
    •    Learning from computer-based systems
    •    Higher education policy and strategy
    My primary research focus is two-fold. A new project, funded by the National Center for Education Statistics, is making use of insights from cognitive science and computational linguistics to inform the development of a new set of tasks to assess vocabulary knowledge at the national level for the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL). Designed to test both vocabulary breadth (how many words does a person know?) and vocabulary depth (does a person know all of the meanings of those words that have multiple meanings?), the new assessment tasks were administered to large national sample in 2008 and are being revised for inclusion in the next nation-wide NAAL survey.
     A second area of research focuses on the cognitive principles underlying optimal design for and use of computer-based learning environments.   One aspect of this work investigates how multimedia technology can improve teaching and learning.  This research explores how direct conceptual links make the relationships between concepts explicit, permit students to acquire new concepts and information, and help them explore and construct relationships between concepts.  It also provides a basis for basic research issues, such as: What cognitive mechanisms underlie the acquisition of expertise in complex conceptual domains such as history and literature?  What are the educational and cognitive consequences of using hypermedia instructional environments, and how can student-produced hypermedia be used for educational assessment purposes?  This work has also led me to the development of a conceptual restructuring model for how humans learn from multimedia systems.
     My past research examined the memory representation and conceptual structure underlying the storage and retrieval of basic arithmetic knowledge. Neural net models of arithmetic performance developed in conjunction with empirical research in the lab suggest that two basic features of cognitive representation for this domain give rise to human-like performance: an analog representation of numerosity and a structured organization of arithmetic facts.  Research in my laboratory has shown the importance of these characteristics of representation to producing the response time and error patterns shown by humans retrieving arithmetic facts, and has also shown how such representational characteristics might be learned.
     Because of my previous experience as a university administrator, and my involvement as an advisory board member and participant in Brown University's Futures Project, I also carry out research in higher education policy and practice. The Futures Project focused on the mission of public higher education in an increasingly competitive and changing world environment, and on the policy and strategy implications of this new environment.  Current research in this area focuses on (1) the impact of performance budgeting/funding on institutional performance; (2) the development of new institutional strategies in the face of policy changes, and (3) the evolving role of private institutions in the changing higher education landscape.
Representative Publications:
    •    Spoehr, K. T. (1994).   Enhancing the acquisition of conceptual structures through hypermedia.  In McGilly, K. (ed.), Classroom Lessons: Integrating Cognitive Theory and Classroom Practice (pp.75-101).  Cambridge, MA: Bradford Books.

    •    Spoehr, K. T., & Spoehr, L. W. (1994).  Learning to think historically.  Educational Psychologist, 29, 71-77.

    •    Manly, C. F. & Spoehr, K. T. (2000).  Mental Multiplication: Nothing But the Facts?  Memory & Cognition, 27, 1087-1096.

    •    Anderson, J. A., Spoehr, K. T., & Bennett, D. J. (1994).  A study in numerical perversity: Teaching arithmetic to a neural network.  In D. S. Levine & M. Aparicio, IV (Eds.), Neural networks for knowledge representation and inference (Pp. 311-335). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.