The Hub Q&A with Dr. Faria Sana

Q&A with Dr. Faria Sana

Dr. Faria Sana was awarded funds from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Insight Development Grant program for her project entitled, Investigating the Interleaving Effect in Classrooms to Boost Student Retention. We sat down with her to learn more about her exciting research.

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How long have you been with AU? 

I started in May 2016. 

Dr. Faria Sana

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When were you awarded funds for your research? And how much did you receive? 

I was awarded this SSHRC in June 2017 and I received $68,816.  

Dr. Faria Sana

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What did the funding go towards? 

The funding went towards hiring undergraduate and graduate students be part of various projects and training them in quality assurance, logistics, strong research design, proper use of data analysis procedures, appropriate data interpretation, ethical treatment of participants, and knowledge translation through conference presentations and publications. 

Dr. Faria Sana

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Can you describe your project in layman’s terms? 

My research focuses on a finding known as the interleaving effect. When students learn a new concept, they usually review the basics, complete related practice exercises, reach an acceptable level of mastery, and then move on to the next concept, and do the same thing. Interleaved practice involves practicing multiple concepts within a single session.

For example, if you have concepts A, B, and C to practice, you should not complete all practice exercises related to concept A, then all exercises related to B and then C. You should mix up exercises so that you are practising all three concepts together. Interleaving is a very difficult practice strategy for lots of students and teachers to conceptualize because it is not fluent. However, research shows that memory in the long-term is better for concepts practised by interleaving rather than using a blocked manner, and this observed benefit is defined as the interleaving effect. My project examines when, why, and for whom is interleaved practice effective. I then implement this strategy in real-world postsecondary and secondary classrooms to demonstrate that interleaved practice promotes student learning.   

Dr. Faria Sana

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Have you been working on this subject for a long time? Or is this a new project for you? 

Although I have been working on examining the interleaving effect for several years, this is one of the first projects to test how generalizable this strategy really is in real-world, outside-the-lab, situations.  

Dr. Faria Sana

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Why are you interested in studying this subject? 

The scientific study of memory consists of thousands of experiments dedicated to identifying cognitive processes fundamental to learning. Despite this tremendous knowledge base in cognitive psychology, we have yet to translate educational research into academic domains much like the extent that research in biology is incorporated into medical practice. Translating strategies, such as the interleaving effect—a well-established robust memory effect in cognitive science—into real-world classroom applications can have a huge impact on student achievement.

Dr. Faria Sana

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Were the subjects of your study AU students? 

The participants (or students) in my studies are students from across several postsecondary institutions (McMaster, York, University of Texas, Austin) and secondary schools (Toronto District School Board). 

Dr. Faria Sana

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Does does your project involve AU students? 

No, I wasn’t able to hire AU students as majority of the work required students who are enrolled in an honours thesis course or have access to a physical subject pool (i.e.., at UofA, York, or McMaster, which is where I recruited majority of the students). 

Dr. Faria Sana

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Where are you at with your research project? How many more months, years, to go? Or are you finished? 

We are currently conducting several lab and classroom projects to tackle questions like: Why is interleaved practice effective? Does it generalize to learning in science and math classrooms at a secondary school level, and in psychology and statistics classrooms at a post-secondary level?

Dr. Faria Sana

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Are the results you’ve gotten so far surprising, or proving what you thought before

We are still in the process of analyzing data, but preliminary findings suggest that interleaved practice enhances learning in actual classrooms, and it not only enhances learning for concepts that are practised, but also for related concepts, not practised. Finally, the results seem to suggest that this practice schedule particularly benefits students with lower cognitive aptitude. 

Dr. Faria Sana

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Will the project’s results create more of a local AU impact? Provincial? National? International? 

Results from my project will provide deeper insight into the generalizability and robustness of the interleaving effect by yielding a better understanding of why, when, and for whom is interleaved practice effective. Scaling up the research to demonstrate the interleaving effect in secondary and post-secondary classes will not only advance the theoretical framework of the effect, but also will make its implications explicit for educators and students who can readily adapt meaningful, cost effective practice scheduled in their courses to promote learning. 

Dr. Faria Sana

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Who else are you working with on the project?

I am working with two worldrenowned psychologists on this project: Dr. Melody Wiseheart (York U.) and Dr. Veronica Yan (University of Texas, Austin).

Dr. Faria Sana

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What’s next for you, and/or, this project?

There is much to be done on the interleaving effect. Although we know it benefits learning, the underlying theoretical mechanisms under which it functions remains unclear. Moreover, there are some studies that report a blocking over an interleaving benefit. Why might that be? We need to examine situations when blocking might be effective, and why. These are some of the questions I wish to pursue in the near future. 

Dr. Faria Sana

Published:
  • September 16, 2019