Activities and Findings
Project Activities: Integrating Neuroscience Into An Undergraduate Curriculum was implemented at Westminster College, a small liberal arts college (approx. 1500 students). The materials purchased permitted the development of networked computer workstations in the Behavioral Neuroscience classroom/laboratory for use in the all-college science program and the major programs in psychology and neuroscience.The intent was that students learn the use of computer in data collection, analysis and reporting.The computers operated video monitoring and operant equipment and served as terminals for virtual experimentation projects in neurophysiology. Data was transferred into spreadsheet and graphing applications for analysis. Students were also able to access web resources for literature research for a variety of individual projects and for specific class assignments.
The laboratory resources acquired for the project permitted enrollment expansion in the Behavioral Neuroscience course. At the initiation of the project Behavioral Neuroscience was re-positioned in the college curriculum.About five years ago, the course was a requirement only for Neuroscience majors (formerly Psychobiology). Only about 5 to 7 students enrolled in it per year.The department then initiated a requirement that psychology majors must take either Behavioral Neuroscience or a lab course in Cognition.The enrollment of the class then stood at 10 to 12, with most students opting to take Cognition.The initiation of this project corresponded with a new “Westminster Plan” curriculum.Among the goals of this curriculum was increased cross-fostering among the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.In response to this initiative, Behavioral Neuroscience became an all-college laboratory science option and, in that Psychology majors are required to take two laboratory sciences, the majority of Psychology majors are now taking Behavioral Neuroscience. The enrollment last spring stood at 23.
The resources provided by the project was projected to be used in three other contexts: 1) the Principles of Learning course, 2) Neural Networks: The Psychobiological Approach and 3) Senior Capstone: Neuroscience/General Experimental Research. During the current academic year, the Principles of Learning course enrolls 23 students, approximately half of which are Education majors.As part of the course requirement, students are required to become involved in auxiliary data collection projects the majority of which will make sue of the equipment purchased through the grant. The Neural Networks course was designed to be clustered with a companion course offered the Computer Science, however, staffing problems has led to postponement of the offering these courses until the 2001-2002 academic year.Senior Capstone students, as part of the independent research requirement have made extensive use of the equipment in a variety of experimental paradigms.The most significant implementation involves monitoring animal choice behavior using the video monitoring system to evaluate the cognitive remediative potential of a drug being developed to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Findings:A formal evaluation was the project was conducted in conjunction with the Behavioral Neuroscience course evaluation. The instrument assessed the course enrollment profile, assessment of value of the course and an assessment of the laboratory exercises that used the purchased equipment.
Course Evaluation: As anticipated based on its positioning in the curriculum,97% of the students enrolled in the course stated that a reason for taking the course was that it was a requirement. Of these, 57% also reported that they selected the course because of interest.Given the more than doubling of the students typically served by this course, many students were in the course that would not have selected it otherwise, even if they had some interest in the topic.As can be seen in Figure 1, these students expected this course to be more difficult than other psychology courses they had taken.They found it to be more difficult and also slightly more difficult than other lab science courses they had participated in.
Figure 2 illustrates the students’ comparison of the Behavioral Neuroscience course to other psychology courses. They were asked to rank the course relative to the other psychology courses in personal interest, general interest and personal use.Given the small number of students in the course who were Neuroscience majors, it is interesting to note that students who already had a substantial number of psychology courses under their belt (the range between 6 and 8), ranked the course close to the top in terms of personal and general interest, even if their rankings of personal use lagged behind.
Students were given the following open-ended statement to complete-“ Behavioral Neuroscience is an important/unimportant[select one] addition to an undergraduate program because:” Not one class respondent chose “unimportant”. Among the items students generated to complete the statement were:
It reveals the intricate "whys" of behavior and development not necessarily evident in other areas. It is concrete! Tangible?
It ties biology and psychology together.Neither one should exist independently.
It helps people to better understand what mechanisms lie behind the way people think and act.
Information presented in other courses is brought together establishing links with learning, statistics, biology and others.
A behavioral neuroscience laboratory requires students to become involved in procedures that segments of our society have come to depict as controversial, i.e., invasive surgical procedures on a mammalian species (the laboratory rat).In the grant proposal, a rationale for the equipping of a neuroscience lab with computer technology was to provide alternative exercises and activities for students who did not wish to engage in invasive procedures. As part of the laboratory orientation and with repeated reminders, it was made perfectly clear to students that they did not have to learn surgical or perfusion procedures.It is the anticipated anxiety over such procedures, as well as just the thought of working with rats, which made students select the Cognition lab in the past when given an option between the two classes.Given this history of student avoidance, it is significant that virtually the entire class reported that the laboratory exercises were much more interesting than anticipated, particularly projects that involved surgical treatment of animals.Typically what would happen in the labs is that several students would show maximal interest in surgical technique and serve as the chief surgeon.Others would specialize in suturing (one even became primarily responsible for shaving the rats’ head!!).However, it was clear that students both enjoyed and came to appreciate the basic techniques involved in behavioral neuroscience research.Although the laboratory was more crowded than when only Neuroscience majors enrolled in the course, psychology majors whose modal interest tends towards counseling and child development participated in the exercises with a level of motivation that was indistinguishable from the students with specific interests in brain research.
