The Evolving Earth

Qusheng Jin
University of Oregon


This course introduces fascinating topics of evolution: from big bang to the birth of our mother planet, arise of O2 and its deep impact on evolution, appearance of first drop of water and life, sea monsters and dinosaurs, evolution of whales, peak oil, global warming, and human evolution.

Course Type: Intro Level:Extinction/Evolution Intro Level
Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is an introductory course for non-geology majors. On average, 410 students take the course and more than 70% of the students are non-science majors. Students who decide to major in geology will need to take two more introductory geology courses - Earth's Dynamic Interior and Environmental Geology and Landform Development.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? Yes, it covers the same topics.

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? no

Course Content:

The Evolving Earth course focuses on significant events of Earth's evolution. In addition to weekly lecture, the course also includes one field trip of fossil hunting and six labs of fossil identification.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to
(1) define a scientific theory and differentiate theory and faith;
(2) develop and apply the concept of deep time;
(3) be familiar with significant events of Earth's evolution;
(4) understand the close interactions between biosphere and lithosphere and their implication in today's environment.

Course Features:

We apply the analogy of 24-hour clock to 4.5 billion year history. Students are asked to set the correct 24-hour clock every time a significant event or a key group of fossils is discussed. This repetitive exercise allows the students to develop the concept of deep time.

Course Philosophy:

As Darwin has said, the total length of Earth's history is impossible for human mind to understand. To help students to develop the deep time concept, we adopted the 24-hour clock analogy - an example every student understands.


We test the concept by quiz questions.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 86kB Dec1 08)

References and Notes:

Course text: Earth System History by S. M. Stanley
It is easy and fun to read. Most importantly, it contains only a few errors.

Additional course materials: the Origin DVD