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Online Course

Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds

University of Alberta via Coursera

Overview

Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds is a five-lesson course teaching a comprehensive overview of the origins of birds. This course examines the anatomy, diversity, and evolution of theropod dinosaurs in relation to the origin of birds. Students explore various hypotheses for the origin of flight. Watch a preview of the course here: https://uofa.ualberta.ca/courses/paleontology-theropod-dinosaurs

Syllabus

Bird Anatomy
-In Lesson 1, we explore the anatomy and adaptations of birds, and meet the Victorian scientists who first suspected the link between the terrible lizards and modern birds. In order to fly, birds have undergone a series of anatomical specializations that distinguishes them from other vertebrates. However, many of the most striking and anatomically unusual traits of birds originated over 230 million years ago with the very first theropod dinosaurs. Just a quick note before you get started: 'Palaios' is the Greek word for 'ancient', so palaeontology or paleontology is the study of ancient life. Both spellings are correct, with palaeontology used in Britain, and paleontology more common in the US.

Survey of Non-Avian Theropods
-In the wake of the Permian mass extinction, the prehistoric world was ripe for the taking. All the world’s landmass was consolidated into the single supercontinent: Pangaea. With no seas standing in their way, new terrestrial animal lineages were able to exploit new habitats all across the globe. Archosaurs, meaning ‘ruling reptiles’, came to dominate Triassic ecosystems. However, dinosaurian archosaurs were not the top predators. Instead, crurotarsans sat undisputed at the top of the food chain. The first theropods were small, but agile carnivores, and although they started out as the Darwinian equivalent of the mail room clerks, by the next geological period (the Jurassic), they were large and in charge. In Lesson 2, we will introduce you to some of the earliest theropods, and explore the anatomical secrets to their survival and eventual success. We will also meet the largest land predators of all time.

Coelurosaurs I
-In the previous lesson, we explored how the various theropod lineages adapted to their role as apex predators. In this lesson, we will explore a new group of theropods, as much characterized by their speed and agility as their predatory prowess. The coelurosaurs were the most successful and diverse of all the theropods, and included herbivores, the smallest of all dinosaurs, and, of course, the mighty tyrannosaurs.

Coelurosaurs II
-Dinosaurs had long been thought of as overgrown reptiles; cold blooded, swamp bound, with meagre intelligence and little to no social complexity. The ‘Dinosaur Renaissance’ was a revolution in palaeontological thinking that entirely transformed that traditional image of dinosaurs. In Lesson 4, we will see how new research and discoveries over the past fifty years have shaped our modern image of dinosaurs into one of energetic, intelligent animals, that likely displayed many of the complex social behaviours witnessed in modern birds. You’ll also meet the deinonychosaurs, A.K.A. ‘the raptors’, and you will learn the leading theories for how one group of dinosaurs learned to fly.

The Avian World
-66 million years ago, an asteroid the larger than Mt. Everest collided with the earth and brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs…except birds! Now that you’re familiar with some of their larger Mesozoic ancestors and their bird-like features, it’s time to meet the avian lineage proper. With the evolution of flight, birds could exploit habitats and resources that were literally unreachable by other animals. The evolution of birds has been one of diversification. Flightlessness has evolved numerous times, as have specializations for insectivory, swimming, and predation. Although theropods may no longer dominate the land, they still rule the skies.

