Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology

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Course Date: 06 September 2014 to 29 November 2014 (12 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology is a 12-lesson course teaching a comprehensive overview of non-avian dinosaurs. Topics covered: anatomy, eating, locomotion, growth, environmental and behavioral adaptations, origins and extinction. Lessons are delivered from museums, fossil-preparation labs and dig sites. Estimated workload: 3-5 hrs/wk for non-credit; 7-10 hrs/wk for credit

Estimated Workload: 3-10 hours/week

Course Instructors

Philip Currie

Philip J. Currie is a full Professor and Canada Research Chair of Dinosaur Paleobiology at the University of Alberta in Canada. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Calgary. 

He works on dinosaurs, focusing on problems with growth and variation, the anatomy and relationships of carnivorous dinosaurs, and the origin of birds. He has a long-term goal of understanding the rich Cretaceous ecosystems of Dinosaur Park (Canada) and the Nemegt Formation of Mongolia.

He took his BSc from the University of Toronto (1972), and his MSc and PhD from McGill University in Montreal. He has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1999, and has an Honorary Doctorate of Laws (Calgary, 2008) and the Alberta Order of Excellence (2010).

Interested in dinosaurs since childhood, he finds that the excitement of discovery (fossils in the field, and ideas in the "lab") constantly renews his interest. Fieldwork connected with his research has been concentrated in Alberta, Antarctica, the Arctic, Argentina, British Columbia, China and Mongolia.

He has published 170 scientific articles, 140 popular articles and fifteen books. Sir Frederick Haultain Award (for significant contributions to science in Alberta), 1988. Commemorative Medal, 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation, 1993. Michel T. Halbouty Human Needs Award, AAPG, 1999. Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion, 2004. Museums Alberta Lieutenant Governor’s Award, 2004. ASTech (Alberta Science and Technology Leadership) Foundation, Outstanding Leadership in Alberta Science Award, 2006. Alberta Order of Excellence, 2010. Explorers Club (Canadian Chapter) Stefansson Medal, 2011. Explorers Club (New York) Medal, 2012. Royal Canadian Geographical Society Gold Medal, 2012.

Since 1986, he has supervised or co-supervised more than 30 graduate students at the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Saskatchewan, and Copenhagen.

He has given more than 800 lectures in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand and the United States, and the venues include the American Museum of Natural History (New York), the Explorer's Club (New York) and the National Geographic Society (Washington). To date, over 50,000 people have attended his lectures. He has given more than 1200 newspaper, magazine, radio, film and television interviews for articles and programs, including Canadian Geographic, Discover, Equinox, Macleans, National Geographic Magazine, New York Times, Time, the Today Show, Discovery Channel's Paleoworld, PBS's Nova series, and a CBS primetime program on dinosaurs.

Victoria Arbour

Victoria Arbour is an Instructor at the University of Alberta in Canada. Her work on dinosaurs has focused on the armoured herbivores called ankylosaurs, including the biomechanics of tail-clubbing in these dinosaurs, how many species there were, and how ankylosaurs in Alberta are related to those elsewhere in North America and in Asia. She also has an interest in the Mesozoic palaeontology of British Columbia, and is currently working on several projects related to a dinosaur bonebed located within the city of Edmonton.

She completed her BSc in Earth Sciences and Biology at Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) in 2006, and studied under Dr. Philip Currie for her MSc at the University of Alberta, completed in 2009. She defended her PhD dissertation research (also supervised by Dr. Currie) in December 2013. 

In addition to research, Victoria is committed to science outreach and public education, and so was delighted to be involved in the initial creation of Dino101. She frequently gives guest lectures and workshops at universities, schools, libraries, and museums. She has consulted on several dinosaur media projects, including the Walking with Dinosaurs 3D theatrical release, the Discovery Channel's Clash of the Dinosaurs, and the History Channel's March of the Dinosaurs.

Course Description

In Dino 101: Dinosaur Paleobiology, students will learn about the many kinds of non-avian dinosaurs that roamed the earth during the Mesozoic Era, from 250 to 65 million years ago. Numerous topics are covered in order to deliver a comprehensive survey of this important group of animals. These include adaptations for attack and defence, anatomy,  appearances, behaviors, birth, deep time, evolutionary theory, feeding, fossilization, growth, integumentary structures, locomotion, major groupings, origins, paleogeography, plate tectonics, reproduction, species definition, stratigraphy, and the extinction event that brought their dominance to an end.

