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University of Alberta

Paleontology: Theropod Dinosaurs and the Origin of Birds

University of Alberta via Coursera


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:


  • 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


5.0 rating, based on 42 Class Central reviews

4.9 rating at Coursera based on 1410 ratings

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

  • I really enjoy the University of Alberta classes in general and this one was no different. I liked how the readings went along with the videos so it works for different styles of learning.
  • The professors are engaging and passionate on the subject, the material provided is already organized to fully complete the course and keep useful mementos about the contents.
  • Pat Bowden 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.
  • Anonymous
    This course is fantastic and very interesting, I want to congratulate the doctors for their enthusiasm and wisdom. Thank you for allowing us to make these quality courses online.
    greetings from Argentina...the land of the herrerasaurus.
    excuse my poor english.
  • Dick Cooper
    I have a keen interest in ornothology and having an understanding how birds evolved over millenia has helped me appreciation the origins of birds generally and how different genera adapted to suit the habitats they occupy.

  • 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.
  • Kristina Šekrst 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...
  • Rosemary Coomber
    I found this course to be a very interesting and informative follow-up to Dino 101. The video lessons are clear and easy to follow. I printed off the notes and read them prior to watching the videos. I found the video transcripts very useful for reinforcing information/concepts following the viewing of each lesson. The read/watch/read structure works well for me. Dr. Currie and Scott Persons (he must have his doctorate by now) are clearly passionate and very knowledgeable about the subject matter. The diagrams, pictures and fossils are well used to illustrate concepts. I enjoy the quiz questions that pop up during the lessons.
    I would enjoy visiting the University of Alberta when this pandemic is over.
  • Profile image for Parthasarathy Y
    Parthasarathy Y
    I'm Parthasarathy from India. I'm a Paleontology enthusiast, I dreamed of studying about dinosaur and decoding evolutionary relation at the age of 10 when I'm watching dinosaur documentary in discovery channel. In that I came to know about t-rex, deinonychus, microraptor etc... But I don't know how these animals are grouped and inter related. After taking up course in Coursera I came to know about these things. In my locality there is no facility to teach about palaeontology but through Coursera it became possible. Thank you
  • Anonymous
    The engagement of Mr Persons is one of the distinguishing features of this course. His enthusiasm not only for the subject but also its communication is evident in every lesson.

    The structure is simple yet elegant: proceeding forwards in time and examining the relationships of the dinosaur groups not only to each other but to our present day birds. The link between birds and dinosaurs is elucidated very clearly and logically.

    I enjoyed this course immensely, and am already looking forward to the next!
  • Anonymous
    This is an interesting and engaging course. The videos and written notes are well presented in an easy to use way. I felt the level of course information was just right-not too simplistic but challenging enough to make me feel like I was learning something new. I really enjoyed completing it. Thank you to everyone at the University of Alberta palaeontology department for producing such an excellent course. Julie M
  • Profile image for Tali Spiegel
    Tali Spiegel
    Another great paleontology course from Alberta (I followed now 3). This one was the hardest for me due to the great number of species discussed each week. That made it a bit harder to keep up but the story line was (as usual) really good to follow and really enjoyable. I myself am a university lecturer (in the social sciences) and find myself getting inspired for my own courses! Thank you!
  • Anonymous
    Excellent engaging content from the presenters who highlight the most important aspects of theropod/bird evolution. The written notes all of which I read are somewhat tedious, and they have typos and grammar errors. Also, the time indicated to read these notes is 10 minutes which is inaccurate. The 30-40 pages of notes typically took me an hour.
  • Anonymous
    I never thought I’d be interested in a course on dinosaurs. I was wrong! What an interesting course delivered with fascinating pictures, diagrams, skeletons. The speakers were very dynamic and captured and held my attention. Dinosaurs surround us. Let’s act to prevent the next mass extinction.
  • Anonymous
    This was incredibly interesting and helped unravel the mystery of bird evolution. The instruction videos featured paleontologists I was already familiar with, and the readings were indepth. Thank you for this wonderful experience!
  • Anonymous
    El material está muy bien organizado, además de muy buenas explicaciones por parte de todos. Ya he realizado otros cursos de la Universidad de Alberta y este, sin duda, es uno de mis favoritos.
  • Adrian Moss
    Well constructed and enjoyable course. Most importantly, I came out with increased knowledge and an appetite for more of the University of Alberta's palaeontology courses.
  • Anonymous
    This course is very interesting and covers a lot of unique and informative content within a short period of time that is both easy to understand and fun to learn!
  • 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.

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