Laura R. Novick is an associate professor of Psychology and Human Development at Vanderbilt University and a Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science. She has published 34 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 10 book chapters and will become an associate editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition in January 2012. She is a member of the National Research Council consensus study on Discipline Based Education Research, a comprehensive examination of learning and teaching in physics, the biological sciences, geosciences, and chemistry at the undergraduate level. She also serves on the advisory board for an NSF-funded engineering and robotics education project at Georgia Institute of Technology. She previously investigated basic research issues in analogical problem solving, expertise, and diagrammatic reasoning. Her current research, which explores issues at the interface of cognitive and perceptual psychology and evolution education, has already had an impact on how tree-of-life diagrams are depicted in biology textbooks. She recently participated in an interdisciplinary project working with natural history museums to make recommendations for improving their tree-of-life exhibits. Prof. Novick earned a B.S in psychology from The University of Iowa and a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Stanford University.
I am collaborating with Kefyn Catley, a biologist and science educator at Western Carolina University, to investigate college and high school students’ understanding of cladograms, the most important tool contemporary scientists use to reason about evolutionary relationships. Cladograms represent the hypothesized evolutionary history of a set of taxa in terms of nested levels of common ancestry. Our research on students’ understanding of and ability to reason from evolutionary diagrams is multifaceted: We have investigated effects of (a) domain expertise, (b) cognitive and perceptual principles, (c) diagram format, and (d) prior knowledge of the taxa depicted in the cladograms. We have used tasks that require diagram comprehension, translation from one diagram format to another, and inference. We have also created instructional materials for teaching tree thinking to college students and are currently extending the instructional work down to the high school level. More information is available on my web site: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/peabody/novick/evol_diagrams.html
Novick, L. R., Shade, C. K., & Catley, K. M. (2011). Linear versus branching depictions of evolutionary history: Implications for diagram design. Topics in Cognitive Science, 3, 536-559.
Novick, L. R., Catley, K. M., & Funk, D. J. (2011). Inference is bliss: Using evolutionary relationship to guide categorical inferences. Cognitive Science, 35, 712-743.
Novick, L. R., & Catley, K. M. (2007). Understanding phylogenies in biology: The influence of a Gestalt perceptual principle. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 13, 197-223.