This free online course explores how life on earth has been shaped by five mass extinction events in the distant past. At present, biodiversity is facing a crisis, with the prospect of a sixth extinction event today.
Explore the five mass extinctions of the past
Each week there are discussions with scientists about how their research informs us about the biodiversity of our planet including the very first life forms; fish and tetrapod diversification; the radiation of reptiles and dinosaurs; and the rise of mammals.
We focus on the five previous mass extinction events that have shaped the biodiversity of our planet. The fossil record reveals evidence of species that went extinct during these mass extinctions and the new opportunities created for the surviving biota to diversify.
The threat of a “sixth extinction” today
Turning to the present and the anthropocene period, we look at how human behaviour is now beginning to impact the Earth’s ecosystems.
We consider the threat of the so-called ‘sixth extinction’, finding out how our actions are reducing biodiversity and threatening the survival of many species.
Learn with one of the world’s leading paleontologists
‘Extinctions: Past and Present’ is created by the University of Cape Town, and filmed on location at South Africa’s Iziko Museum, West Coast Fossil Park, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, and the Table Mountain National Park.
You will learn with Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turan – an acclaimed paleobiologist, author of a range of academic and children’s books on fossils, and former South African Woman of the Year. In 2013 she was awarded The World Academy of Science’s Sub-Saharan Prize for the Public Understanding and Popularization of Science.
The course is suitable for anyone with an interest in science or environmental issues. No previous experience is required. While scientific names are used, to for example identify extinct life forms, knowing these is not required to follow the course. We do offer glossaries and explain terms as we go along so you will be able to follow the themes of the course.
MOOCs stand for Massive Open Online Courses. These arefree online courses from universities around the world (eg. StanfordHarvardMIT) offered to anyone with an internet connection.
How do I register?
To register for a course, click on "Go to Class" button on the course page. This will take you to the providers website where you can register for the course.
How do these MOOCs or free online courses work?
MOOCs are designed for an online audience, teaching primarily through short (5-20 min.) pre recorded video lectures, that you watch on weekly schedule when convenient for you. They also have student discussion forums, homework/assignments, and online quizzes or exams.
An excellent and highly informative course detailing the five mass extinctions, with reference to bacterial, fossilized faunal and floral species. Additional material pertaining to journal articles and other reputable references have also been included for those who wish to learn more, with an added bonus of video tran
An excellent and highly informative course detailing the five mass extinctions, with reference to bacterial, fossilized faunal and floral species. Additional material pertaining to journal articles and other reputable references have also been included for those who wish to learn more, with an added bonus of video transcripts of interviews with various biologists and conservationists. This course provides the learner an opportunity to contribute to various discussions, including our current crisis, climate change. In conclusion, 'Extinctions: Past and Present' has been educational and fun, covering all areas within the subject range. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I find it hard to speak too highly of this course. I found the content well pitched to an interested lay person like myself, and presented with a high level of professional commitment. Especially stimulating were the video interviews with a wide range of specialist scientists actively engaged with state of the art work in their fields.
Outstanding course! The enthusiasm and optimism brought to the course by the lead education is contagious. You can't help but have all the excitement you felt as a child for fossils and dinosaurs reawakened. And the guest speakers are all just as passionate about their fields. Don't miss this course!
This has been an absolutely terrific course, covering the five known mass extinctions clearly and succinctly, and discussing the factors leading to a sixth possible mass extinction at present. Anyone interested in ecology and evolution should sign up for it - you won't regret it.
This was a fascinating course , very well presented and with lots of interesting input from specialists. There is so much extra information that I feel I could repeat it several times and still be learning from it. Many thanks to Anyusa and her team. Definitely one to recommend.
Susan Franciacompleted this course, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.
A wonderfully inspiring and fascinating course covering not only past deep time but also our present and future challenges in ecological areas. Very well presented, clear and interesting, easy to follow. I have learnt so much from this, and enjoyed it so much. Didn't want it to end !
Amazing course: Great interviews with passionate, informed people, and the loveliest warm and optimistic presenting Prof..you are going to learn lots and have a lot of fun doing it + you are going to "walk -out" of this course a slightly changed person. Take the course!
Thanks for a wonderful course, very informative and offers a fantastic sense of perspective on our own 'blink and you'll miss it' existence on Earth while charting how devastating this brief stewardship has been for the other organisms we share it with.
Really interesting short course, with lots of additional reading materials to suit people at different levels. Easy to follow even if you have no previous experience, requires a lot of self-reflection about what we are doing to our planet.
I love the lead educator's enthusiasm. Was a great general course for someone with no background in this sort of thing. However because it did cover each extinction in general there was no great detail. Overall I really enjoyed this course.
Excellent course: lots and lots of information, which is not very easily found on your own, explained in a very intelligible way and brought with a lot of enthusiasm. You'll see the red lists with other eyes. Just do it ;)
Professor Chinsamy-Turan is one of the most passionate women I have ever been taught by. It is wonderful to see her energy and knowledge come across through a course as comprehensible and captivating as this one.
I extremely enjoyed this course. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the geological past or even those who wish to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve the natural environment.