Fall 2011
Topics In Cognitive Science
CSCI 7772 | EDUC 7775 | LING 7775 | PHIL 7775 | PSYC 7775 | SLHS 7775

Fri 12:00-14:00
Muenzinger D430


Professor Michael Mozer
Department of Computer Science
Engineering Center Office Tower 741
Office Hours:  Wed 2:30-4:30

Course Objectives

The intent of this course is to expose students to the breadth and depth of current research issues in the field of Cognitive Science. Students will attend presentations of innovative theories and methodologies of Cognitive Science that they will be expected to critically evaluate. Students will participate in the ICS Colloquium Series and also the ICS Distinguished Speakers series that hosts internationally recognized Cognitive Scientists who share and discuss their current research. Following colloquia, students will have the opportunity to engage in analysis and discussion of the work that was presented to further their understanding of the material.


This course is a requirement for students interested in obtaining either the joint Cognitive Science Ph.D.  or a graduate certificate in Cognitive Science.  Others may enroll in the course as space is available.

There are no pre-required courses. This course is primarily offered for one unit of credit, and students in one of the Cognitive Science academic programs must enroll in this course for two semesters.  Students who have strong need to obtain two units of credit for this course in one semester may potentially do so with the instructor's permission. For each unit of credit, students must attend at least 7 talks and write commentaries on these talks.

Course requirements

Talk attendance

The primary requirement for the course is to attend at least 7 (or 14) colloquia in Cognitive Science, including the ICS Distinguished Speaker series. The primary opportunity to attend Cognitive Science colloquia is via the ICS speaker series, the schedule for which can be found at  When I am alerted to talks on campus with significant cognitive science content, but which are not part of the ICS speaker series, I will announce them to the class. If you hear of one that I haven't announced, please forward the time, location, abstract, and title to me, and if I deem it to have significant cognitive science content, I will announce the talk to the class as an option.  If for any reason we have a shortage of talks this semester, I can supplement the ICS schedule by bringing in advanced graduate students and faculty during the ICS colloquium slot.

Background readings

For the ICS colloquia, students are responsible for reading appropriate background materials (e.g., journal articles, book chapters) provided by the speaker to serve as grounding for the colloquium.  These materials will be distributed to students 1-2 weeks prior to the colloquium.


For each talk attended, students are to write a commentary of no more than one page.  For the commentary, I want to get your reactions to the talk.  The commentary can include:
  • a summary of what you think the main or most interesting ideas are behind the work, However, there is no need to provide a complete abstract of the talk. I want to know the student's perspective on what the work had to offer.
  • questions about the material for further discussion, either clarification questions or points of disagreement with the authors (``I don't see how such and such will work as the speaker claims...'').
  • comments on how the talk relates to other talks the student has attended or other papers the student has read.
  • a critique of the work. What are the flaws in the ideas presented? What are the limitations? Did the speaker place their work in the appropriate theoretical context? Did the speaker overstate their results? 
  • If the talk gave you inspiration for new research ideas, describe these ideas.  The ideas might be extensions of the work, new directions to move in, or applications of the work to other subfields of cognitive science.
Think of the commentary as your opportunity to share your thoughts and insights with both me and the entire class. I have created a google group,, and your commentaries should be sent to the group for reaction by the professor and other students. To simplify our lives, I'd like the commentaries to be mailed to the group, with a email subject line "[STUDENT LAST NAME] COMMENTARY [SPEAKER]". You are invited to comment on commentaries and to add your reactions to the commentaries, so that we get a group electronic discussion going.

You may find that the number of emails associated with the group is too large. If you wish, you may change your group settings so that you receive weekly summaries of the group discussions or that you log into the group to read the discussions.

You will recieve an invitation from me to join the google group.  You may join either using your University of Colorado login as your google login (including the, or you may join with a gmail address.


To receive an "A" grade in the course, the student must submit 7 (or 14) commentaries that reflect an informed opinion on the research discussed, and student must participate in some electronic discussion of others' commentaries and of the talks in general.  Students will fail the course if they do not submit at least 5 commentaries.

Interesting colloquia

Date & Time Event Speaker Topic Reading
9/8/2011, 3:30 pm Computer Science Colloquium (Engineering Center ECCR 265) Dr. Elizabeth Churchill, Yahoo! Research, Internet Experiences Group Hunches, Heuristics and Data (or, the Art and Science of Principled Design)

In this talk, Dr. Churchill will talk about past, current and future work in the Internet Experiences Group at Yahoo! Research. She will demo a number of prototypes including Zync, which enables real time sharing of video in instant messenger and 4cast, an alpha prototype that supports social predictions. In each case, she will talk about the inspiration behind as well as the evaluation of these prototypes and products.
9/9/2011, 3:00 p.m. Applied Math Colloquium (Engineering Center ECCR 245) Michael Mozer, Computer Science, CU Improving the quality of human judgments via decontamination
9/15/2011, 3:30 pm Computer Science Colloquium (ECCR 265)
Virginia Tech

