Syllabus

The aim of this course is to provide students with a clearer understanding of the contribution that genes make to individual differences in behavior. Students will be in a better position to evaluate evidence for and against genetic and environmental influences. They will also gain an appreciation of the interrelationships of biological and social causes of behavior and will gain a better understanding of influences that might affect themselves and others.

Course Objectives

There are no prerequisites for Psyc 408. If you think the material sounds interesting, this class is for you. This semester, we will:

  • Understand how the basic principles of genetics can be used in the study of behavior.
  • Evaluate the extent to which human individual differences are influenced by genes
  • Consider the implications of genetic knowledge in psychology.

This is a highly interactive class. Success depends on students learning from and respecting one another. This respect includes the time and effort contributed by each student to the learning of the group.

The course will be intellectually demanding and will require a substantial amount of reading, active participation in discussion, and attentive development of a serious term paper. If you have any concerns about your preparedness for this course, please email the instructor at .

This is an undergraduate 3-credit hour course and a graduate 4-credit hour course. The course is 15 weeks long (not including Fall Break). You should dedicate approximately 9 hours per week to working on the course itself, but actual time commitments will vary depending on your input, needs, and personal study habits. You are expected to log on to the course website and check your email a minimum of 4 days per week, but as discussions develop, you will probably need to do so more frequently.

There is no required textbook for this course. All required readings will be linked/provided through the course website.

xkcd, “DNA” XKCD comic “DNA”

Grades

Grades are assigned based on your final point total at the end of the semester, out of a possible 100 points. Points come from two sources: participation throughout the semester (50%) and assignments leading to a term paper (50%).

Points Letter Grade
90+ A
80 - 89.999 B
70 - 79.999 C
60 - 69.999 D
<60 F

Participation activities and course project assignments are scaled such that each point earned is expected to correspond to about 1 to 1.5 hours of effort, including time required to both prepare (eg. read articles, view lectures) and complete (eg. write) the task.

Course Components

This course will consist of the following components:

  • Prep Work (ungraded)
    • Each week will begin with an overview in the form of “lecture notes”, which will explain what the week is about, what learning goals you are expected to achieve, and in what activities you will participate. There will also be a list of materials for you to review (such as readings or recorded videos). In some cases, optional or supplemental readings may be listed for further study.
    • The term Prep Work comes from kitchens and restaurants. It is the washing, cutting, pickling, station setting-up (mise en place), etc. that makes sure you’re ready to cook a dish. You do not want to be cutting onions or breaking down a chicken when the dinner rush begins and a large table places an order, and you do not want to save reviewing these materials until the last minute when you’re trying to complete the Participation Activities. (Please forgive the metaphor.)
  • Participation Activities (50% of course grade)
    • Participation points are earned by completing smaller tasks each week and are due by Friday at 5:00 pm (Central time) of the week for which they are assigned. Each week will include a “menu” of participation activities for you to complete to earn up to 4 participation points per week. You do not need to complete all available activities, and you cannot earn more than 4 participation points per week. Participation activities may include commenting on readings, posting news or discussion questions to the class forum, reflecting on presented materials, and engaging in synchronous activities, such as attending Class Chats or participating in group learning activities. For those who are unable to attend synchronous class activities, there will be at LEAST four asynchronous participation activity options each week that can be completed at any time.
    • Given that there are 15 class weeks of the semester (not including Fall Break), you could earn as many as 60 points for participation (15 weeks x 4 points per week), although final grades are assigned assuming a course total of 50 participation + 50 Course Project = 100 total points. The extra 10 points are intended to serve as an “absence” buffer that you are invited to take (ie. skip/miss entirely) for any reason or no reason at all.
    • Read & Discuss articles via Perusall: Most weeks will include the option to earn participation points by discussing one or more articles with your classmates through the Perusall platform. Perusall is free and can be accessed by following the article title link provided for each given activity, which should log you in under your Moodle/course identity automatically. The Perusall platform works best on a desktop, laptop, or tablet computer (it’s a bit buggy and jumbled on smartphones). Any article provided for discussion will include prompts and/or suggested workflows for successfully engaging in the inline discussion.
    • Class Chats: In Weeks 1-4, 9, & 10, we will meet for Class Chats on Thursdays via Zoom, a web-conferencing system built into the online course that allows us to meet online in real-time. More information about Zoom is provided in the Orientation Module of the course. Class Chats are intended to be an unstructured lecture-style class meeting option where you will have the opportunity to ask questions and participate in informal group activities. Class Chats will be recorded and posted for later viewing/reference (although credit is only available for those who attend in real-time).
    • Team Learning Projects: Weeks 5-7 and 12 will be structured around completing Team Learning Projects. Students will be assigned to teams based on topics of interest (indicated on a Survey in Week 3) and will have the option to meet with their Team via Zoom on Tuesday and Thursday of the project week (during Weeks 5-7; Week 12 is Thursday-only). Team Learning Projects are an opportunity to work together to learn about and produce a summary of a topic of mutual interest among peers.
    • Late Work Policy: Asynchronous participation activities completed within a week of the original deadline (that is, by 5:00 pm of the next Friday) will be graded as usual. Synchronous participation activities cannot be made up at a later time. The regularly planned participation activities are intended to build knowledge from one week to the next. If at any time you find yourself unable to complete participation activities for an extended period of time, for any reason, please email the instructor to arrange alternative assignments that will meet the course goals on a timeline that works for your situation.

