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Unit information: Issues in Neuroscience and Education in 2015/16

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Unit name Issues in Neuroscience and Education
Unit code EDUCM0001
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Academic Year (weeks 1 - 52)
Unit director Professor. Howard-Jones
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Education
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


Neuroscience is a relatively new but rapidly growing influence upon educational thinking. This unit introduces students to how concepts claiming a brain-basis already feature in the educational discourse around pedagogy (e.g. brain-based learning) and policy (e.g. critical periods and early investment) and enables examination of their validity. Students will also encounter a range of current 21st century ethical debates in education involving the brain (e.g. infant screening, adolescent behaviour and responsibility, pharmacological treatment of ADHD, cognitive enhancing drugs for the healthy). Students will explore recent initiatives, key research findings and current theoretical frameworks at the interface of neuroscience and education. Through discussion and critical debate, they will develop the skills to critically review the past, present and potential contribution made by neuroscience to educational research, theory, practice and policy. The unit also provides opportunities for students to consider their own professional practice in relation to current understanding of the brain.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of this unit students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an awareness and understanding of how concepts claiming to involve the brain arise in the cultural, social, economic and political discourse around education
  • Critically appraise the validity of a range of arguments involving the brain that are encountered in educational contexts
  • Demonstrate an awareness of recent initiatives, and an understanding of a range of key research findings and current theoretical frameworks in the field of neuroscience and education
  • Critically assess the past, present and potential contribution of neuroscience to educational research, theory, practice and policy
  • Critically reflect on their own professional practice in relation to current understanding of the brain

Teaching details

4 A variety of teaching strategies will be used to deliver this unit, which may include whole group lectures, visiting speakers, case studies, critical analysis of key readings, group discussions and student presentations. ELearning approaches will augment face-to-face teaching to facilitate individualised study and support within the broad parameters of the unit and the pathway. These will include: on-line discussion, online supervision and peer mentoring/feedback. The needs of a wide range of students, including those with disabilities, international students and those from ethnic minority backgrounds have been considered. It is not anticipated that the teaching and assessment methods used will cause disadvantage to any person taking the unit. The Graduate School of Education is happy to address individual support requests as necessary.

Assessment Details

The summative assessment comprises two parts:

  • Students will be required to provide a presentation identifying an educational practice, theory or policy issue where neuroscientific evidence is, or has been alleged to be, relevant. The presentation will outline the arguments involved, and the scope of the evidence that might be included in developing a multiperspective understanding (attending to experiential, social and biological perspectives as appropriate). (1000 words equivalent)
  • Students must provide 3000 word essay that explores the arguments involved with this topic in detail, drawing on the relevant evidence from neuroscience, education, psychology and other disciplines as appropriate. Students must develop a balanced appraisal that interrelates evidence to arrive at a clear set of conclusions.

Reading and References

  • Sebastian, C., Burnett, S., and Blakemore, S. (2008) "Neuroscience of Social Cognition in Teenagers: Implications for Inclusion in Society." Mental Capital and Wellbeing, State-of-Science Reviews (London, Government Office for Science).
  • Greely, H., Sahakian, B., Harris, J., Kessler, R. C., Gazzaniga, M. S., Campbell, P., et al. (2008). Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy. Nature, 456, 702 - 705.
  • OECD. (2007) Understanding the Brain: Birth of a New Learning Science. (Paris, OECD).
  • Howard-Jones, P.A. (2010) Introducing Neuroeducational Research, Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Royal Society (2011) Brain Waves Module 2 Final Report: Neuroscience, Education and Lifelong Learning, London: Royal Society.
  • Weisberg, D.S., Keil, F.C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., and Gray, J. (2008) The Seductive Lure of Neuroscience Explanations, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20.3, 470-77.