Tamara Sumner
ICS Director & Faculty • ICS Executive Committee Ex Officio • Professor
Institute of Cognitive Science • Computer Science • Sumner Lab

Office: CINC 182J and Muenzinger D420

Research Summary

Tamara Sumner is the Director of the Institute of Cognitive Science and a Professor in Computer and Cognitive Science at the University of Colorado. She leads an interdisciplinary R&D lab that studies how computational tools – combining cognitive science, machine intelligence, and interactive media – can improve teaching practice, learning outcomes and learner engagement in STEM. The influence of these tools on educators and learners’ cognition and practices are investigated through a combination of laboratory studies and field studies, conducted in both formal classroom settings and out-of-school programs. We partner with diverse urban school districts, as well as out-of-school programs serving low socioeconomic status youth. Sumner has extensive research publications in human-computer interaction, educational technology, digital libraries, and intelligent systems. Her teaching focuses on cognitive science research methods and user-centered design.


I have served as the Director of the Institute of Cognitive Science since 2016, succeeding Profs. Marie Banich and Walter Kintsch. The mission of the Institute is to advance interdisciplinary research and training in cognitive science. Institute members include tenure track and research faculty, as well as a rich network of Faculty Fellows from our affiliated departments of Computer Science, Psychology & Neuroscience, Linguistics, Philosophy, Education, Integrated Physiology, Information Science, and Speech, Language, & Hearing Sciences. The Institute hosts a state-of-the-art research facility: the Intermountain Neuroimaging Consortium. Under Prof. Sumner's leadership, the Institute is developing new approaches for accelerating interdisciplinary research, expanding our educational programs, and enhancing our communications and outreach with alumni and other supporters. 


I am currently working on four major research projects, all related to developing new theories, tools, and methods for enhancing teaching and learning:

Inquiry Hub: This Research + Practice Partnership with Denver Public Schools dedicated to improving STEM learning for all students.

Engineering Experiences: This collaborative project involving UCAR, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the I Have a Dream Foundation is studying how to improve youth motivation and persistence in engineering through the design and implementation of innovative out-of-school learning opportunities.

TalkBack: The project is leveraging advances in automatic speech recognition and natural language processing to develop innovative environments that support preservice mathematics teachers to develop their capacity to orchestrate rich mathematical conversations among students.

Chicago City of Learning: In partnership with DePaul and Northwestern Universities, we are developing new analytic tools for characterizing and measuring equity in opportunities to learn at the scale of a city.


I currently teach two courses that are part of the Institute's graduate certificate and/or combined phd programs:

  • Research Applications Seminar (formerly Cognitive Science Practicum)
  • Topics in Cognitive Science

I have also taught:

  • Issues and Methods in Cognitive Science
  • User-Centered Design 
  • Technology and Cognition
  • Technology for Community