Using Tinbergen's Four Questions as the Framework for a Neuroscience Capstone Course.
ABSTRACT: Capstone courses for upper-division students are a common feature of the undergraduate neuroscience curriculum. Here is described a method for adapting Nikolaas Tinbergen's four questions to use as a framework for a neuroscience capstone course, in this case with a particular emphasis on neurotoxins. This course is intended to be a challenging opportunity for students to integrate and apply knowledge and skills gained from their major study, a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a Concentration in Integrative Physiology and Neurobiology. In particular, a broad, integrative approach is favored, with emphasis placed on primary literature, scientific process and effective, professional communication. To achieve this, Tinbergen's four questions were adapted and implemented as the overarching framework of the course. Tinbergen's questions range from the proximate to ultimate/evolutionary view, providing an excellent base upon which to teach students an integrative approach to understanding neuroscientific phenomena. For example, a particular neurotoxin can be examined from the proximate level (i.e., mechanism: how does this toxin specifically impact neural physiology) to the ultimate/evolutionary level (i.e., adaptation: why and to what extent did this toxin evolve naturally or the reason that it was initially invented by humans). The mechanics, goals, and objectives of the course are presented as we believe that it will serve as a flexible and useful model for neuroscience capstone courses concerning a wide variety of topics across multiple types of institutions.
Project description:Neuroscience is an integrative discipline for which students must achieve broad-based proficiency in many of the sciences. We are motivated by the premise that student pursuit of proficiency in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can be supported by awareness of the application of knowledge and tools from the various disciplines for solving complex problems. We refer to this awareness as "interdisciplinary awareness." Faculty from biology, chemistry, mathematics/computer science, physics, and psychology departments contributed to a novel integrative introductory neuroscience course with no pre-requisites. STEM concepts were taught in "flipped" class modules throughout the semester: Students viewed brief videos and completed accompanying homework assignments independently. In subsequent class meetings, students applied the STEM concepts to understand nervous system structure and function through engaged learning activities. The integrative introduction to neuroscience course was compared to two other courses to test the hypothesis that it would lead to greater gains in interdisciplinary awareness than courses that overlap in content but were not designed for this specific goal. Data on interdisciplinary awareness were collected using previously published tools at the beginning and end of each course, enabling within-subject analyses. Students in the integrative course significantly increased their identification of scientific terms as relevant to neuroscience in a term-discipline relevance survey and increased their use of terms related to levels of analysis (e.g., molecular, cellular, systems) in response to an open-ended prompt. These gains were seen over time within the integrative introduction to neuroscience course as well as relative to the other two courses.
Project description:Professional precepted immersion courses (capstone) have become the standard as a means to prepare senior nursing students to enter the workforce. Preceptors have a significant role in developing the student nurse, yet exactly how to prepare preceptors for this role has been an ongoing discussion. This qualitative inquiry explored the educational needs of clinical registered nurse (RN) preceptors who work directly with senior nursing students in a professional precepted immersion (capstone) course. A descriptive qualitative design was used to examine preceptors responses to a prepared set of questions about their educational needs. Results showed that preceptors have three distinct sets of learning needs: the need to know the expectations of their role, wanting to know how best to role model for the student, and knowing how to socialize the student into the profession of nursing. Overall, preceptors communicated their desire and commitment to doing the best job possible. They also clearly stated their expectation of faculty to have a physical presence on the nursing unit that included being proactive in resolving mismatches and exposing the student to the roles of provider of care, leader and manager of care, and member of profession.
Project description:Controversies in Neuroscience is a half-semester elective for first year science students at Carnegie Mellon University with an emphasis on discussing primary literature to highlight current research topics and to introduce students to neuroscience. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching first-year students using a literature-only approach, we took advantage of an opportunity to teach the same topics to a traditional textbook-based upper division course as to the first year seminar. Students in both courses took surveys at the beginning and end of the course, and self-reported confidence levels as well as exam scores were compared. At the conclusion of both courses, students reported increased level of comfort with scientific terminology and methodology. In addition, students enrolled in the first-year seminar performed at least as well or better than students involved in the upper division course on exam material. These results suggest that first year students are capable of making great strides in learning and understanding scientific principles strictly through exposure to primary literature, even with little or no access to a standard textbook. Furthermore, introducing students to primary literature-based courses early on in their undergraduate career can increase enthusiasm for learning science and improve confidence with neuroscience concepts and methodology. We therefore conclude that it is valuable to provide students opportunities to critically evaluate scientific literature early in their undergraduate careers.
Project description:Large lecture classes and standardized laboratory exercises are characteristic of introductory biology courses. Previous research has found that these courses do not adequately convey the process of scientific research and the excitement of discovery. Here we propose a model that provides beginning biology students with an inquiry-based, active learning laboratory experience. The Dynamic Genome course replicates a modern research laboratory focused on eukaryotic transposable elements where beginning undergraduates learn key genetics concepts, experimental design, and molecular biological skills. Here we report on two key features of the course, a didactic module and the capstone original research project. The module is a modified version of a published experiment where students experience how virtual transposable elements from rice (Oryza sativa) are assayed for function in transgenic Arabidopsis thaliana. As part of the module, students analyze the phenotypes and genotypes of transgenic plants to determine the requirements for transposition. After mastering the skills and concepts, students participate in an authentic research project where they use computational analysis and PCR to detect transposable element insertion site polymorphism in a panel of diverse maize strains. As a consequence of their engagement in this course, students report large gains in their ability to understand the nature of research and demonstrate that they can apply that knowledge to independent research projects.
