Prehistoric Biology

Tony Gorder

Tony Gorder

While it is no Jurassic Park, SDSU’s Biol-239, Biology of Dinosaurs, is a class that studies numerous aspects of dinosaurs’ biology, from origin to extinction.

“We present key biological principles like scientific theory, research methodologies and biological concepts … that are characteristic of living things in general and dinosaurs in particular,” said Carol Wake, associate professor of biology and instructor for the class. “We focus on the application of these principles to understand the physiology, anatomy and behavior of dinosaurs that lived millions of years ago and their relationship with present-day animals.”

The class was first offered in 2007, and according to Wake, was well received by students. The class continues to be offered each spring as an Internet course, which Wake said is a good thing for the class.

“The Internet works so well for this type of class because of the extensive and rapidly growing collections of Web, video and audio resources that are available about the life and times of dinosaurs,” said Wake. “Through these resources we can go, in virtual format, to the current and past excavation sites around the world to experience the excitement of the finds. We can be ‘in’ the lab.”

Nathan Leonard, a junior safety management major said he took the class because of his interest in dinosaurs and the online factor.

“I wanted to take this class both to try an online class and because I am very fascinated by dinosaurs,” said Leonard.

Wake said she likes to keep everyone engaged by making the class as interactive as possible.

“During the semester, we also get to learn about some of the favorite dinosaurs from each of the periods. We learn about approximately 60 dinosaurs through the semester,” said Wake. “Each week there are assigned readings from a very readable paperback textbook, as well as outside articles and Web pages, and I accompany these with my narrated reading outlines.”

The class also watches videos, something Stephanie Smith, a junior animal science major from Watertown, S.D., enjoys.

“One of the things I like about the class is the videos that we get to watch about the evolution of not only dinosaurs but the animals and organisms that came before dinosaurs, as well as interesting fossil finds,” said Smith. “I’ve always found dinosaurs interesting, and I wanted to learn more about them. I also thought it would be fun to have a class that was just about dinosaurs.”

Scientists learn about dinosaurs from their fossilized remains, said Wake.

“In addition to the study of the anatomy of the fossils, scientists from around the world have refined common techniques for dating rocks and dinosaur fossils, so we know more about the time periods during which different dinosaurs lived or died,” she said.

Wake said Biology of Dinosaurs is a general interest class with no prerequisites that any student can take, regardless of major.

“Over the past 150 years or so, people have really learned so very much about our universe, solar system and world,” Wake said. “Life, past and present, is a wonderfully intricate web – totally interrelated. The more we learn about any aspect of it helps us to understand more fully our lives today.”