Making Claims in Interaction Design: Following Knowledge Trails Toward Informed Solutions

The portability and computing power of mobile technology provide ways for people to have constant access to information, and many domains have specialized problems and user populations that can benefit from shared design knowledge. This talk examines how the capture and reuse of claims can help share knowledge across diverse user populations, resulting in measurably better user interfaces for emerging mobile platforms. The talk will highlight examples of claims reuse (and more generally knowledge reuse) from the last 100 years, projecting how today's knowledge-sharing tools and environments could leverage lessons from these examples.

9/23/2011, 12 pm ICS Colloquium (Muenzinger D430) Sean Kang, Psychology, UCSD The benefits of retrieval practice and spacing for learning

A wealth of evidence from basic memory research has revealed two robust phenomena that have direct implications for education: (1) Testing is not a neutral event in which one's knowledge is merely assessed; the act ofretrieving information from memory enhances the later retention of that information, and (2) practice that is distributed or spaced out in time (relative to practice that is crammed/massed) leads to more durable learning. However, the potential for retrieval practice and spacing to be potent learning tools has not been fully realised in practice, perhaps in part because laboratory research has often not focused enough on the sorts of concrete procedural choices that arise in real-world learning contexts. I will present new research demonstrating the utility of retrieval practice and/or spacing for learning across diverse domains (i.e., language acquisition, inductive/category learning). Importantly, the current studies were designed to better reflect realistic learning situations, and I will emphasise the potential application of these findings for improving educational practice.
Rohrer & Pashler
9/30/2011, 12 pm ICS Colloquium (Muenzinger D430) Paul Cohen, School of Computer Science, U. of Arizona

Verb meanings for robots

By now we know that robots can associate sensory patterns with words, thereby "grounding" word meanings. However, these patterns might not function as words in language (e.g., patterns associated with verbs might not have anything like a case structure); and they do not necessarily function as word meanings, either, in that they might be "semantically impotent," doing nothing for the robot.   I will talk about what we want word meanings to do for robots (i.e., words help robots imagine scenes) and sketch some of our recent work on learning word meanings.  The last part of my talk will be about nonliteral language, such as metaphor, and escaping from the "grounding" we tried so hard to achieve.  

10/7/2011, 12 pm ICS  Collqouium Carol Seger, Colorado State University
Decision making and learning in the corticostriatal system

The corticostriatal system is a recurrent network connecting basal ganglia with cortex through which the basal ganglia exert a plastic modulatory influence on cortical representations.  Corticostriatal networks participate in a broad variety of cognitive processes, including executive functions, decision making, response selection, and sequence and syntax processing.  I will discuss several recent studies from my laboratory exploring the roles played by corticostriatal systems during categorization and other decision making tasks.  I will address how dopamine mediated plasticity within the corticostriatal system allows for continuous learning, which I will illustrate with studies using reinforcement learning approaches to model brain activity during category learning.  If time permits, I will conclude with a discussion of how the corticostriatal system interacts with the medial temporal lobe memory system during learning and memory tasks.
10/19/2011 11:30 a.m. L3D talk (Engineering Center DLC 170 -- Scott McCrickard, Virginia Tech, Computer Science
Collaborating with Claims in Interaction Design

This talk and discussion will explore how the capture and reuse of claims can help share knowledge across diverse populations of designers, resulting in measurably better user interfaces for emerging mobile platforms.  The talk will differentiate claims from other knowledge capture mechanisms and will highlight examples of how claims capture and reuse can enable knowledge-sharing in design.  It is expected that the discussion will explore the possibilities and limitations of this approach in relation to the design efforts and methodologies under way at the University of Colorado and elsewhere.
10/20/2011, 3:30 pm Computer Science Colloquium (Engineering Center ECCR 265) Leysia Palen, Computer Science, University of Colorado When Computer Mediated Communication Goes Critical
10/28/2011, 12 pm ICS Colloquium (Muenzinger D430) Ken Koedinger, CMU
The Knowledge-Learning-Instruction (KLI) Framework: Bridging the Science-Practice Chasm to Enhance Robust Student Learning