Not an actual class photo. Image from The Muppet Show intro showing muppets in a colonnade like people in Zoom windos

  • Course Project (50% of course grade)
    • The project is broken up into assignments throughout the semester that are intended to build-up to your final paper, including opportunities for both instructor and peer feedback. For more information, see the Course Project section.
    • Throughout the course, you will develop expertise on a specific topic of your choosing. You may choose any topic related to the course content (behavior genetics), as long as I approve of it. You will produce a final paper of about 3,500 to 4,000 words (12 – 15 pages) for undergrads, or 4,000 to 4,500 words (15 – 18 pages) for grad students, plus references. I care more about clarity, insight, evidence, and the flow of argument than about length. Expect to read at least 10 – 20 published research papers on your topic of choice. For graduate students, plan to produce a paper that you could turn around and submit as a review in a decent journal or a book chapter.
    • Late Work Policy: Course Project assignments are due by 5:00 pm (Central Time) on their listed due dates and are timed to allow for the sustained building of knowledge throughout the semester, taking into account the need for timely feedback. Please do your best to meet the given deadlines for course project assignments. Because the course project assignments are designed to build on one another sequentially, an assignment may be submitted and will be graded as usual (that is, no late penalty) until the next assignment deadline. This policy also applies to resubmissions (that is, if you are disappointed with your initial grade on a course project assignment, you may resubmit it up until the next assignment deadline). Note that late assignment submissions may not receive peer feedback and may not receive instructor feedback before the next assignment deadline.

Course Policies

This is an abbreviated list of policies that may be unique to this course. A fuller listing of general course policies is available to current students on the course website in Moodle.

Accommodations

The Disability Resources & Educational Services office is available to facilitate the removal of barriers and ensure reasonable accommodations. You can share your letter of accommodation with the instructor by email.

Deadlines

Participation Activities are due by 5:00 pm (Central Time) in the week they are listed. Asynchronous participation activities completed within a week of the original deadline (that is, by 5:00 pm of the next Friday) will be graded as usual. Synchronous participation activities cannot be made up at a later time. Given that there are 15 class weeks of the semester (not including Fall Break), you could earn as many as 60 points for participation (15 weeks x 4 points per week); the extra 10 points are intended to serve as an “absence” buffer that you are invited to take (ie. skip/miss entirely) for any reason or no reason at all. The regularly planned participation activities are intended to build knowledge from one week to the next. If at any time you find yourself unable to complete participation activities for an extended period of time, for any reason, please email the instructor to arrange alternative assignments that will meet the course goals on a timeline that works for your situation.

Course Project assignments are due by 5:00 pm (Central Time) on their listed due dates and are timed to allow for the sustained building of knowledge throughout the semester, taking into account the need for timely feedback. Please do your best to meet the given deadlines for course project assignments. Because the course project assignments are designed to build on one another sequentially, an assignment may be submitted and will be graded as usual (that is, no late penalty) until the next assignment deadline. This policy also applies to resubmissions (that is, if you are disappointed with your initial grade on a course project assignment, you may resubmit it up until the next assignment deadline). Note that late assignment submissions may not receive peer feedback.

Course Schedule

Week Topic Synchronous Meeting Course Project Assignment Due
1 What We Know and What We Don’t Thursday
2 We’ve Been Wrong Before Thursday
3 Ancestry and Scientific Racism Thursday
4 Finding and Reading Behavior Genetic Papers Thursday Topic & 5 sources
5 Team Project: Core Phenotypes Tuesday & Thursday
6 Do Genes Cause Behavior? I: Methods Teams Tuesday & Thursday
7 Do Genes Cause Behavior? II: Phenotype Teams Tuesday & Thursday
8 Article Summaries Workshop 10 article summaries
9 Science Communication
10 Gattaca Thursday
11 Draft Paper Workshop Draft paper
12 Team Project: Current Issues Thursday Draft digital media project
13 Digital Media Project Workshop Peer reviews of paper drafts
14 Genetics at Trial Final digital media project
15 - “finals” Wrap-Up Final paper (due on the date our “final” would have been held)

Questions or concerns?

If you have any questions, please post them to the Course Help Discussion Forum on Moodle. I will answer you as quickly as possible, generally within 24 hours, or better yet a classmate answers. If your questions or concerns are private (e.g., grades), feel free to contact me by email at .