• Class Number 2690
  • Term Code 3430
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Prof Jochen Brocks
    • Dr Shimona Kealy
    • Dr Simon Haberle
    • Prof Jochen Brocks
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 19/02/2024
  • Class End Date 24/05/2024
  • Census Date 05/04/2024
  • Last Date to Enrol 26/02/2024
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, the 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, 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 fossil specimens, and an understanding how fossils, microfossils and molecular fossils are used to reconstruct ancient environments and ecosystems.

Learning Outcomes

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

  1. Demonstrate an 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 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.

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

In peer-to-peer lectures, each student will research a topic and teach this topic to their peers in form of a short lecture, followed by discussion.

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


 Recommended student system requirements 

ANU courses commonly use a number of online resources and activities including:

  • video material, similar to YouTube, for lectures and other instruction
  • two-way video conferencing for interactive learning
  • email and other messaging tools for communication
  • interactive web apps for formative and collaborative activities
  • print and photo/scan for handwritten work
  • home-based assessment.

To fully participate in ANU learning, students need:

  • A computer or laptop. Mobile devices may work well but in some situations a computer/laptop may be more appropriate.
  • Webcam
  • Speakers and a microphone (e.g. headset)
  • Reliable, stable internet connection. Broadband recommended. If using a mobile network or wi-fi then check performance is adequate.
  • Suitable location with minimal interruptions and adequate privacy for classes and assessments.
  • Printing, and photo/scanning equipment

For more information please see https://www.anu.edu.au/students/systems/recommended-student-system-requirements

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). Feedback can also be provided to Course Conveners and teachers via the Student Experience of Learning & Teaching (SELT) feedback program. SELT surveys are confidential and also provide the Colleges and ANU Executive with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Introduction to the course and to the geological timescale. What are geobiology and paleontology? Darwin’s view of the history of life and the 19th century controversy about the age of our planet. The fierce hunt in the 1980s to find the oldest fossils on Earth. The origin of planet Earth, the first oceans and continents, the early atmosphere, prerequisites for early life, and the controversial oldest fossil and chemical signatures for life in the geological record. In the first practical, we will explore the immensity of geological time based on a 50 m long time sheet. You will explore important biological and geological events across 4.5 billion years.
2 The early evolution and biology of billion-years-old stromatolites (fossil microbial mats), causes and consequences of the Great Oxygenation Event 2.4 billion years ago (which was the greatest chemical and ecological revolution in our planet’s history). Introduction to molecular fossils (with a basic introduction for non-chemists, but no special chemical knowledge needed), the origin and nature of organic matter (dead biomass) in the geological record, and the formation of hydrocarbon reservoirs (crude oil and gas). Life during the Boring Billion years (1.8 to 0.8 billion years ago), the emergence of predatory organisms and chemical warfare 800 million years ago. Practical 2: Jeopardy 1: After watching a documentary about the hunt for life on other planets and moons in our solar system, you will play the “Jeopardy!”quiz game in small teams competing against each other.
3 The enigmatic Snowball Earth glaciations, why they happened, how Earth got out of it and how life survived the million year long deep freeze. The four major revolutions at the base of the food chain and the ‘Rise of Algae’ in Cryogenian oceans (800 to 635 million years ago) and how that may be linked to the emergence of the earliest animals. Practical 3: Jeopardy 2.  With questions from a documentary (with David Attenborough) about early life on Earth and the emergence of animals, plus questions from the lectures of the first two weeks, the Jeopardy teams from the previous week will battle it out for first prize.
4 When life got Big! The enigmatic Ediacara Biota and the origin of the first large creatures. The Cambrian Explosion of animal life. Principles of animal evolution and reading the Tree of Life. Practical 4: You will explore an evolution simulator where you observe and investigate single celled creatures on your computer screen bloom, perish and evolve.
5 The Palaeozoic Era from the Ordovician to the Permian, the history and morphology of extinct taxa including trilobites and other arthropods, graptolites, conodonts and the concept of index fossils. The Age of Fishes and arrival of life on land. Practical 5: Trilobites! Based on fossil and fossil casts, you will learn to understand the connection between morphology and ecology of these amazing extinct creatures.
6 Peer to peer teaching Part I. This week you are the lecturers. Topics range from the origin of life, NASA missions to find life elsewhere in the solar system, the Death Mask hypothesis, weird wonders of the Palaeozoic such as Tullymonstrum and Websteroprion. Peer to peer teaching continued. Feedback from the lecturer will be private, constructive and friendly.
7 The Permo-Triassic mass extinction (the biggest of them all) and ancient coral reefs. The early Mesozoic Era after the extinction. Dinosaurs!!! Written Exam 1.
8 Return of Exam 1 and discussion of the answers. The Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction by asteroid impact and the day after! The Cenozoic Era and the emergence of humans. Practical Week 8: Based on fossils, you will explore the evolution of reefs through time.
9 Peer to peer teaching Part II. This week you are the lecturers again. This week covers topic such as fossils of the Mesozoic Era, dinosaurs, fact and fiction of Jurassic Park, and the largest flying creatures of all time. Peer to peer teaching continued. Feedback from the lecturer will be private, constructive and friendly.
10 The early evolution of mammals, marsupials and the extinction of the megafauna, recognizing and understanding mammal skeletons and skulls. Practical Week 10:The skull and skeleton workshop. Hands on work on mammalian and other skulls and bones. Can you distinguish a sheep from a kangaroo skull? Here you will learn it and never forget it. And, ever put your head between crocodile jaws?
11 The evolution of plants through time and the greening of the Australian continent. Practical Week 11: An amazing excursion to the botanical gardens to discover living fossils and learn connections between plant morphology and environment. You will learn a lot.
12 Peer to peer teaching Part III. This week you are the lecturers again. Topics range from the evolution of the eye, ancient DNA, Neanderthals, the colour of dinosaur feathers, mammoths and the evolution of cats and dogs. Peer to peer teaching continued. Feedback from the lecturer will be private, constructive and friendly.