Course material is delivered in a student-friendly short-form fashion, with numerous formative feedback sections. Many lessons are delivered from actual dinosaur dig sites. Students will gain access to a number of special interactive modules designed specifically for this course. These modules will grant users access to their very own virtual fossil collection, allow them to build dinosaur skeletons and provide them with an interactive visual representation of geologic time. This course's unique lesson delivery, combined with a classic quiz structure, will enable students to quickly gain a solid foundation for understanding dinosaurs, their adaptations and behaviours, and their place in the long history of earth.

UAlberta students can earn course credit: Learn how

Dino 101 is part of an ongoing program of research into digital learning conducted by the University of Alberta and therefore anonymized data provided by Coursera and survey information can be made accessible to the researchers.


What resources will I need for this class?
An internet connection and a sense of adventure.

What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?
In addition to learning about dinosaurs, you will learn about how they lived, what they ate, how they fought, about their origins and extinction.

Can I receive credit from other universities for Dino 101?
Dino 101 is an open, free MOOC, and all learners are welcome. This course is being taken concurrently by University of Alberta students for credit at the University of Alberta. If you are a learner interested in earning academic credit, but are not enrolled at the University of Alberta, there is a way you can potentially receive credit from other universities.  Please remember there is no requirement for you to pay to take the exams if you simply want to take the course for free or if you are only interested in a Signature Track verified Coursera certificate. 
You will need to do two things if you are not a University of Alberta student:
1. Register for Signature Track   
Only students who are registered for Signature Track will be allowed to take the midterm and final exams. See Signature Track Guidebook for more details. You can also just take Signature Track for the verified Coursera certificate if you are not interested in taking the exams.   
2. Sign up for the midterm and final exams   
Signature Track students who are not enrolled at the University of Alberta who want to take the exams will pay a $263 Canadian fee. The exam option for students not enrolled at the University of Alberta will be available soon and all Signature Track students will be alerted by email that they have the option of paying to take the exams. 

It is important to understand that Coursera and the University of Alberta can't actually grant you credit at your university or college. The decision to grant you credit is always up to the professors at your university or college. The University of Alberta and Coursera are committed to giving you everything you need to take to your university to request credit. We have built a complete course explanation package available to you when the course starts that gives you everything you need to take to your professors at your university for them to evaluate.

You can take the exams to add to your resume or CV or for the sheer challenge of taking a university-level midterm and exam and be graded, but if you are hoping your university will grant you credit for Dino101, please make sure you have your university's support before you pay to take the exams.


Week 1: “Appearances and Anatomy
covers the diversity in dinosaur appearances, and will be able to identify major features of the major groups of dinosaurs.

Week 2: “Death and Fossilization
describes how fossils form, how we interpret the taphonomy of skeletons and bonebeds, and looks at the possible biases taphonomic events may create in the fossil record.

Week 3: “Eating
looks at the variety of food types, feeding habits, and feeding adaptations amongst the major groups of dinosaurs

Week 4: “Moving Around
helps students understand the general modes and styles of locomotion in the major dinosaur groups. The lesson also describes general methods of evaluating hypotheses on locomotion.

Week 5: “Birth, Growth, Reproduction
provides a generalized life history of a dinosaur, from birth through adulthood, including reproduction. The student will be able to describe major techniques of evaluating growth stages and rates in dinosaurs.

Week 6: “Attack and Defence
examines the behaviours and structures that may have served for attack or defence through the lifetime of a dinosaur.

Week 7: “What is a Species
will teach the different ways of defining what a species is. Students will be able to compare the strengths and weaknesses of different species concepts for different situations.

Week 8: “Evolution
will describe the basic theories of speciation, and discusses how how these different methods of speciation may have occurred, including both hypothetical and empirical examples.

Week 9: “Stratigraphy and Geologic Time
provides basic stratigraphic concepts and the scale of earth history. Students will understand the evolution of dinosaurs through time, including which groups evolved when and where.

Week 10: “Palaeogeography and Plate Tectonics
presents the basic concepts in plate tectonics and the evolution of the earth’s surface.

Week 11: “Dinosaur Origins
will look at the evolution of dinosaurs from non-dinosaurian archosaurs.

Week 12: “Dinosaur Extinction
will examine the end-Cretaceous extinction event, and provide examples of vertebrate groups that both persisted and died out during the event.


The class will consist of lecture videos, which are 1-2 minutes in length, interposed with integrated quiz questions in addition to a unit test after each of the 12 lessons. Students taking the course for credit at the University of Alberta will be required to take a midterm and final exam as well.

Suggested Reading

Although the lectures are designed to be self-contained, there are many good books available on dinosaurs. Recent books we can recommend for the interested students include: 
  • The Complete Dinosaur, 2nd edition,  (edited by Brett-Surman, Holtz and Farlow), Indiana University Press
  • Dinosaur Paleobiology (by S. Brusatte), Wiley Blackwell.

Course Workload

3-10 hours/week

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