General Structure

Up next: Learning Objectives

The course is delivered over a 10-week quarter (followed by a week for final exams). The course is divided into five 2-week units, with a midterm exam at the end of each unit. A cumulative final exam is administered at the end of the course. The units are as follows:

  • Introduction, History, and Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Perception
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Higher Cognition (Language, Knowledge, and Thinking)

See Detailed Structure of the Course for an in-depth description of each unit. See Learning Objectives for a list of the specific goals of the course.

Lectures and Online Quizzes

The lecture material is delivered via online lectures, interspersed with online quizzes. Each unit contains ~5 subunit lectures, each of which contains 4-8 lecture segments. Each lecture segment is ~5 minutes, so each subunit lecture is approximately 20-40 minutes long. Each lecture segment is followed by an ungraded online quiz question, and each subunit lecture is followed by a graded 5-question online quiz. Deadlines for the graded quizzes are distributed over the two-week unit, which is essential to discourage students from waiting until the night before the midterm to watch the lecture videos (see Detailed Structure).

The lecture videos were carefully produced to be optimal for online viewing. It does not work to simply record standard lectures; a lecture that is exciting and engaging when seen live will be dull and uninteresting when watch on videos. In addition, using a sequence of 5-minute videos, each followed by a quiz, is far more effective than long videos with no interaction. For details and examples, see Detailed StructureClose-Up View of a Subunit, and Online Quizzes. For information on how to shoot and edit lecture videos, see Lecture Video Production.


Students are assigned 1-3 chapters in a textbook (Reisberg, Cognition) for each two-week unit. However, the textbook was made optional after the first two times the course was taught. The online lectures share an important property with the textbook: Whereas a live lecture is transient, videos and books are relatively permanent, and students can go back and re-watch a portion of a lecture video just as they can go back and re-read a portion of a textbook. This makes the textbook less important in the hybrid version of the course than it was in the traditional version. However, a textbook may still be highly valuable in some hybrid courses.

Discussion Sections

The class of ~200 students is broken into 8 discussion sections, each with ~25 students. Each section meets once per week. Half the sections are led by the instructor and the other half are led by a graduate student TA. The instructor an TA switch sections every two weeks so that students see the instructor half the time and the TA half the time (see Discussion Sections for details).

The goal of the discussion sections is to teach things that require small groups, not to answer questions about the lecture material. Students have several mechanisms for asking questions about the lecture material (as detailed in the next section). The discussion sections focus on teaching the students the skills involved in understanding, evaluating, and explaining primary journal articles. For most weeks, the students read a journal article and fill out a worksheet that guides them through the article prior to attending the discussion sections. In addition, they watch lecture videos to review basic concepts of statistics and research methods prior to several of the discussion sections. This way, minimal time is spent lecturing during the discussion sections, allowing us to focus on small-group learning activities. For details and examples, see Discussion Sections.

Other Elements

A Facebook group is used to provide a mechanism for students to ask questions and post comments about the lecture material and course procedures. We have found that Facebook is more effective than online communication systems that are made specifically for this purpose (e.g., the built-in electronic bulletin board of our learning management system or the Piazza web site). Many students are already comfortable using Facebook, and it seems to encourage greater participation. We encourage the students to answer each others’ questions. However, we have two undergraduate TAs (who receive course credit rather than payment for serving in this role) who monitor the Facebook group daily to make sure that all questions are answered in a timely manner, that all answers are correct, and that there are no inappropriate posts. Another advantage of a Facebook page is that it gives the instructor and TAs pictures of all the students who join the page, making it easier to learn names.

The instructor, the graduate student TA, and the undergraduate TAs each hold weekly office hours for students who would like individual face-to-face interactions. The students mainly use the office hours to ask questions about the lecture material, to get help filling out the worksheets that must be completed prior to the discussion sections, or to go over previous exams and worksheets. A review session is also held by the graduate student TA the night before each midterm exam.

Up next: Learning Objectives