Syllabus for Neuroscience
BIOL 444a/544, Spring, 2004
(A Problem-Based Approach)

Instructor, Texts,
Times, Places
Course Description
and Ground Rules
Course Content and
The Reasons for It
Content Order and
Staged Pedagogy
Daily Schedule
Excited Person WavingStudent Pages

Midterm Exam
Final Exam

Instructor, Texts, Times, and Places

The class

Meets TT 9:30 - 10:45am in SL 1105

The text

Foundations of Neurobiology by Fred Delcomyn, 1998. N.Y.: Freeman ISBN: 0-7167-2627-0

The Instructor

Prof. Douglas Eder
Department of Biological Sciences
Office of Undergraduate Assessment -&- The Undergraduate Research Academy
Office: 618/650-2640
Click here to send a message to, or use an e-mail service like PINE from a campus terminal or, preferably, work within the WebCT system.

Office Hours

Tues./Thurs. for 1/2 hour before class and 1/2 hour after class or until we're done. I am available 24 hours a day via electronic mail. In addition, there will be specific times announced in class when I will monitor the Neuroscience homepage and Electronic Forum in order to provide rapid [virtual] consultation.

Course Description and Ground Rules for BIOL 444a/544

Outline of this section
Course Goal & Format Prerequisites, Expectations, and Attendance
Exams and Written Work
Missing or Incomplete Performance
The Singular Commandment

Course Goal

To introduce students to neuroscience as an upper division subject in biology through critical thinking, writing about and solving problems, and discussing contemporary issues.


This is a 400/500-level course taught in an active learning, problem-solving format. Student preparation, therefore, should emphasize reading and thinking prior to class so that reasoned dialog in class occurs regularly.


Junior/senior-level skills in written and spoken English are assumed as are working knowledge of calculus or physics or biochemistry or physiological psychology. A 300-level course in physiology is prerequisite, but may be compensated by deeper understanding of physics, math, or biochemistry. Experience in University library search procedures is expected (see pedagogy below). Upper level standing (junior or senior --- graduate for BIOL 544) is required.


Satisfactory performance in University courses generally asks for two hours of study outside of class for each hour in class. This estimate applies to an "average" student expecting an "adequate" (=C) grade. Students aiming higher or those with academic problems should expect to spend more effort than the minimum.


Class attendance is expected. Although some good reasons exist for missing a class, a student missing more than 10% of class time is subject to reduction of grade.


Grades for the course are based on two exams (60%), several written projects, oral presentations, quizzes, essays (30%), and participation (10%). In general, the overall expectation for grades is the following: An outline of grading standards used to assess and evaluate written work can be examined by clicking here.


Exams will emphasize factual knowledge and content. Multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions may arise. Exams focus on what happens in class as supplemented and amplified by the readings.

Written Work

Major outside written work should be typed on plain white paper, double-spaced, single-side with one-inch margins and pages stapled together. The student's name(s) should appear only on the title page, which is separate within each manuscript, or on the back side of the last sheet (prof will select). Variation from this format is not permitted without advance consultation with the professors. Students present written ideas in their own words. Quotations are limited to 10% of the paper; use of quotations and ideas not the student's own requires proper citation. Written work is evaluated as 70% content (ideas, reasoning), 20% style (English, structure), and 10% format (care, neatness, references). A "fatal error" policy exists: Any paper or chapter that contains three or more spelling or grammatical errors (e.g., run-on, capitalization, indefinite reference) may not be graded. Therefore, use a computer spell/grammar checker and proofread. The paper may be resubmitted within two class periods; a substantial grade penalty accompanies a paper with fatal errors. Minor outside written work (e.g., overnight essays) must be typed. The student's name should be written only on the back side of the single sheet.

Missing or Incomplete Performance

A single missed assignment must be made up within three calendar days or at some mutually agreeable time for professor and student. It is the student's responsibility to initiate this process. A second missed assignment cannot be made up and will be assigned a grade of zero. A grade of Incomplete may be recorded only in cases of verifiable medical distress, must be negotiated before the final exam, and must be made up within one academic semester. Individual contracts will be negotiated in the event of incomplete performance.

The Singular Commandment

We want you to do well. Regardless of the pressures you may feel upon yourself, THOU SHALT NOT LIE, CHEAT, OR STEAL. This includes not using ideas of other persons without proper citation. Students engaged in such activities are subject to a failing grade for the course. Plagiarism is a kind of stealing behavior that is widely misunderstood. Students are expected to be aware of the Student Handbook statement on the topic and to absorb its discussion in class.

