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Brain, Education, and Inquiry - Fall 2010 Course Organization

Paul Grobstein's picture

Brain, Education, and Inquiry

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2010

Course Organization


Learning objectives:

  • To become more familiar with existing work relevant to the interface between education and the neural and cognitive sciences.
  • To enhance the ability to construct new, critical, and synthetic in-depth understandings of selected issues at this interface and make them available in a form that is engaging and useful to others.
  • To acquire greater ability to engage in productive public discussion of this interface and its practical and conceptual significance.
  • To develop greater skills in co-constructive inquiry.

Course methodology:

Construct new understandings, individual and collective, by sharing existing understandings and the reasons for them via reading, talking, and writing.  In addition to class readings and discussion, students will do their own reading, participate in on-line forum discussion, lead class discussions, and write web papers on topics of particular interest to themselves.

Writing assignments:

In addition to active participation in on-line forums, students will be expected to write and make available on the web three papers, each of which should be 4-6 pages (1400-2000 words) in length.  The papers should be based on explorations and readings beyond those discussed in class sessions and present clearly new understandings you have constructed for yourself based on that work (as opposed to simply describing controversies or understandings reached by others).  Papers should be written for a general audience, set your new understandings in the context of existing understandings of others, and provide useful references (at least some available on the web) so that others interested in the topic can use the papers as a foundation for their own explorations.  

Paper 1:  Taking off from one or more of the articles under "The current state of education," or something comparable, do some additional reading and thinking about some feature of the educational process that you think is particularly important and with which you have had some direct experience.  The resulting paper should either criticize some undesirable feature of education as it currently exists or highlight some desirable features in contrast to other less desirable ones.  It should include as well some discussion of the questions, challenges, and/or opportunities this particular set of reflections poses for future efforts to improve education generally.

Paper 2:  Taking off from one or more of the articles under "The brain and education," or something comparable, do some additional reading and thinking about a particular example of the interface between education and the neural and cognitive sciences.  The resulting paper should outline this example and discuss its implications both in regard to its specific significance for educational practice and with regard to the broader question of the value of neural and cognitive research for improving educational practice. 

Paper 3:  Taking off from one or more of the articles/books under "Moving forward," or something comparable, do some additional reading and thinking about the issues that the course started with: problems in education and the potential of the neural and cognitive sciences to contribute to its improvement.  The resulting paper should reflect changes in your understandings over the semester, and provide your current assessment of the extent to which existing and/or future work in the neural and cognitive sciences might contribute to improved educational theory and practice.  The paper can either reflect your synthesis of a number of different perspectives or be a reflective critique/commentary on one book or other major piece of writing in light of our conversations this semester.

Evaluation of student work:

Papers will be evaluated in terms of conceptual logic and rigor, appropriate attention to the relations between observations and conclusions, clarity of presentation for a general readership, and evidence of serious intellectual interest in and engagement with the material presented.    Each paper will be graded on a ten point scale, with seven corresponding to acceptable on most counts and ten to exceptional on all counts. Scores on the three papers will be combined, with the final paper given twice the weight of each of the first two. The combined paper score will contribute seventy-five percent to a course total, with other contributions to the class success, including weekly web postings and contributions to class discussions, contributing the balance. Course totals in the vicinity of 90 percent and above will translate into final grades of 4.0, those in the vicinity of 75 and above into final grades of 3.0, those in the vicinity of 60 and above into final grades of 2.0. Final scores above 50 percent are needed to pass the course.

As I hope will become clear during the semester, it is my belief that no single measure can adequately reflect the distinctive efforts and achievements of any individual taking a given course, not can your grade in any given course be taken as an adequate indicator of your likely performance in other contexts. You should therefore always regard your scores as only one measure of your performance, taking into account as well your distinctive objectives and your own sense of what you have achieved in relation to them. Should you have questions about the significance of your scores in relation to personal progress or career objectives, your instructor would be happy to discuss these with you (as well as to provide to others any additional information which might usefully extend that available from your course grade).

Serendip usage:

If you have previously had a Serendip user name and password, use that; let me know if there are any problems.  If you have never had a Serendip user name and password ...

  1. go to the course home page
  2. click on the Login link in the upper right of the page
  3. click on create new account
  4. enter user name (your choice, bearing in mind that your work will be public,  but let me know if you use a pseudonym)
  5. enter your college email address
  6. enter the registration code provided in class
  7. select class group
  8. submit

Always log in before posting materials to Serendip, including forum postings.  If you use Word to prepare materials for Serendip, click on the W icon in the posting menu and paste into the resulting window. 

Web papers should include a numbered reference list with citations in the text indicated by numbers in parentheses.  Web papers should be turned in as hard copy and submitted to Serendip as follows

  1. Make a second version of your paper by saving the original as "TEXT ONLY" and giving it some distinctive file name on your computer. This version will have lost some formatting characteristics, such as bold face, tabs, etc.
  2. Go to the course home page, and log in as you normally would.
  3. Go to "create content" and select "portfolio entry."
  4. Put the title of your paper in the appropriate box and select the appropriate number Brain and Education webpaper number under "student webpaper."
  5. Copy and paste the text only version of your paper, including reference list, into the window. Do not include your name or the paper title.
  6. Use the "preview" button to see how your paper will look when posted. Check to be sure paragraphs are separated by an empty line and no "funny" characters appear in your text.
  7. Add active links in your reference list (and elsewhere as you desire).
  8. Avoid using images unless they are your own.
  9. Make needed corrections by typing in the window. Repeat "preview" and correction until you are satisfied.
  10. Click on the "submit" button.