CCNBook/Pedagogy

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This page discusses the pedagogical approach in the text, and strategies for teaching and evaluation. Please see Syllabi for links to syllabi and other course materials in use by other instructors for more useful information.

Overall, one of the main virtues of this text is its emphasis on learning through hands-on exploration with the simulation models. Many students note that they didn't really understand the material until they had explored the simulations. The questions associated with the simulation exercises are designed primarily to ensure that students actually run the models, so that they are "forced" to have this learning opportunity. Typically these questions require the reporting of main results. Whereas the prior CECN book also included more open-ended questions designed to probe student's deeper understanding of the material, these have been found to be not very effective overall, and have thus been eliminated. The problem is that the form of a correct answer was often difficult to determine for the students, and thus it created a lot of ambiguity and anxiety. It is rather a difficult problem to actually design good probing questions in a way that sufficiently constrains the form of the answer to the point that students who know the material will reliably provide good answers. Often many of these questions simply required reiterating points made earlier in the text, but some students who knew these points thought that therefore we were looking for something else, while others didn't actually understand these main points, at least in terms that were discernible to a grader.

Therefore, we encourage instructors to use additional pedagogical mechanisms for both evaluation and error-driven learning opportunities for students, beyond the simulation exercises. This can include basic in-class questions to students, quizzes, exams, etc, and can be more appropriately tailored to the level of the students.

Many classes include a final project assignment, requiring students to develop models on their own on a topic of personal interest. This is a tremendously valuable learning opportunity, and is strongly encouraged. It can include both oral and written presentation of the model, its cognitive neuroscience motivations and relevant data, etc. To help scaffold the ability of students to do this, we are in the process of developing simulation explorations that require more hands-on development of the models, to complement the existing explorations that are more completely scripted and "canned".