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Liberal Learning at its Finest

December 18, 2013 by

Wow, it is hard to believe that it is already the end of fall semester senior year. Where did the time go? Well that means it is time to reflect on my “capstone” experience in neurochemistry with one final blog post.

 

Going into this class, there was a lot of “hype” from students. By the time that senior year rolls around, most of us know each other and the professor. Some students were anxious about the experience because neuroscience was out of comfort zone. Other students, like myself, were extremely excited for this class because it really digs into the mechanisms and how neuroscience happens through signal transduction. I was excited to take this class as I am finishing my neuroscience minor. I was also excited about this class because it is taught in a unique way compared to the typical lecture, memorize, and regurgitate for an exam. In this capstone course, the students are considered coinvestigators with the professor. No one knows every detail about the topics that are being discussed so everyone is responsible for diving into the research in order to teach the rest of the class.

 

The class was structured in a way that the responsibility was on the students. Each week, an article would be assigned relating to a signaling pathway, usually related to a neurological disease or condition. On Mondays, our class would come having read the article and then we would discuss what was still on clear. The class would make a list of topics that we wanted more information about and then we would assign each member of the class to a topic. Each person was responsible for researching that topic by Wednesday and preparing a mini presentation (short and sweet!) about the main points of the topic in relation to the article we read. On Wednesdays, we would present our mini presentation topics through a process similar to “speed dating.” Each pair would have five or six minutes to tell each other about the high points of their topic and try to make connections. It was definitely entertaining to watch! After gaining information for the Wednesday speeding dating session, our class would reconvene on Friday to have a group discussion.  The focus of the group discussion was not to hash out the fine details of the mechanism usually; instead, we discussed what it meant in the bigger picture. How would this impact society? Does this information really change anything that we are doing now in terms of treatment? Do people need to know this information? After each week’s discussion, we were asked to write a blog post to share what we learned with the general public and explain what we think other people need to know. This was definitely a new experience for me but I think it was good to push us to write for an audience that we don’t usually address. The public needs to know about the important (and cool) research that is going in neuroscience so the information needs to be accessible. Being able to write and communicate with a diverse audience is an important skill. The public service announcement project was also a creative way to show application of the information we learned. Neurochemistry allowed us take science and apply it to the real world, which takes Concordia’s mission statement of being responsibly engaged in the world (BREW) to heart.

 

The other part of the class that was different and facilitated learning was the exam style. For each of the two exams, there was an in-class portion and a take-home portion. In class, we were given essentials points from a mystery article and we were asked to weave them together in order to form a working hypothesis. After the in-class portion, we were given the actual article and allowed to assess the hypothesis we have previously proposed. I think the exams in this class are my favorite exams I have taken in college. There is no cramming for this type of exam, it a reflection of the skills that you have developed through active participation. The exams also challenge students to make connections, use logic, and think critically.  I also think that the way the exams were structured it takes a lot of the pressure off so students can focus on learning for the sake of learning, instead always trying to earn an A. The exams were a great way to shift the focus to learning and enforce important skills.

 

Overall, I think that neurochemistry embraces Concordia’s goals of liberal learning. It turned the typical class structure on its head and pushed the students to take the next step in our educations. It was a new level of innovation, rigor and risk for everyone involved; we had to sink or swim together and I think we all say that we gained more than factual knowledge from this class.. There should be more classes that encourage students to participate and then share the information with the world. Neurochemistry was the perfect way to cap off my undergraduate experience here at Concordia College.

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