GSA 2020 Connects Online

Paper No. 77-11
Presentation Time: 4:15 PM


PIER, Jaleigh Q.1, HAUF, Emily2, HERMSEN, Elizabeth J.3, SMITH, Jansen A.3 and HENDRICKS, Jonathan R.3, (1)Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Snee Hall, Ithaca, NY 14850, (2)Geosciences, Texas Tech University, Science Building 1200, 125 Memorial Circle, Lubbock, TX 79409, (3)Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca, NY 14850

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many instructors to rapidly transition their traditional in-person paleontology courses and labs to an online format, students have lost access to the physical specimen collections that play a prominent and important role in pedagogy. There has thus never been a more glaring need for virtual teaching collections of fossil specimens than now. The Digital Atlas of Ancient Life is a free, open-access website ( that features fossil field guides, K–12 and undergraduate-level activities, the Digital Encyclopedia of Ancient Life (DEAL) online textbook, and a Virtual Collection (VC) of fossil specimens consisting of over 500 interactive, online 3D photogrammetry models developed from the collections of the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) and exhibits of PRI’s Museum of the Earth. The Digital Atlas VC represents nearly all major groups of macroinvertebrates, as well as examples of fossil vertebrates and plants. It features quality specimens that were selected for preservation of key morphological features. Models can be manipulated using rotate and zoom functions, allowing specimens to be studied in different orientations and at different levels of detail. Labels highlight notable features. The benefits of utilizing 3D models for teaching are far-reaching, and extend beyond meeting the needs of at-home learning imposed by the current crisis. The VC facilitates access to specimens outside of a formal classroom setting, allowing students to study at a time and place convenient for them. The VC has wider taxonomic and temporal coverage than is represented in many physical teaching collections, thus helping to fill gaps in those collections. Most models in the VC have been given public domain licensing, providing instructors the freedom to adapt the models for their own purposes, including embedding them in online quizzes and course websites. (As an example of the latter, VC models have been integrated throughout the DEAL.) Models can also be 3D printed. With the increasing need to adapt specimen-based learning and lab courses for a changing world, the Digital Atlas is continuously updating its content with the goal of improving the accessibility of collections, teaching, learning, and overall interest in paleontology.