• Class Number 3951
  • Term Code 3030
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Prof Jochen Brocks
    • Lennart van Maldegem
    • Dr Shimona Kealy
    • Dr Simon Haberle
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 24/02/2020
  • Class End Date 05/06/2020
  • Census Date 08/05/2020
  • Last Date to Enrol 02/03/2020
    • Tharika Liyanage
SELT Survey Results

This course explores the origin of life on our planet, from the emergence of cells to the appearance of humans. You will gain an advanced understanding of our place in the universe as the descendants of an unbroken line of ancestors - from the first microorganisms, the emergence of complex cells, the appearance of multicellular life and the evolution of animals over the past 600 million years, in the oceans and on land. You will also explore how we may find life on other planets in our solar system. The course will emphasize how the geology and chemistry of planet Earth was influenced by the evolution of new metabolisms and traits of life, and how biological evolution was steered by geological process. The focus will be an advanced understanding of major events such as the Great Oxygenation Event, the rise of algae, Snowball Earth events, the emergence of the Ediacara biota, the Cambrian explosion, major mass extinction events that saw the turnover of entire ecosystems, including the demise of dinosaurs, turnover of plankton in the oceans through time, and the emergence of new reef building structures. The course will provide an overview of the major groups of plant and animal fossils, including critical evaluation of numerous fossil specimens, and an understanding how fossils, microfossils and molecular fossils are used to reconstruct ancient environments and ecosystems.

This course is co-taught with undergraduate students but assessed separately..

Additional readings of greater conceptual difficulty requiring an advanced scientific understanding will be made available for students enrolled at the graduate level.


Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the geological, chemical and biological processes that determined the co-evolution of life and environments on planet Earth;
  2. Interpret the evolutionary and ecological significance of the form and function of fossils of extinct organisms;
  3. Synthesize knowledge about evolutionary biological and geological processes to understand the changing diversity and increasing complexity of life through time;
  4. Perform independent research on a paleontological or geobiological subject.

Research-Led Teaching

The lecture and practical components of this course will support students, within team environments, to analyse and evaluate both well- and previously uncharacterised fossiliferous geological materials. Students will be required to synthesise their own observations with those of the literature, and apply the concepts and principles of palaeontology, in order to create their own palaeoenvironmental reconstructions.


Classes will involve group work and have an expectation that student will complete research of topics between classes.


The Convenor and guest lecturers are world experts and active researchers in their respective fields. All staff have a strong interest in geobiology as a future research discipline uniting the worlds of geology, biology, geochemistry and evolution.

Field Trips


Additional Course Costs


Examination Material or equipment


Required Resources



Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • verbal private constructive feedback after your presentation
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Introduction to geobiology and paleontology and the geological timescale, Darwin’s view of the history of life, the historical hunt for the oldest fossils, the origin of planet Earth, prerequisites for the origin of life and the earliest physical evidence for life, and life on other planets. The first practical is a card game to familarize yourself with the geological time scale.
2 Early evolution from the biology of stromatolites to the causes and consequences of the Great Oxygenation Event at 2.4 billion years ago, introduction of the concept of molecular fossils (with a basic introduction for non-chemists), organic matter in the geological record, formation of hydrocarbon resources. Practical includes documentaries and discussions about life elsewhere in the universe
3 Life during the Boring Billion years (1.8 to 0.8 billion years ago), the emergence of predatory organisms 800 Ma ago, the Snowball Earth glaciations, the Rise of Algae and its connection to the emergence of animals.
4 The enigmatic Ediacara biota and the origin of the first animals, the Cambrian explosion. Practical includes documentaries and discussions about early life on Earth
5 The Paleozoic from the Devonian to the Permian, the history and morphology of extinct taxa including trilobites and other arthropods, graptolites, conodonts and the concept of index fossils. Life, mass extinctions and fossils of the Palaeozoic. Hands on work on fossils
6 Life, mass extinctions and fossils of the Mesozoic and Caenozoic Hands on work on fossils
7 Reefs through time: concepts and importance. Basic reef building organisms, Archeaocyathids, stromatolites, stromatoporoids, Palaeozoic vs modern corals, rudists, brachs and others. Hands on work on reef building fossils
8 Micropalaeontology with an emphasis on foraminifera Practical includes hands on work on microfossils
9 The concept of the Punctuated Equilibrium, the palaeontology of humans in Australia, and the future of Australia
10 The evolution of plants through time, with emphasis of the Australian continent, including excursion to the botanical gardens. Visit to the botanical gardens
11 The early evolution of mammals, marsupials and the extinction of the megafauna, recognizing and understanding skeletons and skulls Hands on work on mammlian and other skulls and bones.
12 Student projects including a choice of about 70 paleontological/geobiological/evolutionary subjects and concepts not covered during the lecture (such as evolution of flight, evolution of the eye, evolution of birds, living fossils, dinosaur subjects). Each student project includes a presentation, question time. Each student will receive private constructive feedback from the convenor.

