Online Course Helps Psychology Students Master Material

Jennifer Sontag-Brielmaier

Jennifer Sontag-Brielmaier

Jennifer Sontag Brielmaier, who teaches courses in behavioral neuroscience and biological psychology at George Mason University, enjoys the challenge of getting her students interested in the relationship between behavior and biology in her course titled Physiological Psychology, or PSYC 372.

PSYC 372 is required for psychology majors pursuing a BA or a BS. It also partially fulfills the information technology requirement for the Mason Core. But it’s not very popular, because it requires students to learn a great deal of new technology and terminology.

“Not all psychology majors are interested in this course, and not many are interested in this type of psychology,” Brielmaier says. “They worry that it involves too much hard science and a ton of work, which can make this course very intimidating.”

In an attempt to engage student interest in the field and make the course content more accessible and convenient, Brielmaier transitioned the course to an online format.

The class explores various aspects of neuroscience, including basic neuroanatomy, neural and synaptic transmission, and neural and biological mechanisms as they relate to behavior. The course is very content-heavy.

Brielmaier helps her students effectively interpret and engage with the content by providing accessible “chunks” of information through 10- to 15-minute course lecture videos, which students can access anytime.

“I think the students appreciate being able to view the lecture videos at their own pace and replay any parts that aren’t clear,” she said.

Students say the ability to revisit the content and lessons helps decrease the stress level of the course.

“I took Psych 372 online instead of face-to-face because … it was such a difficult topic, I wanted to be in my own comfort zone to relax me for this class,” says psychology major Bobbie Nelson. “This course is the one course most psychology majors try to avoid. But taking it with Dr. Brielmaier was not as bad as I had thought.”

Many PSYC 372 students opt for the online format for convenience.

“The greatest benefit to the online learning environment is the flexibility it offers both the students and the instructor,” Brielmaier says. “A lot of Mason students are taking classes while working or raising families, and online courses can make it a bit easier to juggle all of that.”

Piloting the first online lesson with her face-to-face students, she was able to incorporate student feedback and determine the most effective course structure. The first group of students had the option to take a survey about the course for extra credit, and Brielmaier said almost all of them did. More than half specifically said they enjoyed the online format. Brielmaier continued to adjust the course this spring to ensure her students would be successful.

Physiological Psychology is available online each semester, including summer. Visit for more information.