Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Matthew Cooper Borkenhagen Joins FCRR as Core Faculty Member


Dr. Matt Cooper Borkenhagen is an Assistant Professor in the School of Teacher Education in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences and a core faculty member at the Florida Center for Reading Research. Dr. Cooper Borkenhagen’s research is on the learning mechanisms that underlie reading development, the sources of knowledge that underlie that development, and what individuals can do to support it through intelligent changes in the environment. This includes more formal educational experiences, like instruction, but also less formal ones, like reading books with kids. He investigates these issues using computational models (simulations) of learning, corpus-based methods, and behavioral experimentation.

Dr. Cooper Borkenhagen

Tell us about your background and what brought you to FSU.

I’ve been fascinated by language since I was in elementary school. This led me into linguistics, which eventually brought me into reading education. I taught at an elementary school for children with dyslexia and became more acquainted with the science behind our understanding of the reading system and what we can do to support learning, which inspired me to pursue a graduate degree. My graduate training at the University of Wisconsin- Madison was a wonderful experience in many ways. That is a great place to study psychology but there wasn’t a big community of people interested in reading like at FSU. The opportunity to work here brings together so many of these aspects of my background.

What inspired you to choose academia and your field of study?

I fell in love with the process of creating new knowledge, and doing so for topics that are important to me. This has become very fulfilling for me.

What are your areas of research?

I study both the learning mechanisms that support reading development and salient aspects of the environment that interact with these mechanisms – mainly those having to do with the structure of printed and spoken words, and their meaning. I’m also fascinated that we can accelerate development by intelligently sampling from the language in ways that are well suited given these learning mechanisms. For example, some words are thought to be privileged for learning because they are common. But words are connected to other words based on all sorts of properties beyond how common they are. Identifying this structure so that we can help kids learn to read words faster is really a fascinating prospect to me. This involves knowing both about the structure of the words (and the world) but also about the nature of the learner’s cognition.

Are there any specific courses you're excited to teach, and why?

I teach Foundations in Reading to teachers in training in the School of Teacher Education, and I have a graduate course on learning and environmental factors. I’d like to also teach a methods course on studying properties of language and related computational methods for reading science. I’ve yet to develop that one, but it is something for the future.

Could you share some insights into any upcoming collaborations or partnerships you're pursuing?

I’d really like to do research closely pairing simulations of early reading development with behavioral observations of readers learning in similar environments (e.g., learning to read similar words to those that the simulations are trained on). This is the type of collaboration I hope to develop in the coming years.

Tell us about your current projects.

I have a project where I am looking at simulations of reading programs to determine the effectiveness of different approaches to selecting texts in early development (collaboration with Devin Kearns at UConn/NC State, Jay Rueckl at UConn, Elfrieda Hiebert at Text Project, and Nathan Crock at FSU/ Emelex). I’m also working on some more basic modeling of the cognitive processes of reading long words. This is with Christopher Cox at LSU. Those are a few that I am particularly excited about.

Are there any achievements you hope to accomplish during your career?

I find training students to be important, meaningful, and enjoyable. I look forward to opportunities to do this - and to see them grow and be successful. I also hope to be invited to be part of the leadership of a society. Hopefully that will come at some point.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

It’s hard to pick just one highlight, as there have been many, however, becoming a professor at FSU is one I’m very proud of.

How do you plan to involve students in your research, and what opportunities will be available for them?

I plan on training my graduate students and postdocs to use the methods that I use and apply them to the learning phenomena they find fascinating. I use computational methods primarily, and I love sharing these tools with students because they are rich and offer things other methods sometimes don’t (like simulating processes that are hard to emulate with human participants).

If your students only learned one thing from you (of course, hopefully, they learn much more), what would you hope it to be?

Good things happen when you work hard and are good to the people you work with. Okay, that is two things, please forgive.

Beyond academia, what are some of your hobbies or interests that you believe enrich your professional life?

I play music, including roots/ Americana music. This is a great area to live in for this interest, which I’m excited about. I also love to spend time on the water with my kids, and I can’t think of a better state for this than Florida.

Are you currently accepting graduate student applications?

Yes! Interested students can reach me at: mcb@fcrr.org or by phone at: 850-644-2491.