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Terri Bonebright Mixes Teaching and Research With Outstanding Results

January 8, 2009

A friend may have asked you, "Which would you rather lose: your vision or your hearing?" A hypothetical question such as this forces a person to stop and consider abilities that he or she may take for granted, but Terri L. Bonebright, professor and chair of the psychology department, has years of research that might give away her answer.

Bonebright's research explores many areas of auditory perception, from a person's ability to identify the materials involved in a sound, to vocalization, or how people encode and decode emotion in language.

bonebright_terri.jpg"Typically, when you ask people which sensory modality they would least want to be without, the first thing they say is vision," says Bonebright. "You can still communicate well if you're blind, but being without hearing puts you outside of a lot of social and environmental interaction. There are all sorts of sound events that are happening in the world around us that we use. Sound is our main communication mode, and it also tells the eyes where to look. "

Her excitement for psychology is evident as she acts out the parts of a sad-sounding friend, or a Foley artist knocking two coconuts together to simulate the sound of a horse walking. The pursuit of knowledge is in and of itself a motivation for her work.

"The experimenter, unless he or she is very careful, can have an impact on the outcome of the data," explains Bonebright. "We're very sensitive to that. The ability to clearly ask a question in a way that you can come up with an answer that isn't biased is fascinating to me. I love to teach research methods because there are students who in the middle of a class go, ‘Oh! That's what a p-value is!' Those ‘ah-ha' moments are a lot of fun for me. "

Bonebright also collaborates with David A. Berque, professor of computer science, on projects that make technology such as tablet PCs a fixture in classrooms. They recently worked on a project that examined how to adapt a classroom for low-vision students, allowing students to follow an instructor's notes on a computer screen. bonebright_computer_research.jpgIt was easy to bring the screen closer to a student's eyes, but without the sound cue software that Bonebright and Berque developed, there was no way to tell the student exactly where to look on the screen. Much of their work has been published with students, including a chapter in 2007's The Impact of Tablet PCs and Pen-based Technology on Education: Beyond the Tipping Point, in which Joel A. Dart '07, Zachary J. Koch '09 and Shawn R. O'Banion ‘07 are credited.

In 2006 she received a University Professor award from DePauw for sustained excellence in teaching, scholarship and service. Being a professor—or a student—at a small liberal arts college, allows one to excel in a variety of interests without the pressure to specialize in only one. 

"One of the things that's liberating about being here is that I don't have to ‘publish or perish.' I publish when I have something to say, and I publish quite a bit! I can follow different types of research areas that I am interested in, that my students are interested in, with the support of the University. So, when I publish, I can publish with students, and I think we've made some really good contributions."

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