Guidelines to Topic Discussions

The discussion sessions are perhaps the most important part of our class. Much of your future will be spent critically reading papers like the ones we have chosen for our class. Also, your performance in the discussion sessions will make up the bulk of your grade. Thus, we are formulating some written guidelines to let you know what we expect.

Role of All Students

Each discussion paper is to be read carefully by all students. It will make for a better discussion and you will learn more if you take these readings seriously. If it becomes obvious that people aren't reading, the instructors may start asking questions about the papers during the discussions.

After reading the paper, but before coming to class, please formulate a one-sentence question about the paper and hand this written question in at the beginning of the class. We will use these questions as an agenda for general discussion of the paper.

Role of the Discussion Leader

Each paper will have a student assigned to be the discussion leader. This student should describe:

  1. General background (five minutes or less)
  2. The specific hypotheses that are being tested in the paper
  3. The techniques that are used
  4. Go through the 6 or 8 most important figures of the paper

It's appropriate, if needed, to use the overhead projector for #1-3 above. But for #4, it's better for the leader to sit down and join the group: it's easier for discussion and we all have copies of the figures anyway.

Topic Proposal

At the end of the term, a series of class meetings will be devoted to discussion of two student-selected topics germane to Brain Mechanisms of Hearing and Speech. At midterm, you will each propose and defend a topic of your choice to the class. Your proposal/defense includes both an oral and a written part. In the written part (about 6 pages), you need to cover the following points:

  • Why is your topic interesting? What is its significance to speech and hearing?
  • How does your topic relate to others we have covered or will cover in class?
  • In brief, what is already known about the topic? What are some of the key issues in this research area?
  • Are there any recent technical developments that foster new approaches to the topic?
  • Propose 3-4 topic papers to be discussed in class. Together, your papers should provide a broad picture of the topic and illustrate some of the key issues.

The oral part of the topic proposal covers much the same points as the written part, but more concisely, graphically and interactively. More importantly, you will have a chance to answer class questions at the end of your 10 min presentation. After the oral topic presentations, all written proposals will be placed on the web page, and each student and faculty will vote for one topic, not necessarily the one they selected initially. The 2-3 topics with the most votes will be selected for discussion at the end of the term.

For the discussions at the end of the term, a group of students will be formed for each topic. The group will finalize the choice of papers and present the topic together, with each student making a contribution to the presentation. A designated instructor will be available to assist each group.

Together, the topic proposals (oral and written), and your contributions to the final topic discussion will constitute a major fraction of your grade.

Below are some examples of appropriate topics that could receive our votes. Some of these are too broad and would need focusing, but they are meant to give you a starting point.

  • Bat echolocation
  • Owl audition
  • Music and the brain
  • Auditory learning
  • Auditory and vocal processing in songbirds
  • Tinnitus
  • Cochlear implants: Central considerations
  • What and where pathways in the brain
  • Natural sound statistics and optimal neural codes
  • Multi-sensory integration and audition
  • Comparative anatomy and physiology of central auditory processing
  • Development of auditory pathways
  • Role of auditory deficits in language learning
  • Neural plasticity
  • Neural evidence for the Motor Theory of speech perception
  • Hemispheric lateralization in processing of animal con-specific vocalizations
  • Role of "mirror neurons" in speech and language
  • Sensorimotor adaptation to auditorily perturbed speech
  • Speech production improvements in cochlear implant wearers
  • Role of somatosensory feedback in speech production
  • Apraxia of speech
  • Visual influences on speech perception

Student Topic Proposals

These student papers are included courtesy of the listed authors below. Used with their permission.

Absolute Pitch (PDF) (By Jianwen Wendy Gu.)

Cortical correlates of audio-visual integration (PDF) (By Erik Larsen.)

Neural Centers and Perceptual Characteristics of Auditory Short-term Memory (PDF) (By Anna A. Dreyer.)

Brain Attending a Cocktail Party (PDF) (By Adrian KC Lee.)

A Gene for Speech? (PDF) (By Carrie Niziolek.)