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Learning Outcomes
First Written Examination 30 % 18/04/2024 1,2,3
Peer-to-peer teaching 24 % * 4
Second Written Examination 30 % * 1,2,3
Practical assignments and quizzes 16 % * 1,2,3

* 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 Integrity 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 Academic Skills 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 and peer to peer lectures is compulsory (permission for absence will be granted e.g. if there is a clash with other courses or a certificate is handed in).

Alll lectures will be available on Wattle as short (5 to 15 minute) video recordings, including questions for self assessment. 


There will be two written examinations. The first will cover the first 6 weeks of the course and will be held in the first week after the break. The second written examination will cover weeks 7 to 12 and will be in the examination period. The xamination will cover all lectures, all practicals and peer-to-peer lectures.

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: 30 %
Due Date: 18/04/2024
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 first week after the break. The test will be held in class during prac class hours. It will include 10 to 15 questions where keywords, short written answers and drawings will be required. The assessment time is 120 minutes.


Please check the course Wattle site and the ANU Examination Timetable to confirm the date, time and location of the mid-semester exam.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 24 %
Learning Outcomes: 4

Peer-to-peer teaching

Each student will teach a short segment of the course in weeks 6 or 12. The length of these presentations depends on enrolment numbers, but is usually 12 minutes plus 3 minutes question time where we discuss questions from the class. The convenor will explain exactly how to prepare for the presentation, also explaining what is expected, what will be important and how it will be assessed, including resources where students can find more tips and instructions. The peer-to peer lectures are scheduled in weeks 6, 9 and 12 and include topics that will logically follow the structure of the course.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 30 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3

Second Written Examination

The final written exam will cover weeks 7 to 12 and will be held in the examination period. The test will be held in class during prac class hours. The assessment time is 120 minutes and it will have a simialr format to Exam 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 4

Value: 16 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,3

Practical assignments and quizzes

5 practicals will contain an assessable component that each weighs 4% of the total mark. However, students can strike out the worst mark. All practicals together will thus count 16%. Marks will either be given for assignments completed during the practical or handed in after the practical (with a deadline), or for a short quiz at the end of the prac.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. The University’s students are an integral part of that community. The academic integrity principle commits all students to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support, academic integrity, and to uphold this commitment by behaving honestly, responsibly and ethically, and with respect and fairness, in scholarly practice.

The University expects all staff and students to be familiar with the academic integrity principle, the Academic Integrity Rule 2021, the Policy: Student Academic Integrity and Procedure: Student Academic Integrity, and to uphold high standards of academic integrity to ensure the quality and value of our qualifications.

The Academic Integrity Rule 2021 is a legal document that the University uses to promote academic integrity, and manage breaches of the academic integrity principle. The Policy and Procedure support the Rule by outlining overarching principles, responsibilities and processes. The Academic Integrity Rule 2021 commences on 1 December 2021 and applies to courses commencing on or after that date, as well as to research conduct occurring on or after that date. Prior to this, the Academic Misconduct Rule 2015 applies.


The University commits to assisting all students to understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. All coursework students must complete the online Academic Integrity Module (Epigeum), and Higher Degree Research (HDR) students are required to complete research integrity training. The Academic Integrity website provides information about services available to assist students with their assignments, examinations and other learning activities, as well as understanding and upholding academic integrity.

Online Submission

For peer-to-peer lectures, students will bring their PowerPoint presentation on an USB drive to class and upload a copy to Wattle one day before the presentation. The PPT file will be made available to the class on Wattle.

Hardcopy Submission

n /a

Late Submission

Noting the implications of Policy: Student assessment (coursework) Item 7

Peer-to-peer lectures will be scheduled for a specific data and time for each student. A no show will be awarded a mark of 0%.

Referencing Requirements

The Academic Skills website has information to assist you with your writing and assessments. The website includes information about Academic Integrity including referencing requirements for different disciplines. There is also information on Plagiarism and different ways to use source material.

Returning Assignments

Peer-to-peer lecture: 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
6125 7946

Research Interests

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

Prof Jochen Brocks

Wednesday 14:00 15:00
Dr Shimona Kealy

Research Interests

Dr Shimona Kealy

Dr Simon Haberle
6125 7946

Research Interests

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

Dr Simon Haberle

Prof Jochen Brocks

Research Interests

Prof Jochen Brocks

Wednesday 14:00 15:00

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