Course Notes

The official description of our delightful new course: Paleoecology ESCI 215 is a lab course introducing concepts of paleoecology, the ecology of the prehistoric past. Paleoecology employs concepts of geology and biology to investigate the distribution of fossils through geological time, concentrating on ecological controls such as climate change, biogeochemistry, symbiosis, and evolution. Paleoecology is done at a range of scales from local communities to biotic realms, and from abrupt events through long-term evolutionary changes. Three hours of lecture and three hours of laboratory weekly. Prerequisite(s): 1 100-level ESCI (or GEOL) or BIOL course.

[Please note “Things to do as soon as you can” at the very bottom of this page.]

Laptop, tablet and phone policy.–Research has conclusively shown that the use of laptops and other digital devices in the classroom actually interferes with learning. (One study says bluntly: “Our results showed that nonacademic Internet use was common among students who brought laptops to class and was inversely related to class performance.”) Off-task use of electronic devices, of course, is the most distracting. Use of laptops, tablets and phones is thus not allowed in our classroom, with the notable (and common) exception of in-class computing projects. There can be other arrangements in special circumstances — please talk to me first.

Grading system —

Lab exercises (part of the writing requirement): 20%
Lecture Exam #1: 10%; September 18, 8:00 a.m.
Lecture Exam #2: 10%; October 29, 8:00 a.m.
Quizzes (Pop!): 10% total; twelve given, lowest two scores dropped
Final Examination: 10% (lab & lecture combined)
Paleoecology essays (2): 10%
Research paper: 10%
Research presentation: 10%
Participation: 10%

Lecture Examinations.–Two of them. They will be short-answer essay questions, morphological identifications, and problems to solve. The material will be taken directly from the lectures, but the laboratory exercises will help you understand and digest it. Sleep through any test, by the way, you’ve missed it and will earn a zero. Here’s the surprise: the tests are open notebook, meaning you can use all your handwritten notes on each test and the final exam.

Laboratory Exercises.–We will have several lab projects that will result in short reports usually due the week they are assigned. These reports are part of the writing requirement, so we will emphasize writing techniques and have various reviews and drafts.

Paleoecology essays.–Two of these, each 3-4 pages long. Together they count as 10% of your final course grade. One of them will be an analysis of a recent scientific paper (which you will receive in class), and the other will be about a recent paleoecology news event. The paper and the news story will be chosen from what appears during the semester of interest to the class, so I cannot give you due dates now.

Research Paper.–This is a paper covering a topic of your interest in invertebrate paleontology (and not covered in class). It will be roughly 10-15 pages in length, plus illustrations. We will discuss potential topics early in the semester so that you can get started quickly. The paper is scheduled in four assignments: first you turn in a topic and a couple primary references, second is a title with more references, third is a preliminary draft you can optionally share with me, and fourth is the final research paper itself. Be sure to use our Departmental Writing Webpage. This year we will be using an online system for constructing your papers that is designed to have everyone on the same page (literally!) for the required format, scope and purpose of the papers. The creativity and writing skills will be yours, of course! Here is our Sample Paleo Research Paper.

Research Presentations.–In the last week of the course you will each present a 15-minute PowerPoint talk (ten minute presentation followed by 5 minutes of questions) on your paleoecological research topic. We will sort out the subjects and advice on presentation content and style early in the semester.

Preparation questions/pop quizzes.–Before each class session I will post online a list of Preparation Questions. These questions serve two purposes: (1) they are designed to prepare you for that particular lecture and lab; and (2) they are among the questions which may be used for that day’s pop quiz, if there is one. You are thus encouraged to have answers for them — at least in your head! — before each class and lab meeting. (What a bonus — some of the pop quiz questions in advance!) You will have twelve pop quizzes by the end of the course, with the lowest two grades dropped. If you are absent for any reason when a quiz is given (other than a scheduled college event), your grade will be recorded as a zero.

Final Examination.–This summary exercise will be open notebook, just like the two lecture exams..

Participation.–This grade includes attendance and your role in class and lab discussions. Everyone has an A here at the start!

Textbook —

Bottjer, D.J. 2016. Paleoecology: Past, Present, and Future. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Print ISBN:9781118455869 |Online ISBN:9781118455838 |DOI:10.1002/9781118455838 [We will use the online version. Click the link.]

Teaching Assistant —

XXX will be our Teaching Assistant. She will help in the labs and serve as a course  tutor.

Schedule conflicts —

The faculty of the College has a uniform policy regarding conflicts between extracurricular and academic events: “The College of Wooster is an academic institution and its fundamental purpose is to stimulate its students to reach the highest standard of intellectual achievement. As an academic institution with this purpose, the College expects students to give the highest priority to their academic responsibilities. When conflicts arise between academic commitments and complementary programs (including athletic, cultural, educational, and volunteer activities), students, faculty, staff, and administrators all share the responsibility of minimizing and resolving them. As a student you have the responsibility to inform the faculty member of potential conflicts as soon as you are aware of them, and to discuss and work with the faculty member to identify alternative ways to fulfill your academic commitments without sacrificing the academic integrity and rigor of the course.”

Course Instructor —

I have a weekly appointment schedule posted on my office door (Scovel 120). Please sign up for an appointment if you have any questions about the course schedule or material. The labs are also great times to talk.

Mark A. Wilson
Department of Earth Sciences
The College of Wooster

Things to do as soon as you can —

Dropbox system.—Each of you will have a Dropbox folder shared with me for assignments and resources. Only you and I will have access to it. To get started, please go to this site and sign up for a free account:

(Some of you may already have accounts, and some of you already share Dropbox folders with me. If we share a folder, please now rename it as below.)

After you’re signed in, make a shared folder with your first name followed by “paleoecology folder”. (“Hannah’s paleoecology folder”, for example.) Make sure your first name is first. The final step is to share that folder with me (with full editing privileges), using my email address:

I will then accept that invitation, your folder will appear in my Dropbox account, and we’re in business! Please do this before class on Thursday, August 29, so that I can see all your folders in place by then.

Download free textbook.—Download the free textbook pdf at this link.

Download free statistical program.—It is called PAST3, and it is fantastic. Download the latest version of PAST3 at this link. Keep it on your laptop for lab and occasional class use. You may also want the user manual as a pdf.

Download the app or software for EPview.–This is free Olympus software that enables us to have live microscope views on our cameras, phones and tablets. Here is a download portal on Google Play for EPview. It is also available at the Apple App Store and elsewhere. Find the version that works for your phone first, then see if it will work on your tablet or laptop. I know the iOS app functions on my iPhone and iPad, but there is not a version for my Macbook laptop. This link may also work for your PC laptop. This is new software so there are a few bugs and inconsistencies.

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