Featured class: Neural Basis of Cognition

The Class

One of the earliest classes offered on UReddit was Neural Basis of Cognition. It consisted of a series of eight lectures covering an introduction, methods in neuroscience, hemispheric specialization, motor control, learning and memory, and attention; each 45-60 minute lecture was given live and questions from listeners were answered. Five to fifteen live viewers tuned into each lecture, which was recorded and hosted on the UReddit site (click the link to the class page above for to access all class materials).

Unfortunately, the audio quality in the first few lectures isn’t very good and the recording of the first lecture suffered from a technical glitch, though these issues were resolved halfway through the class.

Some of the material given is truly fascinating, as neuroscience itself is. Here’s an example from Lecture 8: Attention. Look at the two faces below. Which one looks happier to you?

Chimeric Face

Chimeric Face

Most right-handed people say that the face on the left looks happier. This is just one of the many interesting things covered in this class.

Although the class is only eight lectures long, the material that is given is at the collegiate level and is, in fact, based on an upper level neuroscience class at the University of Pittsburgh.

A Comment from a Student

“I took part in a University of Reddit class on neuroscience. The tutor clearly had a passion for the subject and was eager to share his knowledge with the students, and the fact that they were all taking part out of interest meant that the discussions were lively and useful. It’s the simple idea of bringing together people who want to learn something with people who are willing to teach, and it works!”

- William Whistler, Autodidact and PhD student

Online Teaching Breaching the Real World

Although all participants were interested in this class, one in particular struck up a conversation with the teacher. It turned out, entirely by coincidence, that Will (who was quoted above) and the teacher were going to be visiting Montreal at the same time; they ended up having a long discussion about neuroscience and computational neuroscience over a couple beers, and still stay in touch after over two years. An unexpected connection!

Strengths as an Online Class

UReddit was used as a point of coordination for this class. Although the lecture recordings and class materials are being hosted on the filehosting UReddit makes available to teachers, the live lectures were conducted via third party services. The live lectures garnered from five to fifteen viewers each, some of which consistently asked great questions and inspired discussion. The students came from all over the world and the teacher, living in the United States, and a student, living in England, struck up a friendship after meeting in Montreal. Online education has the power not only to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and passion but also to connect people with similar interests that may have otherwise never have met.

Improvements

Unfortunately, the first video lecture recording suffered from a technical glitch halfway through, and the first few lectures suffer from inconsistent and imperfect audio quality (although the later lectures are just fine). The live lectures were conducted via a third-party service and recorded using desktop recording software, meaning that everyone was subject to the quality of service available and that each lecture had to be manually recorded, which was subject to both technical and user error.

The UReddit team is working on a new platform that will offer live lecture streaming (including a mobile client) and automated recording and indexing of live lectures in order to make conducting such a class easier and more effective in the future. We are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to help us polish off our prototype; if you see how much better this class could have been given the right tools, please consider supporting us. More information can be found on fundraising campaign page.

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