Deborah Anderson

St. Norbert College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


A lecture and laboratory course exploring the evolutionary history of invertebrates and vertebrates by studying fossils, evolutionary, and geological concepts.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with a pre-requisite of one semester of organismal biology or one semester of geology. Typically, 95% of the students are biology majors interested in organismal biology. It is an elective. The course was originally designed to serve geology majors, however, a lack of support from the current geology faculty members has resulted in zero enrollment of geology majors the last 4 times the course was taught. The course includes a two hour, once per week lab component that focuses on learning to identify fossils of various phyla. There are one or two field trips to local quarries.

Course Goals:

Learning Outcomes:
1. Be able to define a species using the biological and paleontological species concepts.

2. Be able to examine a theory about the evolution of a particular structure and present evidence to support it.

3. Evaluate a particular phylogeny and propose an alternative, evidence-based scenario.

4. Demonstrate an ability to classify a fossil to genus level.

5. Develop a sophisticated, student-designed experiment and present the results in a mock research symposium.

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

Course activities include lectures, discussions, case studies, self-guided writing assignments, and laboratories. These are all designed to give students exposure to and practice with various paleobiological concepts and ways of thinking.

To assess whether the students have met these goals I use lab practicals, multiple-choice/essay exams, and oral presentations.

Skills Goals

The multiple choice questions are designed to develop Critical thinking skills. The questions go beyond the traditional, "which one is correct" by presenting options that are all true, with only one fitting the stem.
Students also were expected to develop skills working as a team.

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

Development of critical thinking skills is assessed using multiple choice questions written at the evaluation/synthesis level.
Students received points for their team contributions.

Attitudinal Goals

Develop an appreciation for the complexity of paleontology as a science.

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

Lectures focused on deep learning; we spent a lot of time developing concepts and applying them instead of covering a lot of concepts superficially.
The case studies helped students to recognize the complexity and interdisciplinarity of paleobiological concepts.


I use multiple choice exams, self-guided writing assignments, clicker questions during lectures, one-minute papers, and I use rubrics for oral and written presentations.


Palebiology course syllabus, newsletter format (Acrobat (PDF) 26.7MB Jun4 09)

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