FossilSketch: a web-based program for learning about microfossils

Tuesday 3:30pm-3:50pm E Building 202
Teaching Demo Part of Tuesday


Christina Belanger, Texas A & M University
Anna Stepanova, Texas A & M University
Josh Cherian, Texas A & M University


We will discuss the capabilities of FossilSketch and then have audience members use the web-based program on their tablets or computers. We will also use the provided presentation computer to live demonstrate the activities and discuss how FossilSketch can be used as a stand-alone activity or be integrated with in-person laboratory activities and physical specimens.


To enable instructors to integrate microfossil identification in their undergraduate courses, we developed FossilSketch, an interactive web-based educational tool that introduces students to micropaleontology and guides them through a scaffolded learning experience to develop microfossil identification skills. FossilSketch includes modules on Foraminifera and Ostracoda and is based on real micropaleontological datasets to allow inquiry-based activities. Within the FossilSketch tool, students watch educational videos, practice recognizing key morphological features through minigames, and apply their skills to identify common genera and morphological groups from high resolution photomicrographs. After learning to identify common genera and morphotypes, students apply this knowledge to multi-taxon assemblages and to interpret environmental changes through time. Analysis of classroom assessments showed that junior and senior geology majors who used FossilSketch were better able to understand the process of microfossil identification, recognize morphological characteristics, and achieve a correct identification than those that did not use FossilSketch. Students who used FossilSketch were also more motivated to complete the assignments, asked the teaching assistant fewer questions, and felt better prepared for specimen-based work.


FossilSketch is currently used in an upper-division paleontology course for geology majors as a component in a 3-hour laboratory activity that includes work with physical specimens. Majors focus on genus-level identification and using knowledge of genera to reconstruction paleoenvironments. FossilSketch is also used in lower-division Earth history course aimed at non-science majors who take the course as a science breadth requirement. These students focus on morphotype-level identification and using general morphological features to reconstruct paleoenvironments.

Why It Works

FossilSketch allows students to learn microfossil identification without instructor supervision, enables non-expert instructors to integrate these skills in their courses, and frees time for students to collect and analyze data during the laboratory session.

To access FossilSketch go to:

Digital version of the handout used in the demo: FossilSketchDemoHandout.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 14kB Jul10 23)

Below are links to example student handouts using FossilSketch.

CollegeLower_Reconstructing Environments with Microfossils.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Jul10 23)

College_Upper_Paleontology_Microfossils.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 718kB Jul10 23)