Dino 101 registration is now open

UAlberta’s first MOOC welcomes the world to Alberta and its paleontology wonders.

By Jamie Hanlon on July 30, 2013

(Edmonton) The University of Alberta is making big tracks into its first massive open online course offering. Dinosaur tracks, that is.

Dinosaur enthusiasts in Alberta and around the world have the opportunity to learn online from one of the world’s foremost dinosaur experts, Philip Currie, with Dino 101 beginning this September, and registration is now open. In a first for a Canadian university, students will be able to take this MOOC for credit.

The U of A-developed course is offered in partnership with Coursera, a leading online education company, allowing students from around the world to take the course for free. Faculty of Science Dean Jonathan Schaeffer says the course opens the world up to the rich dinosaur history that Alberta holds—and to one of the many research specializations of the province’s flagship university.

“The University of Alberta has an international reputation for research excellence in paleontology,” said Schaeffer. “There are limited opportunities for students around the world to study paleontology. In offering Dino 101, one of the richest learning opportunities in a MOOC format so far, we're excited to share the grandeur of these larger than life ambassadors from our past with millions of people around the world."

Jurassic perks

Dino 101 is a dynamic marquee course that capitalizes on the rich collection of paleontological resources in the province and the presence of world-renowned dinosaur researcher Currie and his grad students.

Schaeffer says it raises the bar in online course development by applying the production values and interactivity of the gaming world to online learning. Led by Currie, curator of dinosaurs at the U of A’s Laboratory for Vertebrate Paleontology and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and co-presenter Betsy Kruk, Dino101 offers glimpses of bone digs and visits to the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller. There are interactive elements, such as a 3D fossil file of actual scanned dino bones that students can manipulate as they learn, a bone puzzle, and a ‘history of time’ tool that students can zoom in and explore the species that roamed the Earth at various periods.

"We're excited to be partnering with the University of Alberta to offer a course that will ignite imaginations and engage people of all ages to learn about a subject as fascinating as dinosaurs,” said Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller. “The university faculty has put together a highly sophisticated online course that will translate into a rewarding learning experience for enrolled university students and for many others around the world.”

MOOCs still a brave new online world

Jennifer Chesney, associate vice-president of university digital strategy, says that the evolution of MOOCs is yet to be defined, and as a leading-edge institution, the U of A must explore the potential of this new teaching environment. Two university research centres, the Alberta Innovates Centre for Machine Learning and the Centre for Research in Applied Measurement and Evaluation, are researching online assessment technology. In fact, new assessment technologies developed by these two collaborating centres will be used in Dino 101. AICML also continues to work with Udacity, another leading online education provider, with whom the university has a research MOU, on using machine learning on student performance data. Udacity has also been heavily involved in the pedagogical setup of Dino 101 and the university is happy to have their ongoing support. Udacity has since decided to focus its business on offering online computer science degrees.

“Online courses open up a whole new paradigm for assessing how people learn. We’re going to be watching and learning to see how people interact on the MOOC platform,” said Chesney. “The University of Alberta is a research and teaching institution. Offering Dino 101 allows us to pursue both streams: innovative teaching and leading-edge research.”

Dino 101 has something for everyone

U of A students will be able to take the online course version (PALEO 200) or its in-class iteration (PALEO 201) for credit. Students from universities around the world will also be able to receive course documentation in order to seek credit from their universities for Dino 101. New and lifelong learners—individuals and families alike—seeking to enhance their knowledge of the world of dinosaurs can sign up for free through Coursera. Here is the site for more information.

“Dino 101 will be engaging for individuals, families and community members to share in the learning experience of the scientific method through the inspirational world of dinosaurs,” said Schaeffer. "It will also help highlight the best of Alberta’s rich dinosaur assets.”

Paleontology collections:

The University of Alberta’s rich paleontology collections are  available to the public upon request. The collections include more than 51,000 catalogued vertebrate specimens, and have grown, in part, as a result of the close collaborations with the province and with industry, who have contributed some key specimens that have been discovered as Alberta has grown and developed.