Cross-Course Harmonized Assignments in Neuroscience

Rachel C. Branco1 and T.M. Vanessa Chan2
1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556; 2Department of Psychology, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.


Neuroscience is inherently interdisciplinary. This interdisciplinarity can be lost due to the self-contained nature of each course in most undergraduate neuroscience programs, leaving students to draw these cross-course relationships on their own. We sought to address this by using short, creative research assignments on a topic of the student’s choice (“Deep Dive” assignments) that provided students with the opportunity to explore common applications across two concurrently run core neuroscience courses housed in different departments. We tested whether unifying the available Deep Dive topics across the two courses improved student outcomes. Specifically, students were asked to select a topic of interest from a shortlist shared in the two courses. Our results show that harmonized, concurrent creative assignments across dissimilar neuroscience courses improved outcomes related to student interest in material, confidence in creative problem solving, content recall for the other course, and applicability to real life. To our surprise, there was no added benefit to be in the same topic for both courses. Instead, the addition of harmonized Deep Dive assignments themselves, even if assigned on different topics across the two courses, drove the outcome improvement.