Friday, December 27, 2013

Coursera Opens 2014 With Two Exceptional Neuroscience Offerings

Coursera rings in the new year with second offerings of two exceptional neuroscience courses. These courses are "Drugs and the Brain" and "Medical Neuroscience," first offered in December 2012-January 2013 and April through June of 2013, respectively. Both begin in 2014 by the end of the first week in January.

"Drugs and the Brain" is a course by Dr. Henry Lester of CalTech. Dr. Lester is an international expert in neurotransmitter transport mechanisms and models of addiction. The course looks at the relationship between drugs (illicit, recreational, approved medications, and investigational products) and cellular activity. Mechanisms of intracellular and intercellular activity are explored. Addictions, neurodegenerative diseases, and psychiatric conditions are examined. Two additional weeks have been added to the course for this second offering. The recommended text for the course is: Eric Nestler, Steven Hyman, and Robert Malenka (2008). Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience (Second Edition). NY: McGraw-Hill.

From the online course description: "You’ll learn how drugs enter the brain, how they act on receptors and ion channels, and how “molecular relay races” lead to changes in nerve cells and neural circuits that far outlast the drugs themselves. “Drugs and the Brain” also describes how scientists are gathering the knowledge required for the next steps in preventing or alleviating Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and drug abuse."

"Medical Neuroscience" is a course by Dr. Leonard White of Duke. Dr. White is an extraordinary educator - this MOOC is but one of this innovative approaches to medical education. This course is a foundational course about nervous system structure and function, all with a focus on examining neurological diseases and related cognitive disorders. The recommended text for the course is: Dale Purves and colleagues (2012). Medical Neuroscience (Fifth Edition). Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates.

From the online course description: "The overall goal is to equip students in the health professions for interpreting impairments of sensation, action and cognition that accompany neurological injury, disease or dysfunction. Students currently pursuing advanced studies in the brain sciences will benefit from this course by learning the fundamentals of functional human neuroanatomy and how neuroscience discovery translates to clinical practice. Health professionals will benefit from the opportunity to review and update knowledge of foundational medical neuroscience."

Three differences distinguish the two courses: (1) coverage, (2) length, and (3) their average per week time commitment on the part of students.

Dr. Lester's course is not designed to be a comprehensive overview to neuroscience and is not geared toward medical issues per se. You will learn neurotransmitter function and pharmacological impact upon that function from an expert in the field. Dr. White's course is designed as a foundational overview to clinical neuroscience. There are nearly 10 hours of initial video just for coverage of gross neuroanatomy. The midcourse coverage of sensory and motor systems is the best I have experienced.

Dr. Lester's course is seven weeks long, whilst Dr. White's is twelve weeks long.

Dr. Lester's course requires about 4-to-6 hours a week. Interested students will probably add an extra couple of hours a week examining the recommended textbook and recommended additional readings. Dr. White's course requires at least 15 hours a week for students who already know something about neuroscience and at least 20 hours a week for students new to the field.

Despite these logistical differences, both courses are alike for providing a wonderful educational experience for students. The recommended textbooks are excellent (I teach my own brain and behavior courses and look at about a dozen of these texts a year, so I say this from a fairly experienced perspective). Both courses offer challenging examinations. Both courses are managed by great TAs, who are responsive to student requests and enquiries. Last time around, Justin, the TA for the Medical Neuroscience course held a soft open for the course a week ahead of time, which allowed students new to Coursera to get a feel for the user interface and to meet one another. The Discussion Forums for both courses are extremely useful.

Both courses are offered in English. English subtitles are available. It will be curious if additional subtitles from other languages are made available as Coursera as a platform becomes more comfortable with an international student body.

In the first version of the courses, Dr. Lester's course had roughly 64,000 students registered during the final week of the course, of which roughly 9,100 logged in during a typical week in the second half of the course and, of whom, 4,450 students passed the course and received a Statement of Accomplishment. A little over 30% of students who identified themselves by nation identified themselves as being in the US, the next largest groups were in Spain and in Brazil.

I recommend these two courses to you, if you have an interest in neuropsychology, in neurology, and/or in neuroscience. [Self-disclosure: I successfully completed Dr. Lester's course, but the time commitment was too great to complete Dr. White's course.] I will be taking both courses again, out of general interest and hope to see you in the Discussion Forums. There are unique features to both and these features are fine enough to motivate future students, current undergraduate and graduate students, and those interested in continuing their education beyond their degrees...even the second time around!


Cassie said...

These classes both look fascinating. Thank you for sharing them with us. I just signed up for both of them.

Anthony Risser said...

You're welcome. I hope you enjoy them!

Dan said...

Dr White's course is epic. I had to drop almost everything else out of my schedule in order to complete it. Absolutely worth the investment of time if you can afford it (I was a total noobie to neuro and biology beforehand), and I'd say the book is pretty important.

Just started Drugs & The Brain and it's looking fascinating. Not sure I would have been able to cope without the background from Med Neuro though.