Embryology of the nervous system TL3

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This is a series of lectures on the embryology of the nervous system that I give for 3rd year Biomedical Sciences to undergraduates (tertiary) that are part of a course on physiology and pathophysiology of the brain (University of Auckland). I have subdivided the course material into 9 units, which are presented over 3 lectures of 1 hour each.

Learning units

Unit 1: From Fertilisation to Gastrulation

Unit 2: Specification and Differentiation of Tissues

Unit 3: Formation, Organization and Morphogenesis of the Neural Plate

Unit 4: Pattern Formation, Antero-Posterior (AP) and Dorso-Ventral (DV) Axes Formation

Unit 5: The Neural Crest

Unit 6: The Ectodermal Placodes

Unit 7: Specification and Differentiation of Neural Elements

Unit 8: Neuronal Migration

Unit 9: Axonal Pathfinding and the Formation and Organization of Cranial and Spinal Nerves

General approach

Students are provided with a student handbook that contains the lecture notes with information and format in a manner similar to that presented here. During lectures, the students and I work actively on the lecture notes, adding definitions and colouring in the different elements of the figures provided. PowerPoint images are used to complement and provide examples for the concepts covered in each unit. At the end of the presentation of each unit (about 15 minutes each) students are given between 2-3 minutes to reflect on the material (alone or by discussing with students sitting nearby), look at questions that are provided, or ask questions they may have. Students are encouraged to post questions and answers on the discussion area of the student's course management system. I provide moderation for these discussions and correct any misconceptions or errors that may arise. Office hours and review/discussion sessions with me take place online on the student management system via the Chat tool.

Feedback and Reflection

Feedback is gathered by monitoring participation on the online fora, and through 'chat' office hours. These two approaches allow me to identify the student's state of knowledge and intervene (if necessary) prior to the formal assessment. Feedback on efficiency of teaching is provided through a breakdown of the class performance on the different forms of assessment. Feedback is also provided to me through the student course evaluation. Reflection on this feedback guides the redesign of the units for subsequent years based on strengths and weaknesses perceived by the students and those identified by me thoughout the process.


Lectures take place during the first semester. Summative assessment is done with MCQs in their midterm exam and with an essay question on their final exam. Formative assessment is provided by monitoring participation on the online fora, which allows me to identify the aspects of the material that the students have difficulty with, and provide support to achieve the learning objectives.