FossilSketch – an innovative way to teach micropaleontology in undergraduate geoscience classes

Anna Stepanova
Senior Research Engineer I
Texas A&M University

Microfossil remains that are preserved in sediments play key roles in determining the ages of geologic records, reconstructing paleoenvironments, and monitoring modern ecosystem health. However, training undergraduates to identify these microfossils is time-intensive and most students are not exposed to micropaleontology in their courses, limiting the breadth of students entering fields that use them. To enable training of undergraduates in the basics of micropaleontology by non-experts, we developed FossilSketch, an interactive digital online learning tool that introduces students to micropaleontology through educational videos and exercises focused on their applications in geosciences. FossilSketch currently focuses on Foraminifera and Ostracoda. Interactive exercises guide students through the characteristic morphologic features and the principles of genus-level identification. The software integrates minigame activities to help students practice identifying individual features before combining their skills to fully identify common genera. Integrating ecologically-relevant morphotype concepts allows beginner students to develop the skills necessary for making rapid environmental assessments from fossil data, thus reinforcing societally-relevant benefits of studying micropaleontology. The unique FossilSketch environment allows students to practice skills and receive individual real-time feedback without instructor supervision.