Teach the Earth > Paleontology > Course Descriptions > GEOL 307--Paleobiology I

GEOL 307–Paleobiology I

Ron Martin

University of Delaware
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


From the course catalogue:
Recognition, biology and paleobiology of major groups of invertebrates. Use of the fossil record in solving environmental and paleoenvironmental problems. Principles of stratigraphy and correlation and origin and development of the geologic time scale.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Paleontology:Biostratigraphy/Biogeography , Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction
Resource Type: Course Information
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Paleontology
Course Size:


Course Context:

The course is required of all geology majors and is typically populated by junior-senior undergraduate geology majors, although I have had some sophomores. The only official prerequisite is one of several intro physical geology courses.

Course Goals:

1) Students should be able to infer the approximate age and depositional environment of hand specimens or outcrops
2) Students should be able to use fossil data to correlate sections, delineate facies relationships, and infer stratigraphic completeness.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Students are expected to learn how to recognize major fossil taxa in lab. BASIC structure and functional morphology and paleoenvironments are discussed in lecture ("lab lecture") preceding each lab. Lab quizzes on specimens are used to assess student learning.

Skills Goals

See previous box. Examinations are essay to work on writing skills.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

See above.

Attitudinal Goals

The UD course emphasizes the UTILITY of fossils for several reasons:
1)Several years of industrial experience demonstrated to me that most working geologists have had a paleontology course; however, they were NEVER taught how to USE and NOT USE paleontology, especially biostratigraphic data. Instead, morphology was emphasized in their courses, a feld primarily of use to an academic paleontologist.
2) Most students coming through our program will not become professional paleontologists, but practicing geologists who work for environmental firms or geological surveys. In fact, believe this characterizes virtually all programs. I therefore emphasize HOW fossil data can be used to solve or analyze practical situations, such as correlation of well logs using biostratigraphic datums.
3) It was the practical application of biostratigraphy in the 20th century that led to the blossoming of paleontology programs and I believe that it is the primary way to promote paleontology as a discipline.
4) Geology as a unique, historical science is emphasized.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Students enter the course with minimal exposure, if any, to biology, historical geology, and geologic time. The structure of the course therefore starts simple and build from there. However, at the beginning of the course and throughout, the philosophy of geology as a historical science is emphasized. This is demonstrated through examples of the Earth's history and life.


Student learning is assessed using:
  1. Written exams (sometimes in-class or take-home). Right now, based on my recent experience, I am emphasizing in-class exams. In the past, I passed out take-home exam questions at least one week before the due date in order for students to synthesize and SHOW ME what they have learned. Some students do this, but most wait until the night before to write the exam up.
  2. Lab quizzes
  3. Lab exams
  4. Questions and feedback in class and outside of class (the door to my office is left open throughout the day) and students are encouraged to stop by about ANYTHING.
  5. TA assessment of individual students' performance at the end of the course, e.g.: who is asking questions that go beyond the material presented?


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 48kB May15 09)

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