Although it has been argued that computer-based virtual experimentation can substitute for the experience working with live animal preparation, it was apparent that the computer-controlled equipment, although a powerful and necessary tool, did not serve as the central source of interest and motivation in the laboratory exercises. When asked to rank the potential for further development of a variety of laboratory activities, overwhelmingly, animal surgery was ranked the highest, followed by use of the operant system and histology.Ranked the lowest was the use of the Neuron software, a virtual experimentation package.This may be attributed to the discordance between the intended target audience of the program and the users in the Behavioral Neuroscience lab, but the blandness of virtual experimentation must also be counted as a factor.
Some of the most positive comments from students were elicited from the question – To an audience of chairs of psychology departments what would be your advice for the inclusion of behavioral neuroscience as a major requirement?A complete list of the responses is presented on the attached .PDF file, but the responses were almost universally positive. What can be gleaned from the responses was that the students came to appreciate the importance of the biological perspective for students of behavioral science and the sense that the development of psychology, in all of its specializations, requires an appreciation of brain-behavior relationships. Because of their experiences in the course they have become advocates of the stance that core education in scientifically gathered information is essential for undergraduate psychology programs.
The equipment awarded for the project made the offering of a laboratory based behavioral neuroscience class feasible for larger enrollment sections. The appreciation of the opportunity is apparent in the course evaluations.
Laboratory Exercise Evaluations: The project broke ground in a variety of ways.Its major focus was the development of modern technology-based laboratory exercises for the emerging discipline of neuroscience. The educational context in which these exercises were applied was a behavioral neuroscience offered as an all-college laboratory course. When reviewed against this context, the project was successful.However, it would be misleading to imply that everything ran smoothly.
Computer-controlled laboratory equipment for use in behavioral observations permits data to be gathered efficiently in a detailed manner.It also is designed to be flexible permitting a multitude of possible configurations.When undergraduates work with this equipment in a classroom laboratory setting, they are acquiring skills that will readily transfer if they were to have a research project of their own. However, with the benefits there are accompanying costs. Such equipment is complex to program and configure and sometimes temperamental. It is not designed to be re-configured on a daily basis.Students in the learning mode need the guidance of programming protocols that the instructor needs to develop.If the instructor is also in the learning-mode, a heavy time-consuming burden is placed on the instructor’s shoulders.There is the frustration of knowing what the equipment can do but the necessity of needing multiple iterations of application use in order to have the system work smoothly.In research laboratories, the equipment can be set-up and used for a particular application for an extended period of time and tweaked on a daily basis.In a classroom setting, the use of a given application is often highly spaced prolonging the evolution of procedures that permit efficient use.
When students work with computer-based laboratory equipment, they are gaining experience not only with the specifics of a given system, but they are also acquiring general skills that will transfer to many settings.For example, computer based equipment often requires manipulation and transfer of files. Indeed, when using the equipment in a classroom setting in which students need to maintain independent records for purposes of grading, working with the systems file structures was probably their most intensive keyboard activity. However, the file structure of professional equipment is optimized for incorporating data into existing files. Separating out records within an experiment that is shared among several students and transferred to a student’s personal file is laborious and complex.More so in that the two systems used, the Coulbourn and Ethovision systems, although ostensibly “Windows” programs, are built on DOS platforms that lack the intuitiveness that students have come to expect in Windows-based applications.
Professional applications have sophisticated utilities for data summary and analysis. Proficiency in their use is invaluable when dealing with large data sets. However, the skills acquired are very application-specific.During this project, with much success, students were required to extract data on a daily basis and place it in Excel spreadsheets. This permitted the instructor and assistants to check on student’s adherence to assignments as well as giving students transferable skills.Exercises were designed that gave students experience with summarizing data and a wide variety of spreadsheet utilities.The students were also instructed in procedures to move data into SPSS, the statistical package they are instructed to use in the sophomore-level Research Methods and Analysis course.
