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Designing an Upper-Level Vertebrate Paleontology and Taphonomy Course for Undergraduate Geoscience Majors

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 July 2017

Allison R. Tumarkin-Deratzian*
Temple University, Department of Earth and Environmental Science, 1901 North 13th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122 USA
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Designing and teaching a vertebrate paleontology course for geoscience majors presents several challenges. Students often come to the course with limited or nonexistent biology backgrounds, and therefore may begin the semester anxious about their ability to master course material. Moreover, students may be skeptical about the value of learning vertebrate skeletal anatomy for their future careers as geoscientists. Vertebrate Paleontology and Taphonomy is an upper-level elective for geoscience majors that was intentionally designed to allow students to develop a basic understanding of vertebrate osteology for themselves before focusing on formational histories of vertebrate skeletal accumulations in geological context. The course relies heavily on hands-on exposure to modern and fossil skeletal material, field trips to local museum galleries and collections, cooperative laboratory activities and projects, and analysis of real-world data sets. Students work together with one another and the instructor to make observations on vertebrate fossils, analyze their own data and data from the primary literature, and interpret taphonomic histories of actual vertebrate assemblages. This structure makes success in the course less about ‘learning vertebrate paleontology’ and more about using vertebrate paleontology and taphonomy as a tool to become effective practicing geoscientists.

Research Article
Copyright © 2012 by The Paleontological Society 

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