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
First Written Examination 40 % 30/03/2020 24/04/2020 1,2,3
Second Written Examination 40 % 04/06/2020 02/07/2020 1,2,3
Student presentation 20 % * * 4

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.


Participation in the practicals is compulsory, and participation in the student presentations of your peers strongly encouraged.


There will be two written examinations. The first will cover the first 6 weeks of the course and will be held in the teaching break or in the first week after the break, as decided by the class. The second written examination will cover weeks 7 to 12 and will be in the examination period.

Please note, that where a date range is used in the Assessment Summary in relation to exams, the due date and return date for mid-semester exams indicate the approximate timeframe in which the exam will be held; the due and return date for end of semester exams indicate the approximate timeframe in which the exam will be held and the date official end of Semester results are released on ISIS. Students should consult the course wattle site and the ANU final examination timetable to confirm the date, time and venue of the exam.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 40 %
Due Date: 30/03/2020
Return of Assessment: 24/04/2020
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3

First Written Examination

The first written exam will cover the first 6 weeks of the course and will be held in the teaching break or in the first week after the break, as decided by the class. The format of the test will be discussed with the class - the test wil be held in class. It will include 10 to 15 questions where keywords or a short written answer (one to a few sentence) are required. The assessment time in 120 minutes.

The date range is an general indication of when the mid-semester exam will be held. Please check the course Wattle site and the ANU Examination Timetable to confirm the date, time and location of the end of semester exam.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 40 %
Due Date: 04/06/2020
Return of Assessment: 02/07/2020
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3

Second Written Examination

The second written examination will cover weeks 7 to 12 only, and will be in the examination period. It will be 120 minutes long and will have a similar format to test 1.

The date range in the Assessment Summary indicates the start of the end of semester exam period and the date official end of semester results are released on ISIS. Please check the ANU final Examination Timetable http://www.anu.edu.au/students/program-administration/assessments-exams/examination-timetable to confirm the date, time and location exam.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 20 %
Learning Outcomes: 4

Student presentation

Oral student presentations will be given in the second half of the course. The length of these presentations depends somewhat on enrolment numbers, but is usually 12 to 15 minutes plus a few minutes question time where other students ask questions about the covered topic. The convenor will give a session exactly explaining how to prepare the presentation and what will be important and how it will be assessed, including resources where students can find more tips and instructions. Students can chose from a list of exciting topics or suggest their own topic.

 Students will present on different dates, most likely within the last two weeks of the Semester. Dates will be discussed in class.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically, committing to honest and responsible scholarly practice and upholding these values with respect and fairness.

The ANU commits to assisting all members of our community to understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to be familiar with the academic integrity principle and Academic Misconduct Rule, uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with.

The Academic Misconduct Rule is in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Very minor breaches of the academic integrity principle may result in a reduction of marks of up to 10% of the total marks available for the assessment. The ANU offers a number of online and in person services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. Visit the Academic Skills website for more information about academic integrity, your responsibilities and for assistance with your assignments, writing skills and study.

Online Submission

Students will bring their PowerPoint presentation on an USB drive to class and provide a copy to the convenor.

Hardcopy Submission

n /a

Late Submission

Individual assessment tasks may or may not allow for late submission. Policy regarding late submission is detailed below:

Student presentations:

  • Late submission not permitted. If submission of assessment tasks without an extension after the due date is not permitted, a mark of 0 will be awarded.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Returning Assignments

Each student will receive private constructive feedback from the convenor immediately after their presentation.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. Extensions may be granted for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Resubmission of Assignments


Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Prof Jochen Brocks

Research Interests

Jochen Brocks is a palaeobiogeochemist at the Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University. To find clues about early evolution and biological processes in Precambrian oceans he studies molecular fossils of biological lipids extracted from billion-year old sedimentary rocks.

Prof Jochen Brocks

Tuesday 12:00 13:00
Lennart van Maldegem

Research Interests

Lennart van Maldegem

Dr Shimona Kealy
612 53406

Research Interests

Dr Shimona Kealy

Dr Simon Haberle
612 53406

Research Interests

Dr Simon Haberle

Tharika Liyanage

Research Interests

Tharika Liyanage

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions