MSU cognitive scientist receives $2.8 million in grants

Contact: Sarah Nicholas

Laura Allen (Photo by Megan Bean)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—A faculty member at Mississippi State University is receiving approximately $2.8 million to create a tool for writing analytics and feedback, as well as to investigate how students process complex information in today’s technology-driven society.

Laura Allen, an assistant professor of psychology who joined MSU’s faculty last year, is garnering two four-year grants from the Institute of Education Sciences of approximately $1.4 million each. The grants are in partnership with researchers at Arizona State University and Georgia State University.

Allen’s first grant, the Development of the Writing Assessment Tool: An On-line Platform for the Automated Assessment of Writing, will be used to develop a tool to provide writing feedback for students, teachers and researchers. She will be working with Danielle McNamara at Arizona State and Scott Crossley at Georgia State.

Despite recent advances in technology, Allen said there is a “growing, impenetrable wall” between commercialized writing analytics systems and research on writing and writing evaluation.

“Writing is an important but understudied and under-taught domain of education,” Allen said.  “This grant will help address the gaps in both cognitive science and education by providing foundational knowledge about the nature of the writing process, as well as providing a tool that can help to alleviate difficulties faced by many writing instructors.”

The overall goal is to “have a broad impact on current practices in writing research and instruction across multiple dimensions,” Allen said.

“Dr. Allen’s research cuts across virtually all academic disciplines and has important implications for how we teach, how businesses can be run most effectively, and how government agencies get important information to the public,” said Mitchell Berman, psychology department head.  “Language underlies all human interactions—from simple conversations, parenting a child, reading a poem, understanding a classroom lecture, or communicating through social media.”

Allen’s second grant, Developing a Deeper Understanding of the Cognitive Processes that Drive Multiple Text Comprehension, will attempt to develop a foundational understanding of how individuals process and understand information from written texts.  Allen will work in conjunction with Arizona State’s McNamara, as well as Joe Magliano from George State.

“A majority of students graduating from high school are ill prepared to comprehend, integrate and evaluate complex texts,” Allen said.

Due to the proliferation of information and texts readily available in a technology-driven society, Allen said people are constantly “bombarded with conflicting and divergent information across multiple texts” and are continuously faced with “complex decisions regarding how to integrate and judge the veracity of available information.”

“Dr. Allen’s research in cognitive psychology has profound and direct impacts on many disciplines and in all areas of human life,” said Giselle Thibaudeau, associate dean for research in MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.  “To be human is to be social. To be social is to communicate. The ability to communicate and process communication productively is key to a successful, healthy individual and society.”

A native of Brandon, Allen received her 2017 Ph.D. and 2014 master’s degree in psychology from Arizona State University. She received undergraduate degrees from MSU in 2010 in both English and foreign languages, as well as a TESOL certificate.

Her current research in MSU’s psychology department examines the cognitive and metacognitive processes involved in learning from written text and applying those insights to educational practices through the development of interventions and educational technologies.

MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,300 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences or the psychology department may be found at or

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Friday, October 5, 2018 - 1:39 pm