Home » Projects » Faculty Development for Pedagogy Informed by Cognitive Science Research on Learning and Memory

Faculty Development for Pedagogy Informed by Cognitive Science Research on Learning and Memory

Many of the traditional teaching methods we currently employ have been shown by cognitive science research to be either ineffective, or less effective than other methods. Our faculty often have little time for research into teaching and learning methods. They also have little time for developing their own techniques or pedagogy. Our campuses frequently don’t have in-house expertise on pedagogy, especially pedagogy as informed by cognitive science research. Our campuses are also all stretched for project funding. This FaCE grant enabled Knox faculty to get outside expertise and support for activities and resources that allowed for this kind of faculty development to happen effectively.

The grant provided support for workshops, meetings, and discussion that brought outside expertise. This allowed for the sharing and developing of the expertise of our own faculty. These activities also carved out time for faculty to learn new techniques and strategies, and to share and discuss these in relation to their specific disciplines and courses. Working together with Lawrence University, we also created a repository where materials on teaching with an awareness of cognitive science principles (including specific activities, templates, assignments etc.) could be gathered in one place.

Note: Content adapted from project proposal.

One challenge liberal arts colleges face is effectively teaching today’s students the content, principles and skills we aim to impart. We have high expectations for our students, especially in terms of their ability to transfer knowledge and critical thinking skills to future endeavors. We could be more successful if we knew more about how effective learning works. What can we change about how we encode knowledge in our students so that they can more effectively retrieve it in new circumstances?

One opportunity is our smaller classrooms and student/teacher ratios. We have more flexibility than schools required to impose a higher level of uniformity. This means we have more opportunity to try new teaching strategies and to change assignments. This project enables faculty to gain new insights into teaching effectively in light of what cognitive science research tells us about how students best learn, recall and transfer knowledge. It allows time and resources to plan and develop new strategies and assignments.

By working collaboratively across departments and disciplines, bringing expertise to our campus, carving out time for assignment development, and providing a repository of examples and templates, our faculty can take better advantage of cognitive science research to improve teaching and learning. Ultimately this will improve outcomes for our students as they are better able to recall and transfer what they’ve learned.

This project fosters innovation and collaboration among faculty at Knox from multiple disciplines, by providing them with an opportunity to learn new things about how teaching, learning, recall and knowledge transfer work. The structure of the workshops allows them to learn this from the speakers and from each other. They also have the opportunity to innovative ideas from the teaching resources and templates that Knox and Lawrence University gather in an online repository. The workshops (one per term) introduce key findings from the science of learning and engage faculty from multiple disciplines in discussing and applying these findings to their actual courses and assignments, making the principles real and applicable in the context of their programs.

The workshops provide time both for sharing and responding to each other’s questions and ideas and for individual faculty or groups to hammer out innovative assignments and pedagogy changes. The repository set up by Knox and Lawrence together allow for more collaboration as ideas, sample assignments, and teaching strategies are shared on campus, between ACM campuses, and with other colleges and universities. Innovation and collaboration will continue as Knox faculty share what they learn and what they change in their own teaching with other Knox colleagues, and then with colleagues at other places as they carry these new ideas and successful pedagogies over into discussions at meetings and conferences, publications, and professional presentations.


As with most institutions, teaching for effective learning and positive lifelong student outcomes are primary and fundamental goals at Knox. The project goals are directly tied to those. Cognitive science research is continually improving our understanding of how we learn, and of what strategies result in the best encoding of knowledge, recall of that knowledge, and transfer of that knowledge into new situations. The project goal is to tap this new research in order to provide our faculty with information, resources, and work-time to improve their teaching in ways that will then improve student learning and outcomes.


Activities span a two-year timeline and include a total of five workshops, two events for presentations on implemented strategies and assignments, and the creation of a teaching materials repository. Each workshop focuses on one aspect of the cognitive science research on learning. Workshops have an expert speaker, discussion time, and work time for hammering out assignments and strategies. Participants report on a new strategy or assignment they plan to adopt. As these strategies or assignments are developed, participants upload them to the repository.

The presentations events are led by workshop participants who subsequently implemented new pedagogies. The online repository is made up of teaching materials, assignment templates, and samples gathered from speakers, participants, a call to ACM campuses, research by our librarians, personal contacts, e-mail invitation, and social media. Knox coordinated their work on the repository with similar work being done at Lawrence, and developed one online site where the repository is hosted.

These activities result in better access to information and resources on effective teaching and learning as informed by the principles of cognitive science, improved teaching effectiveness by Knox faculty, and newly designed and implemented assignments for our students. This all leads to more successful outcomes for our students, who are better able to effectively transfer and retrieve the knowledge and skills gained at our institution in new settings. As the workshop results are disseminated, these positive outcomes can expand beyond Knox to ACM schools and others.

The detailed project planning began in Summer 2016. Three workshops will happen during the 2016-2017 school year; they are spaced throughout the year. The presentation event for that year happens during our Spring term. The final two workshops will happen during the Fall and Winter terms of the 2017-2018 school year. The final presentation event will be in the Spring term of that same year. Work on the repository started during Summer 2016, and will continue throughout the next two years. We aimed to have at least a beginning repository before the first workshop, so participants can make use of it in preparation.

Dissemination Strategies

The speakers, workshop participants, and presenters all share information with each other. Knowledge and practice related to applying cognitive science principles of effective learning are increased and disseminated at workshops and presentation events. Materials generated and collected are disseminated to ACM schools and publicly via the online repository. Participants develop and test new teaching materials and strategies. Spreading the workshops over two years allows for greater dissemination. Participants in the earlier workshops have time to implement and assess new strategies and assignments, and then share that experience with later workshop participants.

Down the line, all can share their gained expertise and experience with colleagues on and off their campuses via other workshops, brown bag lunches, discussion lists, conference presentations, one-on-one, etc. Some might even publish about new strategies or assignment design ideas – informally or formally. The repository allows concrete teaching ideas, templates and assignments generated and collected to be widely disseminated in the ACM and beyond.

Share this page