Robert Dunbar, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, CLI
+1 507 258 8209
(507) 258-8066


Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of Minnesota, 2002
M.A., Biology, Drake University, IA, 1995
B.S.S., Biology and History, Cornell College, IA, 1993

“I believe very strongly that an interactive, integrative, synergistic academic environment is the way to solve problems.”


Attending and working at universities of various sizes and types along my academic/professional journey gave me the opportunity to experience a diversity of learning environments and form an idea about how I thought an ideal undergraduate community would look. As I transitioned from a postdoctoral research position to a world with greater teaching responsibilities, I actively searched for institutions that shared my view. Everything about the philosophical foundations of UMR and the Center for Learning Innovation satisfied my criteria for an effective undergraduate institution. A dynamic, integrated learning community with clearly articulated objectives and a commitment to continuous assessment of student progress toward those objectives were important qualities on my list of criteria. As a researcher, I have always been interested in learning and memory formation so the neuroscientist in me was also drawn to the part of the CLI's mission that focuses on data-driven research on learning. Being given the opportunity to be a part of an institution that combines an integrated curriculum, continuous assessment of student progress, and the ability to do data-driven research on the learning environment has been the professional equivalent of winning the lottery. 


My undergraduate teaching experience prior to arriving at UMR includes a wide variety of courses. These include: First-Year Seminar, The Brain, Biological Principles with Lab, Introduction to Human Physiology, Human Anatomy with Cadaver Lab, Human Physiology with Lab, Neuroscience, Senior Capstone, Forensic Biology, Sculpting Science, and Introduction to Biopsychology.

At UMR, I play a primary role on the design and delivery of courses across the health science core. Examples include: Integrative Biology, Introduction to Health Sciences I, Anatomy/Physiology, and Neuroscience. Furthermore, the philosophy of integration of disciplines means that I play a secondary role in other courses across the curriculum. 


I have a driving interest in the process of learning and memory formation. My research to this point has utilized tools ranging from molecular biology and optical imaging to psychophysiology as a means to address specific hypotheses under the umbrella of this general interest.

A significant focus of my energies has been on investigations of changes in activity within cells of the cerebellum. Specifically, processing at the level of Purkinje neurons in the cerebellar cortex, a site known to display a form of cellular “learning” called long-term depression. More recently, my focus has shifted to the how neural networks and social networks recognize emergent solutions. I am particularly interested in exploring the characteristics of neural networks that are well suited to solution recognition and comparing the structure of those networks to the characteristics of social networks that excel in the same process. Moving from the neural network level to the systems level to the group level requires that we ask some critical questions: Is it reasonable to consider individual people “sub-processors” within the larger network? How do we recognize solutions in a group model? What are the most effective characteristics of a group for a solution to emerge, or for a solution to be recognized? Additionally, my interest in scientific research has also expanded beyond the bench in the last several years. I have found it more and more important to engage in an examination of two principle questions. The first is, “Are we using the most effective methods for content delivery?” and the second is, “How can we engage members of the scientific community and the general public in an effective discussion about the value of and ethical practices in research?”. The integrated curriculum and emphasis on data-driven learning research at UMR provides rich opportunities to pursue these questions and many others related to solution emergence, group learning, and decision making.

Select Publications and Abstracts

Dunbar, R. L., Dingel, M. J., Prat-Resina, X. (2014).  "Connecting Analytics and Curriculum Design Through a  Browser of Student and Course Objects (BoSCO)."  Journal of Learning Analytics  1(3), 220-240.

Dunbar, R.L. and Nichols, M.D. (2012).  "Fostering Empathy in Undergraduate Health Science Majors Through the Reconciliation of Objectivity and Subjectivity: An Integrated Approach."  Anatomical Sciences Education, 5(5), 301–308.

Dunbar, R.L., Aryal, B. and Muthyala, R.S. (2012, March)  “Assessment of Group Learning in Interdisciplinary Environments”.  85th NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching - Peer Reviewed)  Annual International Conference,  Indianapolis, Indiana.

Dunbar, R. L. (2010)  "Integrative Courses: Anatomy and Beyond."  Anatomical Sciences Education, 3(2):73-6.

Berglund, K.; Dunbar, R.L.; Lee, P.; Feng G.; and Augustine G.J. (2005)  “A Practical Guide: Imaging Synaptic Inhibition with Clomeleon, a Genetically Encoded Chloride Indicator.” Imaging In Neuroscience and Development: A Laboratory Manual,  Second Edition.  eds. A. Konnerth, F. Lanni, and R. Yuste,  Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

Dunbar, R.L.; Chen, G.; Gao, W.; Reinert, K.C.; Feddersen, R.; and Ebner, T.J. (2004)  “Imaging Parallel Fiber and Climbing Fiber Responses and Their Short-Term Interactions in the Mouse Cerebellar Cortex in vivo.”  Journal of Neuroscience 126(1):213-27.

Reinert, K.C.; Dunbar, R.L.; Gao, W.; Chen, G.; and Ebner, T.J. (2004)  "Flavoprotein Autofluorescence Imaging of Neuronal Activation in the Cerebellar Cortex in vivo."  Journal of Neurophysiology 2004 Jul; 92(1):199-211. Epub 2004 Feb 25.

Gao, W.; Dunbar, R.L.; Chen, G.; Reinert, K.C.; Oberdick, J.; and Ebner, T.J. (2003)  “Optical Imaging of Long-term Depression in the Mouse Cerebellar Cortex in vivo.”  Journal of Neuroscience 23(5):1859-1866.

Groth, R. D., Dunbar, R. L., Mermelstein, P. G. (2003).  "Calcineurin Regulation of Neuronal Plasticity."  Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications  311(4): 1159-1171.

Chen, G., Dunbar, R. L., Gao, W., Ebner, T. J. (2001).  "The Role of Calcium, Glutamate Neurotransmission, adn Nitric Oxide in Spreading Acidification and Depression in the Cerebellar Cortex."  Journal of Neuroscience  21(24): 9877-9887.

Chen, G., Hanson, C. L. P., Dunbar, R. L., Ebner, T. J. (1999)  "Novel Form of Spreading Acidification and Depression in the Cerebellar Cortex Demonstrated by Neutral Red Optical Imaging."  Journal of Neurophysiology  81: 1992-8

Dirkx, C.; Staley, J.; Nicholson, M.; and Dunbar. R.L.  "The Effects of Positive and Negative Motivation Power Output and Fatigue."  Iowa Academy of Science Annual Meeting Abstract, 2008.

Golnitz, M.; Andrews, A.; and Dunbar, R.L.  "Effects of “Context” on Physiological Responses to Racial Epithets."  Iowa Academy of Science Annual Meeting Abstract, 2007.