NSCS 344 — Syllabus and Course Information

“We are gathered here today to discuss our ways, means, policies and devices …”

— Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit


This course is an in person class. However, I have set it up so you can take it completely online and with no penalties for late assignments (up to the last day of classes). Please do not come to class if you feel unwell or believe you may have been exposed to COVID. Look after yourselves and take care out there. There’s nothing more important than your health.

Here are some bullet points from the University:

General course overview

Course description

The goal of this class is to provide an introduction to the art of computational modeling in Cognitive Science using the Matlab programming language. Topics will include, how we model learning and simple decisions, how we connect computational models to observed experimental data (such as choices and neural activations) and how we can use modeling to design better experiments to test complex hypotheses.

The class will be very much a “hands on” class, every week students will create a different model, starting in class and finishing at home. At the end, students should be able build a computational model from scratch, fit a model to data and determine which of a set of models best fits the observed experimental data.

Format of the class

This class is in person. However, all materials will be shared online, office hours will be via zoom, and the lecture will be live-streamed on zoom. Thus it will be possible to attend the class remotely if necessary.


Robert C. Wilson

Teaching assistants

Jack-Morgan Mizell

Course objectives and learning outcomes

At the end of this course you should be able to:

  1. Code in Matlab.
  2. Build and simulate computational models of several different cognitive processes.
  3. Compare computational models of cognition with experimental data to fit free parameters and to determine which model fits data the best.


There is no required textbook for this class!

This is mainly because there isn’t really a textbook for this topic and definitely not one at the undergraduate level. To be honest, perhaps the best simple introduction to this topic was written by me in this paper.



Coursework and grading

Grading scheme

Grades are entirely based on Assignments. Students may drop the lowest three assignments.

Grade boundaries will be at

A 90-100%

B 80-89%

C 70-79%

D 60-69%

E 0-59%

Depending on aggregate class performance, these boundaries may be revised downwards (e.g. to 87% for an A if the class is harder than expected) but will never be revised upwards.


Final Project

Extra credit

Most Assignments will include extra credit items that ask you to go beyond what we covered in class. Completing these tasks is entirely optional.

Grade disputes

Grade disputes about quizzes, paper grades or exams will be entertained for one week from the day the grade is posted.

If you feel your work has been incorrectly graded please write a short memo explaining your concerns clearly and concisely and submit this memo to the TA. We will then regrade the entire quiz, paper or exam, paying particular attention to the area of concern highlighted in the memo. Please note, however, that mistakes happen in both directions and it is possible that your grade could go down as a result of a regrade.

Academic Integrity

Work on the assignments should all be your own — although you are free to include feedback from the group discussions. If we determine you have been cheating your will be reported to the Dean of Students. We will penalize 1 letter grade on the entire class for the first instance of cheating. If we catch you cheating again you will fail the class.

More generally, you are expected to follow the University of Arizona Code of Academic Integrity:

General Policies

General absence policy

In general you should be attending zoom meetings when your group is scheduled to meet with me or the TAs.

Online behavior

Be polite, respectful and considerate of others. If you are being disrespectful or distracting other students I may ask you to leave the Zoom.

Cell Phones, Pagers (!?), Laptops:

When on the Zoom call, please try to avoid distractions if at all possible. Please silence or turn off all of your communication devices. If you receive a call or message that requires an immediate verbal response, kindly leave the room before replying.

Policies against threatening behavior by students

The Arizona Board of Regents list of Prohibited Conduct

The Arizona Board of Regents Student Code of Conduct

Accessibility and Accommodations

It is the University’s goal that learning experiences be as accessible as possible. If you anticipate or experience physical or academic barriers based on disability or pregnancy, please let me know immediately so that we can discuss options. You are also welcome to contact Disability Resources (520-621-3268) to establish reasonable accommodations.

Please be aware that (when the class is offered in person) the accessible table and chairs in this room should remain available for students who find that standard classroom seating is not usable.

Subject to change notice

Information contained in this syllabus, other than the grade and absence policies, may be subject to change by the instructor, with advance notice.

Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion and Respect

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity unites and moves us forward. The diverse backgrounds, experiences and perspectives that each student brings to this class will be viewed as a resource, strength, and benefit. In this class, we have a unique and important opportunity to learn from the information and ideas shared by each other, and we also a responsibility to do so with sensitivity and respect.

Ideally, science would be objective. However, as you will learn, much of science is subjective and is historically build on a small subset of privileged voices. It is important to make note of this and to think about how significant research findings may be biased by their nature of being carried out on a typically small, non-representative sample of participants.

I would like to create a learning environment for my students that honors diverse identities (including race, ethnicity, gender, age, class, sexuality, nationality, religion, ability, etc.) and supports a diversity of experiences, thoughts, and perspectives. To learn more about the UA’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, please visit https://diversity.arizona.edu

Preferred Name and Gender Pronouns

This course affirms people of all gender expressions and gender identities. The university recognizes that many members of its community use names other than their legal or official names first provided to the university (official/legal name) to identify themselves. For some, a chosen or preferred name may be an important component of their identity, especially their gender identity.

If you would prefer that a different name from your legal one or the one that appears on the class roster be used, the university has established guidelines that allow students and employees to indicate their chosen or preferred first names. A student or employee’s preferred name will appear instead of the person’s official/legal name in select university-related systems and documents (e.g. D2L, official email display name, UAccess, etc.), provided that the preferred first name is not being used for the purpose of misrepresentation. Please see the following link for more information: http://lgbtq.arizona.edu/use-chosen-or-preferred-names.

I want to be sure that the TAs and I refer to you in your preferred way. If you prefer a name other than the one on our class roster, please let us know. Since our communication is often via email, be sure to update your signature line and include your preferred pronouns. If we meet via Zoom, note that you can edit your name and include pronouns there, as well. We will try our best to remember your preferred names and pronouns, but please also feel free to give us a reminder. Also, students are able to update and edit their pronouns in UAccess. To change your listed pronoun on UAccess, navigate to the Student Self Service page, go to the personal information section, and click on “Names”. Options include (he, him, his), (she, her, hers), (they, them, theirs), (xe, xem, xyr), and (ze, zir).

Land Acknowledgement

We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples. Today, Arizona is home to 22 federally recognized tribes, with Tucson being home to the O’odham and the Yaqui. Committed to diversity and inclusion, the University strives to build sustainable relationships with sovereign Native Nations and Indigenous communities through education offerings, partnerships, and community service.

Physical and mental-health challenges

If you are facing physical or mental health challenges this semester, please note that Campus Health provides quality medical and mental health care.

Mental Health Resources

Personal concerns such as stress, anxiety, depression, attentional difficulties, relationship difficulties, etc. can interfere with your ability to succeed and thrive at the University of Arizona. Resources can be found at https://health.arizona.edu. For the Counseling & Psych Services (CAPS) 24/7 hotline, call (520) 621-3334. Relatedly, if you are experiencing unexpected barriers to your success in your courses, please note the Dean of Students Office is a central support resource for all students and may be helpful. The Dean of Students Office can be reached at 520-621-2057 or DOS-deanofstudents@email.arizona.edu.

Are you in crisis? Here are some ideas about where to go or who to call:

Resources for sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking

24-Hour Hotlines:

Student Service Members and Veterans

If you are a current service member or veteran, I highly encourage you to reach out to the VETS center. VETS is an organization run by veterans, spouses, dependents, and current service members who, through their shared experiences, endeavor to maintain a dynamic and effective program which is responsive to the needs of the community. More information can be found at https://vets.arizona.edu.