Despite the accumulation of substantial cognitive science research  relevant to education, there remains confusion and controversy in the  application of research to educational practice. In support of a more  systematic approach, my colleagues and I in the Pittsburgh Science of  Learning Center (see have developed the  Knowledge-Learning-Instruction (KLI) framework.  KLI promotes the  emergence of instructional principles of high potential for generality, while explicitly identifying constraints of and opportunities for detailed analysis of the knowledge students may acquire in courses. Drawing on research across domains of science, math, and language learning, we illustrate the analyses of knowledge, learning, and instructional events that the KLI framework affords. We present a set of  three coordinated taxonomies of knowledge, learning, and instruction. For example, we identify three broad classes of learning events: a)  memory and fluency processes, b) induction and refinement processes, c) understanding and sense-making processes, and we show how these can lead  to different knowledge changes and constraints on optimal instructional choices.
11/3/2011, 3:30 p.m. Computer Science Colloquium (ECCR 265) Jevin West, Biology, University of Washington
Document Discovery: Advancing Research with Large Knowledge Networks 

By putting the world's scholarly literature online, publisher websites and digital archives have made millions articles instantly available anywhere, any time, in digital form. This is a breakthrough in document delivery; we now await comparable breakthroughs in document discovery. As de Solla Price noted in 1965, the scholarly literature forms a vast network -- where the nodes are the millions of papers published in scholarly journals and the
links are the hundreds of millions of citations connecting these papers. Can we use this vast network of trails, in combination with intelligent algorithms, to help researchers navigate the scholarly landscape? Can we
develop research tools that not only deliver the content but facilitate the content? New approaches to measuring, mapping and evaluating documents are creating new forms of value that can be derived from the digital research
content already available to the research community. In this presentation, I will talk about the Eigenfactor Project and the tools we have developed to rank and map scientific knowledge.

Chronicle of Higher Ed article
11/4/2011, 12 pm ICS Colloquium (Muenzinger D430) Tor Wager, Psychology, University of Colorado
Shared and divergent representations of physical and emotional pain in the central nervous system

Pain is a subjective experience created at the intersection of somatosensation and meaning.  Because of its complex origin in the central nervous system, pain has defied objective measurement, making it difficult to study its genesis and develop effective treatments.  Here, I present new efforts to use machine learning techniques to develop objective, interpretable biomarkers for pain in the human brain. I demonstrate that physical pain can be differentiated from socially induced emotional distress by fine-grained patterns of activity within both somatosensory and meaning-generation systems.  The resulting biomarkers for physical and social "pain" could be used as targets for future studies of how both psychological and pharmacological treatments influence each type of distress.  

11/4/2011, 3:00 p.m. Applied Math Colloquium (ECCR 245) Martha Palmer, Linguistics, University of Colorado Verbs -- The Key To Knowledge Representation
11/7/2011, 1:00 pm [promptly!] L3D talk  (Discovery Learning Center DLC 170)
This building on the northeast side of the engineering center
Ed Hutchins, Anthropology and Cognitive Science, UCSD
Digital cognitive ethnography of the airline flight deck

For the past 23 years I have been conducting an extended ethnographic study of the flight decks of commercial airliners. Since 2005, with support from Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, my group has been developing methods and tools to support digital cognitive ethnography in the flight decks of airliners worldwide. In this talk I will describe what we mean by digital cognitive ethnography and illustrate the approach with examples from studies we have conducted in the US and abroad. I will also highlight the gradual development of a suite of digital tools we have created to accelerate the measurement, quantification, visualization, and analysis of multimodal pilot behavior.
background reading
11/11/2011, 12 pm ICS Colloquium John Lynch, Business School, University of Colorado how people make financial decisions reading
11/14/2011, 1:30pm-3:00pm School of Education (EDUC 332) Melissa Gresalfi
In her work, Dr. Gresalfi has focused on how aspects of classroom systems such as the design of tasks, peer interaction, teacher practice, and classroom culture can impact teaching and learning of mathematics. She began by examining the complexity of classroom systems and specifically investigated how elements of classroom systems interacted, and has broadened her research to systematically investigate elements of classroom systems as they relate to students’ engagement with content, with particular focus on the use of innovative technologies, such as immersive digital games.

She is a recipient of a Gates Foundation grant, a MacArthur Foundation grant, and a Spencer postdoc award. In April 2011, she was honored with the Jan Hawkins Award, an early career award designed to highlight contributions to humanistic research and scholarship in learning technology.

Psychology Colloquium (Muenzinger D241) Anders Ericsson, Psychology, Florida State
Limits of Intuitive Expertise: Protocol Analysis as a Tool to Explicate the Complex Structure of Skill

Anders' research on expert performance has attracted world-wide scientific and popular press attention. His research has led to new understandings of what were thought to be invariant limitations on human performance (for example the idea that working memory has a limited capacity on the order of 7 items plus or minus 2). He has showed how important extensive practice is for achieving high levels of skill.

12/1/2011, 3:30 p.m. Computer Science Colloquium (ECCR 265) Eliana Colunga, Department of Psychology
Using Computational Models to Understand Typical and Atypical Word Learning
12/2/2011, 12 pm ICS Colloquium William Peneul, School of Education, University of Colorado

Additional information for students (click to read)