Course Syllabus

Geology 303: Dinosaurs and Their Environment
Syllabus #1495
3 credits


Dr. Thor Hansen
Professor Emeritus, Geology Department

Full Course Syllabus:  Geol 303-1.doc



This is a survey course on dinosaurs and their ancient relatives, the swimming and flying reptiles. We will study how fossils are preserved, the elements of vertebrate skeletons, and the classification and life styles of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles.  We will emphasize using fossil evidence to create and test hypotheses about how dinosaurs lived and paying particular attention to how our understanding of dinosaur behavior has changed in recent years. 

This course is a SCI GUR.  Prerequisites for this course are GEOL 101 or GEOL 211; or GEOL 101 and GEOL 211A; or SCED 202 and GEOL 211A; or permission of the instructor.



  • Hansen, T.A., Dinosaurs and Their Environment, Great River Technologies, ISBN: 978-1-61549-891-8

There is a required online text for this course which is available at the bookstore or you can order one yourself at (click on the “Click Here to Purchase” button, you will need a credit card.  Be sure to purchase the "Correspondence" version.). This ebook contains important background information, links to online resources, readings that can be used for extra credit (more on extra credit possibilities later) and chapter quizzes that will comprise 25% of your grade.  You must buy the text in order to receive credit for these quizzes.  

My PowerPoint’s and study guides are posted within the course site under Modules.


You will need access to a computer and the internet. 

There are 21 topics covered in this course.  The online textbook has a chapter with objectives, content and a quiz for each topic.  There are also powerpoints posted in the Modules for each topic with a recorded narration.  You must read each chapter in the text and do the online quizzes. You must also watch the powerpoints.  In addition there are two videos (links to YouTube will be provided in the powerpoints) you will need to view. 

Your grade will be based on the online chapter quizzes, exams and optional extra credit reports.  There are no other written assignments.


You may take up to six months to complete this course.  However, many students wish to complete Self-paced courses within a single quarter and in some instances- such as those mandated by financial aid- this must be done.  To assist students planning to complete the course within a ten-week quarter, I've included an optional brief outline of what could be done each week to meet such a schedule.

For each topic below, you should read the appropriate chapter in the online textbook, take the quiz for that topic in the textbook and watch the powerpoint lecture.

Week   Topics (each is a chapter title in the text and powerpoint lecture
Week One:   Introduction, Fossils and Preservation, Skeletons
Week Two:   Classification, Relationships and Origin (two online chapters but only one powerpoint); Big Theropods 1 and 2
Week Three:   Small Theropods, Birds
Week Four:   Sauropodomorpha 1-2 (there are three ppts for this topic), watch video "Time of the Titans"
Week Five:   Thyreophora 1-3
Week Six:   Ornithopoda 1-2
Week Seven:   Marginocephalia 1-2
Week Eight:   Flying Reptiles, watch video "Flying Monsters"
Week Nine:   Swimming Reptiles, Endothermy (online text only, no powerpoints), Extinction
Week Ten:   Turn in any remaining extra credit reports




Your grade will be based on three exams, each of which will be worth 25% of your grade (amounting to 75% of the total grade) and on the cumulative total of your quizzes in the online text which will be worth 25%.  You will take your exams on Canvas (look under "Quizzes" on the Canvas course homepage or the links in the Modules section).  The exams will be 40-50 multiple choice and/or true-false questions. You will have 60 minutes to complete each exam.  If you need extra time, have Disability Resources for Students (DRS) send me a note and I will extend your time accordingly.  

My grade breakdown is as follows: 93% and up = A, 89.5% and up = A-, 87% and up = B+, 83% and up = B, etc.  A minimum score of 59.5% is necessary for a Pass.  A minimum score of 69.5% is necessary for minor credit.

Extra Credit:

        You may get extra credit by writing a 500 word abstract of an article relevant to dinosaurs.  Each satisfactory summary that you submit will add one percentage point to your final grade.  There are links to articles suitable for abstracts in your online text.  You may email me a copy of the abstract and include the link to the original article. You may also use articles that you find outside of those cited in the online text but the original article must be from a reputable source, e.g. technical scientific literature or a reputable journal such as Natural History, Scientific American or Discover Magazine, and it must be at least 1500 words long. You can find out how many words in the article by copying and pasting the text into a Word document and doing a “word count” in the “Review” tab.  If you have a question about the suitability of an article email the link to me for approval before you do the abstract.  You are allowed a total of 6 extra credit reports.  I will accept reports up to just before Exam 3.


Email is the best way to reach me at  I check it daily and will respond quickly.  If you have any questions about the assignments or the course in general please email.   


Thor Hansen is a Professor in the Geology Department at Western Washington University.   He received his Bachelor of Science degree in geology at George Washington University in 1972 and Ph.D. at Yale University in 1978. 

“I am almost, but not quite, old enough to have actually seen dinosaurs.  I was trained as an invertebrate paleontologist (specializing in clams and snails) but have always been fascinated by dinosaurs.  I started the classroom version of this course in 1993 and it has always been one of my favorite courses to teach.  In the classroom I try to make use of lots of different media; images of dinosaurs from museums around the world, videos, audio recordings, and classroom demonstrations.  As much as possible I have incorporated these into this Independent Learning Course.  If you like dinosaurs, I think you will enjoy this course.”


Course Summary:

Date Details Due