Fall 2021 - BPK 447 D100

Neuroplasticity (3)

Class Number: 6438

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    We 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    BLU 11911, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    BPK 306 or BISC 305.



Explores how plasticity of the mammalian brain affects development, learning and adaptation, e.g. to blindness, poverty, stress and technology. Reading 2-4 scientific papers/week, students will learn about important context like peer review and strengthen their ability to read and communicate like a scientist. Students who have taken BPK 423 Neuroplasticity may not take this course for further credit.


Number of weeks: 13

Hours per week:  lecture/seminar, 3 hours (no tutorials or labs)

Seminar will be synchronous and in-person (See below for exceptions)

In this advanced seminar, students will explore how the brain changes on a systems level. We will focus on the causes, mechanisms and consequences of plasticity in mammalian sensorimotor cortex during development and adulthood, also touching on other brain systems and evolution.  Students will read 2-4 research papers a week and take turns leading discussions. Readings will be challenging, but students are not required to master them completely. They should arrive at class having read and thought about them, ready to ask questions and participate actively in discussions. Guest researchers whose papers we read will occasionally join discussions (in person or via video conference). Although neuroscience coursework will provide helpful background, the most important prerequisites for this inquiry-based seminar are curiosity and an interest in learning to read scientific papers like a scientist.     

Examples of weekly topics (changes each year):

  • Body schema plasticity & phantom limbs
  • How early experience wires the brain
  • Early blindness & cross-modal plasticity
  • Neuroprosthetics
  • Restoration of critical period plasticity
  • Evolution of developmental plasticity
  • Can auditory cortex process visual information?
  • Epigenetic programing by maternal behavior
  • Socieconomic status and the brain
  • Technology and the brain
  • Spinal cord injury: restoration of locomotion
  • Attention and consciousness


  1. Effectively communicate the important findings and methods of a scientific paper in a presentation.
  2. Analyze and critique scientific papers and graphical data with confidence.
  3. Discriminate the most important findings in a scientific paper and describe how they were obtained.
  4. Demonstrate metacognition.

       4.1 Identify the most important gaps in their own understanding of a paper.

       4.2 Formulate questions to address those gaps.

  1. Convince themselves and others using data.
  2. Write clearly and concisely.
  3. Critically evaluate scientific literature on neuroplasticity.
       7.1 Critique data collection methods and assumptions.


  • Presentations and leading discussions 30%
  • Assignments 22%
  • Online discussion and in-class participation 33%
  • Final exam 15%


Notes on grading:

Participation (in-class and online discussions). Students must be intellectually engaged and actively participate in discussions throughout each class meeting as well as in online discussions on Canvas taking place in the days before each seminar. This means asking questions when you don’t understand and answering others’ questions when you do.

Presentations and leading discussions. Students (sometimes in small groups) will lead lively discussions on their assigned papers, using the weekly reading responses from classmates to guide them to topics that were difficult or interesting for others. Like their classmates, leaders are not expected to understand every detail of their paper but should work to articulate shared gaps in the class’s understanding.

Assignments. Assignments include written work such as brief reactions to papers and “scouting reports,” written by presenters, which provide additional background information and explanation that will be useful to their classmates before they start reading. Assignments will include individual and group work.


Missed class policy for this seminar (in addition to standard BPK policies):

Because so much of the learning in this course derives from interactions in the seminar it is crucial for students to be present at every class meeting. Unexcused absences from ANY class meeting will substantially affect one’s class participation grade. Absences due to medical/family emergencies and unavoidable conflicts (e.g. important athletic tournaments) can be balanced by writing a paper. Instructor must be notified as soon as possible about potential absences, preferably in the first class meeting. Students with a contagious disease or travelling for an unavoidable conflict can attend class via video chat to avoid writing a paper.

[Standard SFU BPK policies on grading, academic honesty, and missed exams apply.]



No cost for materials/books. Readings will be posted on Canvas.


2-4 scientific papers each week. Papers will be posted on Canvas.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

It is the responsibility of the student to keep their BPK course outlines if they plan on furthering their education.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Teaching at SFU in fall 2021 will involve primarily in-person instruction, with approximately 70 to 80 per cent of classes in person/on campus, with safety plans in place.  Whether your course will be in-person or through remote methods will be clearly identified in the schedule of classes.  You will also know at enrollment whether remote course components will be “live” (synchronous) or at your own pace (asynchronous).

Enrolling in a course acknowledges that you are able to attend in whatever format is required.  You should not enroll in a course that is in-person if you are not able to return to campus, and should be aware that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who may need class or exam accommodations, including in the context of remote learning, are advised to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112) as early as possible in order to prepare for the fall 2021 term.