Alum receives Outstanding Dissertation Award from ILA

July 10, 2023

Two-time alum Lori Bruner is the recipient of the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) Timothy & Cynthia Shanahan Outstanding Dissertation Award – a prestigious honor that annually recognizes an outstanding doctoral student whose research focuses on reading.

A headshot of Lori Bruner.
Lori Bruner

Her dissertation titled: “The Words, the Texts, and the Interactions: Opportunities for Word Learning from Preschool Storybook Apps” analyzed 70 top-selling digital storybook applications designed for preschool children. Her research showed that storybook apps contain a similar amount of vocabulary as preschool printed books and that the digital enhancements in these apps encouraged caregivers to talk about more words with their children than reading static text.

“I have always been interested in how caregivers and children read together – especially from birth to age 5,” said Bruner, who taught kindergarten at the beginning of her career. “Two out of every three families read digital stories together every day. I’m curious how this has changed the read aloud experience for young children and their caregivers.”

Bruner, a 2007 graduate of the Teacher Preparation Program and 2022 graduate of the Curriculum, Instruction and Teacher Education doctoral program, followed her passion when choosing a dissertation topic – deviating from the common approach of researching trending topics in the field. “My goal from the beginning was to love the research I would be doing,” she said.

The approach paid off for Bruner, who also received the 2023 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Dissertation Award for Literacy Excellence and was recently named a Reading Hall of Fame emerging scholar.

Uplifted by faculty

“I owe so much of what’s next in my career to the people in the field who have uplifted my research and helped me think of my work in new and better ways,” said Bruner. She fondly remembers Associate Professor Hope Gerde from the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and College of Education Associate Professors Kimberly Kelly and Tanya Wright, as well as University Distinguished Professor Patricia Edwards for serving as a mentors and advisors during her dissertation.

Two children read a digital storybook app on a mobile tablet.
“Two out of every three families read digital stories together every day,” said Bruner.

The mentorship and guidance came at a crucial time for Bruner, who conducted all her research during the COVID-19 pandemic while raising two young children.

In addition to receiving grant funding, ILA will publish Bruner’s research in Reading Research Quarterly – a leading global journal that offers multidisciplinary scholarship on literacy among learners of all ages, including the latest research studies.

“The achievements of Lori Bruner, a proud Spartan Educator, highlight the immense value of pursuing one’s passion in academia,” said Dean and MSU Research Foundation Professor Jerlando F. L. Jackson. “By choosing a dissertation topic that aligned with her passion, she not only received recognition, but unlocked new paths in the field of research.”

Bruner is now an assistant professor at University of Alabama’s College of Education, where she is the Principal Investigator on two nationally grant-funded projects examining digital texts in early childhood contexts.

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