BIOL 444A/544: Why the Course Contains What It Contains

Outline of this section
The Nature of Science
The Nature of Neuroscience
The Readings and the Issues

Introduction: The Nature of Science

In contrast to art and religion, which have existed in human history for perhaps 30,000 years, science as a way of knowing is relatively new. Scientific practice in its present form is only about 400 years old. Galileo is credited with introducing into modern scientific thought the idea that evidence of the senses, rather than divinely inspired insight, is primary. Notions about science continue to change. Science has been defined as the study of reproducible events, a definition that unfortunately leaves out such important fields as ecology and evolution, which are not repeatable because we cannot repeat ecosystems or the universe. Today we regard science as the testing of falsifiable hypotheses, that is, the formation and study of guiding principles which, if opposing evidence were discovered, could be disproved. Because scientific hypotheses always have the possibility of being proved false (they can never be proven true), certainty does not exist in science. The best, most solid ideas in science are theories.

Introduction: The Nature of Neuroscience

Neuroscience is a complex discipline --- an interdiscipline, really. It represents a dynamic combination of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, physics, psychology, ethology, and a dose of computers and philosophy. The number of connections between neurons in the human brain approximates the number of stars in a galaxy. The written and oral histories of neuroscience reveal a very complex, sometimes cumbersome, sometimes elegant search for how organisms use their inner galaxies of neurons, which can be presented quite artfully to the appreciative eye, in order to sense, process, and respond to the environment. Scientists have devised some wonderfully sophisticated tools that allow one to eavesdrop on what individual neurons say to each other when they are communicating. Some of these tools permit modification of the neural communication itself through application of drugs onto single cells. Other tools permit investigators to monitor nerve talk as groups of them learn, and still others enable neurons to talk to computers and vice versa. Thus, the study of nervous systems has been a series of voyages along an inner frontier, an adventure to study the extraordinarily complex conversations taking place within --- conversations that describe our well being and that contribute to awareness itself.

The Readings and the Issues

This course has two fundamental goals: (1) To introduce students to the fundamental biophysical properties of neural communication, and (2) to engage students in the process of neural investigation by encouraging them to meet [virtually] one practicing neuroscientist. Achieving the first goal can occur through traditional access to textbooks, journal articles, and the Internet. Achieving the second goal occurs initially through reading a biography, but it can expand to considerably more complex levels. Progress toward goal #1 will take place by studying (a) nerve membrane fundamentals including cable theory, the Hodgkin-Huxley equations, ion channels, and voltage-gated changes in membrane permeability, (b) neurotransmitters and their mechanisms of action, ligand-gated channels, second messengers, and neuromodulators, and (c) vertebrate neuroanatomic pathways, especially those associated with voluntary (motor and sensory) and autonomic functions. Each of these three topics will include a problem ---a case study--- the solution to which represents an assessment of learning. Following mastery of these three topics, students may pursue investigation of areas such as neuroendocrinology, artifical intelligence, neuropathology, and neuroethology. Progress toward goal #2 will take place simultaneously but will not occupy class time. Rather, it represents semi-independent study supplemented by individual contact with the professor, personally and through electronic communication.

Why the Contents are Ordered the Way They Are

Outline of this section
Purpose of the Order
Staged Pedagogy

Purpose of the Order

The first part of the course establishes a foundation of critical and quantitative thinking in neuroscience. It reinforces and assesses that foundation through problem solving and case studies. When the foundation has been assessed as satisfactory, students can proceed to explore topics of a more integrative nature that rely upon this foundation.

Staged Pedagogy

As a 400/500-level class in Neuroscience, this course expects junior-, senior-, graduate-student level capabilities for enrollment and success. The amount of scaffolding surrounding student work will be commensurate with that appropriate for upper division standing. However, students who are less experienced in the use of facilities such as The Internet, Silver Platter, Biological Abstracts, and Science Citation Index, for example, need to ask for the appropriate library instruction. Pedagogy emphasizes informed discussion and active learning rather than mostly lecture.

The intent of the instructor, as revealed through the syllabus, is to lead students into increasingly sophisticated quantitative reasoning through and staged writing and thinking. Thus, there is the expectation of communication through problem solving, case-study discussion, writing, and revision. In order to reinforce the staging, there may be several smaller papers of 1-3 page magnitude as well as a written investigation with biographical overtones. This arrangement permits multiple opportunities for feedback and should avoid the more common habit of procrastination followed by a crunch at the end. Refer to the Ground Rules for grading practices.

The daily schedule is arranged to begin by introducing three realms of neuroscience: nerve membranes, neurotransmitters, and neural pathways. Concurrently, the course will pose questions that require neuroscientific solutions. As thinking is developed, more integrative concepts will be introduced. This richer context in turn permits consideration of even more complex neural problems and more integrative thinking about them as well. Thus, a theoretical foundation in neuroscience is formed not in isolation but in the context of scientific issues --- and with a supporting staged pedagogy.

Class discussion is intended to serve as a prelude to writing and problem solving; writing is used as a tool for thinking. Whereas the particular insights uncovered by students are hoped to be interesting, the reasoning marshaled by students in support of their insights is crucial. In order to provide multiple chances for feedback, several writing assignments are included. In order to provide an opportunity for deeper argument and synthesis, group consultation is strongly encouraged.