Paper No. 20
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM-6:30 PM
TEACHING PALEONTOLOGY AND PALEOECOLOGY IN A PROBLEM BASED LEARNING FORMAT
Problem Based Learning (PBL) immerses students in an authentic inquiry process similar to that employed by scientists. Students generate questions, make predictions, design and conduct investigations, collect and analyze data, and present imaginative solutions within a collaborative environment. In our implementation of PBL, Age of Dinosaurs is a student encounter with the anatomy, physiology, evolution, and ecology of dinosaurs and other mostly extinct organisms including marine and flying reptiles, invertebrates, and a rich assemblage of microvertebrates. Several ichnofossils are incorporated. Basic Earth history is integrated. Each class “topic” emerges from a fossil collection by Montgomery and colleagues in the Chihuahuan Desert of western Texas. Students work almost exclusively with the actual fossils, of which approximately 60 taxa are included. The first task of each week is to identify the discoveries at hand and to determine how they fit into the jigsaw of Mesozoic life history. This process is research intensive. The instructor provides information only as necessary to correct misconceptions or to keep the process moving. Students record observations, digital images, and interpretations in electronic notebooks. Instructors regularly review these entries, and post their comments. As students near the end of the course, a dynamic and detailed paleontological and paleoecological reconstruction emerges. Grades are a summary of attendance, participation, weekly online notebook entries, and the reorganized and updated compilation of the semester’s work. Each final notebook was an average of almost 100 pages (digital equivalent including images) with 45 peer-reviewed sources. A Likert scale survey of student opinions indicated robust support for PBL methodology. Students strongly perceived the course to be an excellent approximation of the work of paleontologists do in the field and laboratory. Students produced work they reported to be of substantial merit that required the acquisition of significant research skills. They predicted these new or enhanced skills would carry over to other classes. All responded enthusiastically that they would take another PBL class.