The Course

Course Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 199kB Jul15 08)

Course Management and Strategies Pedagogical Methodologies

Course Design

This interdisciplinary team-taught course focuses on using the processes of addiction to alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, and psychomotor stimulants to teach the basics of biological and psychological science. Example topic areas include neurological/brain function, impact on cognitive function, biochemistry, genetics, emotion and motivation, learning and memory, physiology and pharmacology, and the psychosocial aspects of addictions. The course also integrates relevant current issues with basic science and encourages students to actively participate and critically analyze various aspects of those issues.

Course Management and Strategies

Our approach to teaching this course is to start with simple and basic introduction to human organ systems, life processes and homeostasis. This is followed by the details on various systems and integration of physiology using alcohol as a model compound. For example, through alcohol absorption and elimination circulatory and excretory systems are introduced. Similar approach is used to give fundamentals of other organ systems, psychology, genetics and biochemistry. The idea is to teach science through addiction and not merely discuss the problems and treatment. The emphasis is not on memorizing large number of facts about various drugs and addictive compounds but to use compounds that have different modes of action to teach human physiology, psychology, biochemistry and genetics.

The first module on alcohol covers fundamentals that are applicable to all other modules that follow. The knowledge gained in the first module helps understand the variations and builds on what was previously learned in the course. For example, after having learned basics of human physiology in the alcohol module the nicotine module starts with the history of tobacco use and addictive components and then covers absorption, metabolism, and excretion, mechanisms of action, craving patterns (and blood levels), acute effects, withdrawal effects, fetal effects, genetic component, and psychology. Since the students are familiar with all systems such as nervous, circulatory and excretory systems, and have learned fundamentals of psychology, genetics and biochemistry, the module progresses with ease and requires less time. A similar pattern is used for remaining modules.

Fundamentals of human biology and physiology are taught by Ahmed Mustafa, psychology is covered by J. DiClementi and genetics and biochemistry are presented by Shree Dhawale. On the first day of the course and at the end of each module all instructors are in class to help review and integrate the material.

In addition to lectures, students were assigned reading related to associated issues mentioned in the table in showing science topics covered and their link to civic or policy issues (section 1). Discussing relevant issues was a part of majority of lectures and students were given associated readings. Examples of lectures and associated readings can be found in appendices. During collaborative learning exercises, students discuss issues and learn in groups.

During last weeks of classes the students give oral presentation on the topic of their choice (topics are approved by instructors to make sure that they are appropriate for the course and do not merely repeat what was learned in class). This assignment requires students to apply their knowledge and show the ability to integrate biology, psychology and issues. They are required to demonstrate the ability to understand, synthesize and present the material in an organized manner to their peers. All instructors attend student presentation and evaluate each student. Evaluation rubric is attached in the appendix.

Pedagogical Methodologies

Why is this course an emerging SENCER model?

As defined by Ehrlich, T. (2000) in Civic responsibility and higher education Oryx Press, Indiana University, "Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make the difference." The Addictions: Biology, Psychology and Society course integrates all these elements of civic engagement with evidence-based principles, critical thinking and scientific methodology and knowledge.

Addiction to alcohol and other drugs is a serious global problem that has major impact on society. In American society, the socioeconomic impact is huge, and despite the availability of many social services, addiction is increasing at alarming rates. The problem is not limited to any age group or ethnic background and the civic, social, medical, legal, economic and policy issues that are associated with addiction are numerous. The course covers a wide variety of civic issues and maintains the breadth because addiction is a multifaceted complex problem that needs to be understood along with its scientific basis.

For the non-science major, taking science courses is often a daunting, if not downright distasteful requirement of most undergraduate liberal arts and sciences programs. At times, students who have not had much exposure to the basic sciences fail to see the relevance of science in their lives, or recognize the important role of scientific evidence. Making the sciences relevant to 'real life' often can help motivate the non-science majors to become an active participant in the learning process in the science classes. By incorporating relevant issues with science the course engages students in active learning. Since addiction is a problem that affects nearly everyone in direct or indirect way we chose this topic as a means of teaching biology and psychology to non-science majors.

Using addiction to four compounds (alcohol, marijuana, nicotine and psycostimulants) that have different modes of action and are among the most commonly abused substances, the course provides an understanding of the biological, psychological, and psychosocial functioning of the human system. The course presents conceptual understanding of the mechanisms of action of selected drugs upon the body and mind and how addiction affects individuals, communities and society. It incorporates current, controversial, legal, medical and policy issues related to alcohol and drug abuse. The purpose of discussing issues is to make students aware that the problem of addiction is pervasive, issues are complex, and there are no simple solutions or answers.

In addition, there is a service learning component to this course and students are expected to disseminate information on campus, in local high school and some clinical facilities. There are many health and treatment-based facilities in America but those facilities do not provide the scientific information that might help the addicted persons and their loved ones in understanding the basis of their addiction. The service learning component of the course places higher emphasis in learning that comes with attempting to educate others. Students are expected to have thorough understanding of the topic that they chose for dissemination. Thus, the course has a potential of helping students learn while having a far reaching impact on the local community.

Service Learning

This course has a service learning component designed to connect your classroom learning to social issues of concern in the community. We will discuss several options for the service learning projects in class the beginning of the semester; the primary focus will be on developing educational programming for the campus community. Due dates and specific requirements will be provided on a separate handout.

Group Exercises

Periodically throughout the semester, there will be in-class small group exercises. Participation in these will earn points toward your final grade. You must be present for the entire exercise to receive credit; do not come in late and expect to get credit.