The Neuron neurophysiology application was used for two laboratory exercises. Its value was permitting students to work with virtual tissue neuronal preparations. In that the Westminster laboratory is outfitted for working at the behavioral level of analysis, experimental procedures and paradigms were explored for the first time. The Neuron software is accompanied with “canned” laboratory exercises and its simulation potential is so powerful that novel experimentation can be done on systems without any “wet” materials being used. The programming potential of this system is tremendous, however, the level of the available laboratory exercises were a bit too sophisticated for a class in behavioral neuroscience which only spends approximately 6 hours of lecture on molecular neural events.The exercises are of more value for a course whose sole focus is neuronal neurophysiology, a course directed at upper level neuroscience majors, not the average sophomore in a general liberal arts program.Although individual users can modify the system, it would take many hours of tinkering to develop a unique application.If exercises could be developed for the system that would permit more basic phenomena to be demonstrated it would be of more value to courses like the one associated with this project.Such projects as exercises in temporal and spatial summation, the role of pharmacological agents in neuronal activity and the information processing properties of neurons (e.g., simple and complex cells of the visual system) would make this software useful to a larger number of users.
The Ethovision system greatly intrigues students.Exercises were designed in which students designed arenas to detect animal movement.They learned to set up experimental protocols to track activity levels and search patterns in a radial arm maze.However, full utilization of the system has still not been achieved primarily because of lack of time.Exercises that would have benefited from the highly detailed data the system could provide were done manually. During the present academic year more attention and energy will be directed at the development of protocols that undergraduates could follow to use the Ethovision system more extensively.A project for the evaluation of radial arm maze performance using aged rats is currently underway and is making use of the system.
In the original proposal, the six computer-based research stations were configured so that all applications and their associated exercises were conducted in a common area.In the second year of the project, this configuration was abandoned.Instruction in that configuration was difficult. The line of sight between students and instructor was blocked by computer monitors and operant terminals.The multitude of cables needed for networking and equipment communication made movement through the workspace awkward.Therefore, in the second year, the laboratory configuration was made more conventional.The Coulbourn equipment was moved to the side of the room and served by two dedicated computers.The Ethovision system, and two additional dedicated computers were moved to an adjacent room.The two remaining computers were dedicated for exercises in file manipulation, network and Internet applications, and SPSS and Microsoft Office applications.However, when the computer-controlled systems were off-line, all computers could be used for the latter activities.
To permit general instruction in the use of the applications a portable video projection system purchased and it proved invaluable.The displays associated with the various applications could be projected on a screen at the front of the laboratory so that detailed instruction could be given.In addition, it was found that “wet” laboratory exercises, such as sheep brain dissection, when done in proximity to computer terminals are not ideal.What worked well was to be able to display images obtained from the web or other sources with a video projection system as students worked at tables that contained only the tissues samples. The video projection system was purchased in exchange for one of the electrical brain stimulation devices.Projects using this type of device will be a priority for the next time the course is offered.
The funded project not only contributed to expansion of the existing curriculum, the project benefited the educational development of students, some rather dramatically. Because a larger pool of students could become involved in the Neuroscience course, more students were drawn into participation in ongoing laboratory research.Two large-scale research projects were conducted that drew upon the labor of students who were trained in the behavioral neuroscience laboratory.One project was a collaborative effort with a drug development firm, Neotherapeutics, involving the testing of a drug on models of memory impairment in rats.The other project evaluated the consequences of unilateral brain damage on discrimination learning in rats, potentially useful as a model for studying recovery of function in stroke. Approximately eight students, voluntarily, assisted three students conducting senior thesis projects as a result of becoming familiar with the projects through the class.The team effort made these projects very successful and in turn benefited the students conducting the thesis work. All three of these seniors have obtained positions doing laboratory work in neuroscience, one at Case Western and two at the University of Pennsylvania.Informally, invitations to do graduate work have been extended. The use of the video tracking system in these projects was only piloted, but more extensive use of the system is planned in projects to be conducted beginning in the Fall 2000 semester.
The P/I benefited from being given an opportunity to develop an innovative laboratory in the emerging discipline of neuroscience.Professionally it instigated an analysis of the role of neuroscience in undergraduate education, the challenges facing neuroscientists who specialize in teaching and the limitations of laboratory resources in undergraduate education.
It is apparent from the student evaluations of the course that the “feared” laboratory course in neuroscience became metamorphosed into a challenging but essential and enjoyable learning experience.The solicited “advice to chairs of psychology departments” was that behavioral neuroscience is foundational to a program in psychology. Unfortunately, behavioral neuroscience is rarely seen as a required course in undergraduate curricula. The emergence of neuroscience as an interdisciplinary area has tended to marginalize the old “physiological psychology” in undergraduate psychology programs and contributes to the perception that psychology has more to do with social service than it does with science. Although it is not possible to stanch the evolution of scientific disciplines, the aligning of the structure of undergraduate education has tended to lag behind the structure of scientific inquiry.Psychology has contributed to the conceptual core of neuroscience and students majoring in psychology as undergraduates are a rich resource for advanced study in neuroscience.In that neuroscience is inconsistently represented in undergraduate curricula a large pool of bright and scientifically inclined students are not given an opportunity to learn about it as a part of their basic education.During the run of the project, the average psychology major became enthusiastic about the topic and several became interested in the careers the field of neuroscience can provide.