Taught by

Angelica Torices, Ph.D and Philip John Currie, Ph.D

Reviews

4.9 rating, based on 24 reviews

Start your review of Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds

  • Kristina completed this course and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    The same way Dino 101 is certainly in the top three of all MOOCs I have ever taken, if not the best, these courses seem like worthy sequels. I was thrilled to see professor Curie as well again. All in all, a great lecturer, amazing graphics, and the most...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Fantastic course that gave a great insight into the evolution of the dinosaurs we know today - birds! The lecturers were fantastic, and went into great depth on each lesson. Use of live, fossilised and taxidermy specimens was great to demonstrate the points made in the lesson. Quizzes were strategically placed throughout each lesson to add to the learning. Assessments at the end of each lesson really helped to solidify my learning and showed how much I’d learned in such a short time! A great class for someone who was a Dino nut as a kid but wants to learn more about what has been discovered in the meantime about the relation between dinos and birds. Loved it.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Course is well organized and presented. The instructors were enthusiastic and easy to understand. Fascinating subject. I had no idea there were so many kinds of dinosaurs. The course work increased my curiousity about the subject, and I found myself going to other sources, as well, to learn more.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The course is fun and easy to comprehend. Memorising the terms and names is a little difficult but in the end it's the pure pleasure of the whole story presented in the course that makes it a hit. Well presented and super informative. Some 'just wow' moments are a bonus.
  • Pat completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    A fascinating course that discussed the evolution of birds and convinced me that the age of dinosaurs did not end 65 million years ago.
  • Msg completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    This is the 4th class I've taken from the U of Alberta and they are perfect, always. Academically challenging, extremely interesting, brilliantly prepared, and with engaging , energetic, and award winning instructors. Even the course notes provided are amazing resources. I sincerely appreciate the time, talents, and huge efforts this group of professionals devote and give to the MOOC platform. Thank You.~MSG
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The presenter is extremely good at teaching and gives appropriate examples also they show us fossils and illustration that makes it easy to understand the syllabus itself is neat and perfect. They show all the important parts of evolutins along with enogh evidence. I felt as if I was time traveling into the world of the theropods. The stories of fossil discoverys were also amazing and makes us wanna learn more
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    Karen F.

    Karen completed this course.

    The course is well-structured and engagingly presented. In addition to tracing the origins of birds, it is a good overall introduction to dinosaurs, and particularly to discoveries of the last thirty years. I had not given much thought to dinosaurs since my sons were in their dino-obsession phase as young children in the early 1980's, and the sheer amount of new paleontological knowledge is astounding.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course is quite informative and interesting. They start from the very beginning and basics of this course so that a person who isn't from Science background can understand this course. There are course notes in the beginning which help in deeper understanding of the concepts taught in the videos and hence it becomes easy for answering the questions in the assessments.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This is a fascinating course, extremely well presented throughout and there are no plateaus where your mind wanders. Truly one of the best courses but University of Alberta courses are all excellent in my opinion. It is well illustrated with actual specimens, fossils, modern birds stuffed and even the odd live appearance. Well worth the time it takes!
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This is a very thorough course discussing the evidence of the rise of birds from theropod dinosaurs.
    In my day, early 1980s, I remember it was still not widely accepted, nor that dinos were warm blooded and I remember Bob Bakker was a bit ridiculed. I was very happy to see this is all changed.
    Inspired to take more courses now.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I am taken the paleontology courses to update my knowledge obtained in degree work many years ago. The course was very helpful and has filled in gaps that would have been far more difficult to obtain elsewhere. The ability to audit these courses at no charge is essential to me. Thank you.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course was very comprehensive. The Theropod/ Bird relationship is one that would require a lot of time and devotion to study and this course gives an adequate snapshot of this field. Highly recommended for students and enthusiats alike. Vinda Maharaj- Trinidad and Tobago.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    It's a new concept of learning how the birds have evolved from dinosaurs. It's a wonderful experience of doing this course. The video lectures were so accurate and precise. I could understand the content of this course. I have gain knowledge about birds and it's evolution.
  • Donald G.

    Donald completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    An excellent retelling of the development of birds from Therapod dinosaurs. It is obvious that the instructors love the material. Frankly, it whet my appetite for more details. I turned around and immediately ordered a text on Bird anatomy.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    It was really useful to understand in a better way the evolution of birds. As a paleontology and bird's enthusiast, I enjoyed this course from the beginning. Thank you very much to the team, the University and Coursera.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course is great if you know or do not know much about dinosaurs. I have always loved dinosaurs, so I took the Dino 101 course and followed up to this one. I think if u pay close attention it is easy to follow.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Very interesting course with very good teachers. Thank you so much for all that I learned. I am a bird keeper and this course makes that, if it is possible, I admire more than ever these beautiful creatures.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Very informative and well presented. Learned a lot. Both the lectures were really lucid and well spoken and clearly knew their field
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great course! It was easy to understand and I learned a lot of new things. If you love birds and dinosaurs then this is the course for you.

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