Project description:Undergraduate medical education (UME) follows the lead of graduate medical education (GME) in moving to competency-based assessment. The means for and the timing of competency-based assessments in UME are unclear.We explored the feasibility of using the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education Transitional Year (TY) Milestones to assess student performance during a mandatory, fourth-year capstone course.Our single institution, observational study involved 99 medical students who completed the course in the spring of 2014. Students' skills were assessed by self, peer, and faculty assessment for 6 existing course activities using the TY Milestones. Evaluation completion rates and mean scores were calculated.Students' mean milestone levels ranged between 2.2 and 3.6 (on a 5-level scoring rubric). Level 3 is the performance expected at the completion of a TY. Students performed highest in breaking bad news and developing a quality improvement project, and lowest in developing a learning plan, working in interdisciplinary teams, and stabilizing acutely ill patients. Evaluation completion rates were low for some evaluations, and precluded use of the data for assessing student performance in the capstone course. Students were less likely to complete separate online evaluations. Faculty were less likely to complete evaluations when activities did not include dedicated time for evaluations.Assessment of student competence on 9 TY Milestones during a capstone course was useful, but achieving acceptable evaluation completion rates was challenging. Modifications are necessary if milestone scores from a capstone are intended to be used as a handoff between UME and GME.
Project description:Project-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach that allows students to build on prior knowledge and address relevant problems while working on challenging projects. PBL is well-suited to undergraduate neuroscience courses because students are often interested in learning about diseased states of the nervous system, but can be discouraged by having to learn the chemical and cellular mechanisms underlying pathologies in a lecture-based learning environment. PBL provides students with a significant learning experience that excites them and can help them learn challenging content. Drawing from the recommendations of multiple STEM education reform efforts, I examined the effectiveness of using PBL in an undergraduate neurobiology course to provide students with significant and engaging learning experiences. Students were grouped into teams using a guild system and completed three substantial projects consisting of team-authored research papers and poster presentations. Each project was designed to address fundamental neuroscience concepts using a real-world problem. By the end of the course, students were more confident in their understanding of neuroscience and had greater understanding of neuroscience concepts. Student attitudes toward working on projects or working as a member of team did not change but remained positive throughout course. Taken together, these results suggest that PBL can be an effective way to actively engage students while allowing them to learn, integrate and communicate core neuroscience concepts.
Project description:The purpose of our action research project was to improve students' motivation in a multi-section introductory neuroscience laboratory course. In this paper, we present: (a) how we collected data related to students' motivation and engagement, (b) how we analyzed and used the data to make modifications to the courses, (c) the results of the course modifications, and (d) some possible explanations for our results. Our aim is not only to provide the results of our study, but also to explain the process that we used, with the hopes that other instructors can use similar approaches to improve students' motivation in their courses. Our attempts to improve students' motivation-related perceptions were successful in some instances, but not in others. Of particular note was our finding that some of the students' perceptions varied even though the course syllabus was the same across sections. We attributed this variation to the learning environment developed by the teaching assistants (TAs) who taught the different sections. We provide some strategies that faculty instructors can use to redesign courses with high enrollments and help TAs motivate their students.
Project description:A survey was presented to members of the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience (FUN) to get a better idea of how neuroscience research and education is being delivered at the undergraduate level. A total of 155 individuals completed the survey, with 118 coming from faculty at traditional PUIs (primarily undergraduate institutions) and 37 from faculty at doctoral-granting institutions. The survey covered a number of different areas; including types of neuroscience programs, number of neuroscience faculty at the institution, average course loads, average number of research students, and external support for research. Results from this survey indicate that the structure of neuroscience programs vary among institutions. Course loads for faculty at PUIs averaged four to six courses per year and the total number of undergraduate students supervised in research per faculty member averaged five (± 2.8) students per year. Faculty show high success with external funding, both at PUIs and research universities. Faculty ranked FUN programs devoted to supporting both students and faculty development highly. The results of this survey provide data that can be used to determine future directions and priorities for FUN.
Project description:Introduction:A number of medical schools have developed capstone courses to help prepare medical students for their transition to residency training. As part of our capstone program, we developed a Night on Call experience for graduating medical students to simulate the experience of an intern physician responding to medical emergencies in the hospital setting. Methods:Our 2-hour program incorporates high-fidelity simulation in a four-station format (four clinical cases) with semistructured debriefing at the conclusion of the experience. Results:The program has been well received. The majority of students report that the exercise achieves its learning objectives and has been a valuable experience. In addition, the students note that our cases offer a realistic experience. Discussion:A program such as this allows the faculty an opportunity to observe and provide formative feedback to the students regarding their clinical performance when caring for patients in a simulated inpatient setting.
Project description:Measuring students' conceptual understandings has become increasingly important to biology faculty members involved in evaluating and improving departmental programs. We developed the Molecular Biology Capstone Assessment (MBCA) to gauge comprehension of fundamental concepts in molecular and cell biology and the ability to apply these concepts in novel scenarios. Targeted at graduating students, the MBCA consists of 18 multiple-true/false (T/F) questions. Each question consists of a narrative stem followed by four T/F statements, which allows a more detailed assessment of student understanding than the traditional multiple-choice format. Questions were iteratively developed with extensive faculty and student feedback, including validation through faculty reviews and response validation through student interviews. The final assessment was taken online by 504 students in upper-division courses at seven institutions. Data from this administration indicate that the MBCA has acceptable levels of internal reliability (?=0.80) and test-retest stability (r=0.93). Students achieved a wide range of scores with a 67% overall average. Performance results suggest that students have an incomplete understanding of many molecular biology concepts and continue to hold incorrect conceptions previously documented among introductory-level students. By pinpointing areas of conceptual difficulty, the MBCA can provide faculty members with guidance for improving undergraduate biology programs.