Because of the efforts I undertook to develop the laboratory experiences funded by the grant, I sought out venues to present the program I developed.I was a presenter in the NSF funded Survival Skills Workshop that included a session on the skills needed for graduate students to find positions in employment settings other than large research laboratories.I made presentations at the 1999 meeting of the American Psychological Association and helped organize a symposium on the Teaching of Neuroscience at the 2000 meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association.I also attended the annual meeting of the Association of Neuroscience Departments and Programs.In all of these venues, I had conversations with and about graduate students who had the career ambition of teaching in a liberal arts setting. A concern constantly raised was the overspecialization of graduate neuroscience education leading to insufficient breadth to occupy a typical position in psychology or biology programs at small liberal arts institutions. These interactions led to conversations with graduate and post-doctoral students about the concept of post-doctoral placements in settings in which the primary institutional mission is teaching. As I labored on the tasks of developing curricula, laboratory exercises and their accompanying instrumentation, the idea of having a graduate assistant who a) could develop exercises that incorporate the newest paradigms and technologies and b) could benefit from the opportunity to develop skills in an educational setting was intriguing.I imagined a mutually beneficial relationship in which graduate assistants could work to add do-able contemporary exercises to the corpus of available undergraduate neuroscience laboratory experiences and, in return, could benefit by having an opportunity to apply their scientific training to a teaching environment. The interdigitation of teaching and research is a goal of this NSF grant category and a program that would encourage the diversification of training for graduate and post-doctoral students in neuroscience would seem a desirable goal.Cooperative arrangements between such as organizations as the Association for Neuroscience Departments and Programs and the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience could facilitate such an endeavor.
Abstract of Poster Presentation to be presented at the Teaching of Neuroscience session of the Society for Neuroscience meeting, New Orleans, 2000.
INTEGRATING NEUROSCIENCE INTO AN UNDERGRADUATE PSYCHOLOGY CURRICULUM
Because Neuroscience has a limited representation in an undergraduate setting, dissemination of the observations from Neuroscience research and general awareness of the discipline often falls to the responsibility of undergraduate programs in psychology and biology.Described is a project, supported by the National Science Foundation that incorporates Behavioral Neuroscience as a sophomore-level laboratory science option in a small liberal arts college.The laboratory projects are implemented through computerized research stations that control operant and video observation equipment. In addition exposure to Neuroscience is provided through senior thesis projects, a "cluster course" in Neural Networks and training in behavioral data collections skills in a Principles of Learning of course.
These described dynamics can be felt more strongly at small liberal arts colleges that lack the presence of neuroscience in graduate programs.As the corpus of accumulated knowledge in neuroscience begins to grow independently from psychology, there is a risk that the insights it provides about behavior will be neglected by psychology. To eliminate bio/behavioral components from the psychology curriculum can superficially appear to be an attractive administrative option- laboratory courses are expensive to operate and the majority of students in all but the most prestigious schools tend to avoid them. However, the cost of the disappearance of neuroscience from psychology curricula would have the costs of failing to provide some of the most productive insights about behavior to the public audience found in psychology courses and the cost of not reaching the segment of the group who have the potential to be the scientists of the next generation.
The activities supported by this grant were used to develop and equip an undergraduate program that shores up the presence of neuroscience in undergraduate psychology education and maximizes its exposure to the liberal arts students.A sophomore-junior level laboratory course was developed that was engineered to accommodate the majority of psychology majors and also to serve as an option in the all-college requirement for a laboratory science course.Because laboratory science courses in the college’s program need to provide opportunities to learn the value of empirical information gathering techniques, laboratory exercises were designed that had the mutual goals of teaching neuroscience content and exposing students to contemporary computer-based laboratory instrumentation and data gathering. An additional challenge in the design of such a program is dealing with a faddish resistance to the use of live animal preparations in educational and research settings.By having the mastery of computer-based laboratory techniques as co-equivalent course goal, students who would prefer not to work with live animal preparations invasively could participate in alternate computer-based laboratory exercises.
It is apparent from the student evaluations of the course that the “feared” laboratory course in neuroscience became metamorphosed into a challenging but essential and enjoyable learning experience.The solicited “advice to chairs of psychology departments” was that behavioral neuroscience is foundational to a program in psychology. It was also apparent that trepidations about the use of live animal preparations in the undergraduate lab were unfounded.The majority of students sought out training in surgery, and although computer exercises were part of the training context, they failed to generate the intrinsic interest found in work with the laboratory rat. It was also heartening to note that although the students found the course difficult, they also found it as a source of invaluable insights about behavior they would not be able to achieve in other courses.