GEOL 104 Dinosaurs: A Natural History

Fall Semester 2022

The latest Cretaceous dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, Thescelosaurus, and Edmontosaurus, at the updated "Deep Time" Hall of the National Museum of Natural History, in June 2019

Cambridge Community Center (097 CCC) 1100 10:00-10:50 am MWF

Instructor: Dr. Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
Room: Chemistry Building (091 CHM) 1225B
Office Hours: Th 11:30 am-1 pm, or by appointment
Phone: (301) 405-6965, Email:

NOTE: It is your responsibility as a student to completely read through and understand this syllabus. If you have questions about it, please contact Dr. Holtz. You will be held responsible for following all requirements of this syllabus.

Course Description: Dinosaurs, their evolution, and our understanding of their fossil record. Students will examine the geologic record and the tools used by paleontologists to determine geologic ages and ancient environments; evolutionary history and extinctions; dinosaurian biology and behavior; and their survival as birds. Mechanisms of global change ranging from plate tectonics to asteroid impact will be discussed.

Learning Outcomes: By the end of the semester, every student should be able to:

Themes: This course examines how scientists study the age, environments, evolution, origin, biology, behavior, and extinctions of dinosaurs and the other inhabitants of their world. We will explore several big themes:

Textbook: No required textbook for purchase. However, please keep current with the online lecture notes.

Course Organization: 3 lectures per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday). 1 online homework (or exam) per week. 1 required self-guided Smithsonian exhibit assignment.

Lectures lost due to University late openings or cancellations or instructor absence will be made up as Panopto video recordings on the ELMS page.

Item Percentage
Midterm Exam I 25%
Midterm Exam II 25%
Final Exam 25%
Online Weekly Homework 12%
Smithsonian Self-Guided Field Trip Project 12%
Pre-/Post-Course Survey 1%

NOTE: Online homework, the Smithsonian Field Trip project, and the Pre- and Post-Course surveys cannot be completed for a grade after their regularly assigned due date passes.

Grade Scale: The numbers given represent the thresholds that must be passed in order to reach that grade (for example, A+ is 97.000... and any number greater). There is no rounding for letter grades; the thresholds must be passed. F is any grade below D-. Thresholds: 97, A+; 93, A; 90, A-; 87, B+; 83, B; 80, B-; 77, C+; 73, C; 70, C-; 67, D+; 63, D; 60, D-; < 60, F.

The Final Grade is the algebraic sum based on the numerical grades.

Midterm Exams (25%): Two online exams on October 6-8 and November 3-5, respectively. For each of these there will be a section comprised of true/false, matching, multiple choice, and similar type questions, as well as a few short answer questions. These exams are open note but timed (60 minutes) and are subject to the University's Honor Pledge; you may not seek help from students or other people in doing these. If you encounter a technical problem, please contact for help (and Dr. Holtz so that he is aware of your situation).

Final Exam (25%): A online final exam during the regularly scheduled exam season. It is cumulative for the entire course but focuses on the material since the second midterm. Format and rules are the same as the mid-term exams, but you have 120 minutes in which to complete it. The exam will be held December 18-20.

Online Homework (12% total): There will be a series of online homework assignments (generally one per week in which there is not also an exam), administered through ELMS. These homework assignments are open-note, but they ARE subject to the Honor Pledge: you may not seek help from other people in doing these. Questions asked include true/false, matching, multiple choice, short answers, and in some cases longer answers. In some cases you may be asked to upload an image for your answer. The exact questions asked are randomized, so that no two student's quizzes will be identical. The lowest homework grade will be automatically dropped; if you miss a homework for any reason, it will be accommodated in this fashion. However, only one homework at most will be dropped.

homework assignments are normally due at 11:59 pm on Fridays. However, please give yourself sufficient time in which to complete the assignment.

Smithsonian Self-Guided Field Trip Report (12%): To take advantage of our proximity to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History and its excellent display of fossil materials, there is an assignment requiring you to go to that museum and answer a series of questions based on your observations. There is no single formal field trip; you may go on your own or in small groups. The project is due online NOVEMBER 14.

Pre-/Post-Course Survey (1% total): In order to effectively assess the learning in the course, an online pre-course survey will be administered in the first week of class, followed by a post-course survey during the last week. You will not be graded on the specific answers on these surveys, but you will be graded for participating in the survey.

Extra Credit: No separate extra credit assignments as such planned for this course, although individual exams and homework assignments may have extra credit questions which add up in the final course grade.


Expectations and Policies

Expectations & Attendance:
Attendance in lecture is expected. The individual PowerPoints will not be provided to students, although there are detailed lecture notes online and Panopto recordings of the lectures will be available on ELMS. If you want to achieve a good grade in the course, the time to start working towards that is from the very beginning! Keep up with the material as it is presented rather than "cramming" to study it right before exams.

NOTE: Attendance means more than mere presence: it means "paying attention". Please take out your ear buds and refrain from texting/web-browsing/doing homework/etc. in class.

MASK POLICY: The University's policy is that masks will no longer be required while indoors in most situations, including classrooms. However, the University also reminds us that masks are a significant defense against the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses (including the cold and flu). Therefore, they recommend wearing a KN95 mask while indoors for added protection. So please feel free to mask up if you feel safer, and I STRONGLY encourage masking if the cold or flu is spreading on campus.

Communication in this course will primarily be by means of the ELMS Inbox email system. In cases of inclement weather or other unexpected emergencies, the University may close. Please consult the University main webpage or call 301-405-7669 (SNOW) to confirm such cancellations. Dr. Holtz will contact students via ELMS in order to inform them of any changes to the schedule of the course due to cancellations

General Policies:
The University has provided a page on Academic policies here. Each student is responsible for reviewing this page with regards to issues of Academic Integrity; the Code of Student Conduct; Sexual Misconduct; Discrimination; Accessibility; Attendance, Absences, or Missed Assignments; Student Rights Regarding Undergraduate Courses; Official UMD Communication; Mid-Term Grades; Complaints About Course Final Grades; Copyright and Intellectual Property; Final Exams and Course Evaluations; and Campus Resources.

Laptop/Tablet/Smartphone Use:
You will need to upload documents to ELMS, take online quizzes, and occasionally watch online lectures this semester, so please make certain that you have access to appropriate hardware, software, and Internet connections. If you are concerned about your ability to connect remotely for this course, please consult the following information about solutions provided by the Division of Information Technology:

During, please refrain from email, social media, online shopping, streaming videos, and other such communication outside the scope of the course. In other words, please restrict your computer use to the activities of the class.

NOTE: As part of the nature of the course, there will be a lot of memorization (less than a foreign language class, but more than that found in more mathematically-oriented introductory science classes). This will include lots of anatomical, geological, and paleontological terms, as well as evolutionary and temporal relationships. If you have difficulty memorizing, this may not be the class for you. Also, if there are words or concepts with which you are not familiar, feel free to ask Dr. Holtz (in class, after class, over email, etc.) for an explanation or clarification.

Copyright © 2022 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. as to this syllabus, all lectures, and all written material provided in this course. Students are prohibited from copying and selling course materials, from selling lecture notes, and from being paid to take lecture notes without the express written permission of the professor teaching this course. Violations of this prohibition will be treated as violations of the University Honors Code and reported and dealt with accordingly.

  • Lecture Notes

    For a formatted printable copy of the complete syllabus, click here.

    Dinosaur exhibits at the National Museum of Natural History, prior to 2019 revision