When Carleton’s NEUR 1201 (Introduction to Mental Health and Disease) course soared in popularity, the Department of Neuroscience took a seemingly unusual step; it stopped offering the course.

Professor Kim Hellemans – who had been teaching the NEUR 1201 since 2012 – says her class size had risen from 96 students to just over 500 students by the time the course ended. Why, then, did the department choose to remove the course?

“We decided to revise our program,” explains Hellemans.

The 2017 relocation of Carleton’s neuroscience department into the larger Health Sciences Building opened up a host of opportunities to exploit the new space.

“Because we were going to have the opportunity to hold teaching labs, we decided to create courses that would have those labs associated with them,” says Hellemans.

Carleton University Health Sciences Building. (Photo: Mike Pinder)

Carleton now offers two courses at the first year level: NEUR 1202 (Neuroscience of Mental Health and Psychiatric Disease) and NEUR 1203 (Neuroscience of Mental Health and Neurological Disease). They cover a combination of fresh content and material originally taught in NEUR 1201.

Hellemans will be teaching NEUR 1202 in the fall. The course – which will be offered through CUOL for the first time in September – covers the basics of how the brain functions and changes in the context of psychiatric disease.

“Students learn core fundamentals, and then I get into the internal and external factors that alter the brain structure and function,” says Hellemans. Topics NEUR 1202 explores include the impact of stress on the brain, the prevalence of developmental disorders and the symptoms of psychiatric disease.

One of Hellemans’ goals in teaching NEUR 1202 is to help students better understand psychiatric disease in the context of the world around them.

“People can understand that disease happens and can think about people in their own circles that are afflicted with some of these disorders,” she says.

Students enrolled in her course need not buy a textbook. Instead of traditional readings, Hellemans assigns podcasts, TED Talks, and articles from Scientific American.

Although course content is available online, in designing NEUR 1202, Hellemans strived to avoid the pitfalls of virtual learning. For example, to discourage students from procrastination, she assigns bi-weekly assignments tied to the course content.

Hellemans also awards bonus marks for answering questions she asks during lectures. However, to receive these marks, students must email the teaching assistant their responses within a short time frame after each lecture becomes available online.

“That’s an incentive to keep students engaged and up-to-date with the lectures,” Hellemans says.

Hellemans hopes her lectures for NEUR 1202 reflect her passion for the course material. She says she was particularly keen to teach the course, as she believes first year classes play a formative role in students’ academic careers.

“I think it’s really important that students in their first year have a professor who is passionate, engaging, and pulls them into their major,” says Hellemans.

“I’m really looking forward to meeting all of my new first year students and seeing where things go.”

By Maha Ansari

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