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Brain, Behavior & Info Processing

MCB 419 Syllabus

Course title: Brain, Behavior & Information Processing
Cross-listings: BIOP 419, NEUR 419
Format: Two 80-minute lecture/lab sessions per week
Credit: 3 hours (undergrad and grad)
Prerequisites: Introductory courses in physics, biology, calculus and previous programming experience, or consent of instructor.
Website: http://www.life.illinois.edu/mcb/419/
Email: mcb419 at gmail.com OR m-nelson at illinois.edu

Overview

This course explores the neural basis of animal behavior. The emphasis is on the information processing problems that animals face in natural environments and how nervous systems have evolved to solve these problems. The course emphasizes computer modeling and simulation as tools for exploring principles of nervous system design and function. Current literature in computational neurobiology and neuroethology will be incorporated in readings and class discussion.

Outline of course content

  1. introduction: brain, behavior and information processing
  2. evolutionary perspectives on behavior
  3. emergence of life, life at small scale
  4. behavior without a nervous system: unicellular organisms
  5. energy/mass acquisition, kinesis, taxis
  6. evolution of nervous systems, predator-prey arms race
  7. sensory information processing, information theory
  8. effecting change: movement and control
  9. coupling sensation and action
  10. coupled dynamics of brain, body and environment
  11. spatial cognition
  12. learning from experience
  13. communication, social interactions
  14. anticipation, planning
  15. advanced topics (emotions, language, consciousness, ...)

Readings

Reading material is drawn from a variety of sources, including book chapters, review articless, journal articles and conference proceedings. There is no required text.

Expectations

Most of the time in the classroom will be spent doing HANDS-ON computer modeling and simulation taks, both individually and working collaboratively in small groups. You will need to bring a laptop with you to every class. You are expected to do preperatory work BEFORE COMING TO CLASS. This may include completing assigned readings, watching video lectures, reviewing powerpoint slides, and doing simple programming exercises at home.

Evaluation and Grading

Your grade is based on a combination of class participation, programming assignments, quizzes, and exams.

Class participation (15%): You are expected to attend class regularly, be prepared, and be on time. To reinforce these expectations, there will be in-class programming tasks, group exercises, other activities during the first 5 weeks of class that will be logged and count toward your participation points for the semester.

Weekly Assignments (25%): There will be weekly programming assignments most weeks. These are graded on a 4-point scale. Each assignment will list its due date. Most will be due Tuesdays at 9 pm. Each student will have a total of four (4) “free” late days (a late day is 24 hours of lateness). There are no partial days, so assignments are either on time, 1 day late, 2 days late, etc. Once the four free late days are used up, each successive late day will result in a loss of 1 point.

Quizzes (20%): There will be two 30-minute quizzes, one on programming concepts and one on neural network concepts.

Midterms (40%): There will be two 60-minute midterms. The quizzes and midterm reinforce learning and retention of concepts and content covered in readings, lectures, and programming assignments. There is no exam during finals week.

Final grade: Your final grade is based on a weighted sum of the above components. Scoring in the top 33% of the class guarantees an A (includes A+, A, A-); scoring in the top 66% guarantees a B (includes B+, B, B-). The actual fraction of As and Bs awarded may be higher, but this is a guaranteed minimum. Generally, scoring more than 90% of possible points also qualifies for an A (includes A+, A, A-), more than 80% for a B, etc.

Academic Integrity

For all assignments, you are expected to turn in your own answers, written in your own words, your own computer code, and your own results as generated by your version of the code. Copying and pasting of written responses to questions, programming code, or simulation results from the work of other students is unacceptable and is considered cheating.

When working with other students on assignments, you are encouraged to exchange ideas and discuss approaches to the problem, and help each other with programming issues, but this should be done without directly sharing the wording of written responses to questions, without sharing full source code, and without sharing detailed output from simulation runs. You are free to discuss your simulation results with other students and compare results, but each student must generate their own data values and do their own analysis. Copying these items from another student or allowing another student to copy from you is unacceptable and is considered cheating.

On exams and quizzes, the answers that your turn in must be your own, formulated from your own understanding of the material, without help or information from other students. If external reference materials are allowed during the exam or quiz you will be given explicit instructions as to what specific resources can be consulted. Only resources that are explicitly allowed may be used. Violation of these policies is considered cheating.

Any form of cheating in this course will be dealt with in accordance with the University-wide policies and procedures as stated in the Code of Policies and Regulations Applying to All Students.


Mark E. Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2005-2019.