Psychology professor Sarah Meerts believes introductory courses are just as important as advanced-level courses and projects. That’s why she partnered with postdoctoral fellow Brielle Bjorke to create Carleton’s first “Foundations in Neuroscience” course.
A dedicated introductory class prepares students to more easily see what role neuroscience plays in other areas, says Meerts, who notes that neuroscience minors take classes offered mainly by the biology and psychology departments. “Plus, it helps them form a community. Students used to come into the minor from different classes and they wouldn’t meet together until the capstone course at the end. Now they’ll get to know each other early on.”
“It’s a great first-year class because it introduces students to a lot of different topics,” says Bjorke. “We cover biology and psychology, obviously, but also computer science, engineering, and social science in general.”
The course is a “flipped classroom”: students’ homework consists of watching prerecorded lectures and completing assigned reading. During class time, they work together on problem sets.
“I was a bit nervous at first,” says Bjorke, who, unlike Meerts, hadn’t taught a flipped class before. “But as the course progressed, I realized that it was an effective way for the students to learn. I had time to help them engage on a deeper level with the concepts. I could see where the gaps were, whereas if they were studying at home, I wouldn’t necessarily know that they were missing something important.”
Meerts notes that the approach takes a lot of work upfront, but the effort has been worth it: “One of our students emailed us over the summer to say, ‘Thanks so much for the great class. I feel head and shoulders above the rest of the undergraduates in my research lab in terms of understanding neuroscience.’ ”