Skip to main content

Unit information: Current Controversies in Palaeobiology and Macroevolution in 2022/23

Unit name Current Controversies in Palaeobiology and Macroevolution
Unit code EASCM0001
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1A (weeks 1 - 6)
Unit director Dr. Cunningham
Open unit status Not open
Units you must take before you take this one (pre-requisite units)


Units you must take alongside this one (co-requisite units)


Units you may not take alongside this one


School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Unit Information

Why is this unit important?

The unit introduces students to a range of controversial topics in the fields of Palaeobiology and Macroevolution. Students will develop critical thinking skills as they learn to independently assess evidence for competing hypotheses that have been presented in the scientific literature and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. The unit will also help students to improve communication skills through presenting, debating and writing reports on the controversies.

How does this unit fit into your programme of study?

This unit is at the start of the MSc in Palaeobiology. It helps students to transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study by introducing a range of controversial topics at the cutting edge of the subject and training students to critically evaluate controversial ideas that have been presented in the literature.

Your learning on this unit

An overview of content

This unit introduces a different controversial topic each week. These topics will change each year.

How will students, personally, be different as a result of the unit

Students will have developed their knowledge of a range of controversial topics in Palaeobiology and Macroevolution. They will have improved their skills in critically evaluating scientific ideas presented in the scientific literature. They will have improved their written and spoken communication skills by writing reports, giving presentations and debating the topics.

Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes of this unit include the ability to:

  • Use the literature and internet to research competing hypotheses.
  • Give oral presentations.
  • Debate controversial areas of palaeobiology in group discussions.
  • Write short written reports summarising the scientific issues.
  • Think through analytically the key strengths and weaknesses of opposing viewpoints.

How you will learn

A different controversy will be covered in each of the five weeks of the unit.

Each topic will be introduced in a lecture by an expert on the subject. Students will then read into the topic and critically evaluate the competing hypotheses. There will then be a session, led by the expert, where students give presentations in groups or pairs on aspects of the topic. Each student will give a formative presentation on one of the topics as part of a pair or small group and will receive feedback on both the content and its presentation. All students will debate the key concepts involved in each of the controversies and informal feedback from the instructor will help students to improve their critical analysis skills.

Students will then write reports on a selection of the topics. These will take the format of a review in an academic journal to help develop this style of writing.

Students will write a formative report on the first weeks’ topic and will receive feedback on the content, format and style of the article. They will then write summative reports on two of the other controversies that they have not presented on.

How you will be assessed

Tasks which help you learn and prepare you for summative tasks (formative)

You will receive written feedback on a formative report on the first topic that will help prepare you for the summative reports. You will receive written feedback on a formative presentation that will help prepare you for a summative presentation later in the MSc programme.

Tasks which count towards your unit mark (summative):

Two 750-word reports.

When assessment does not go to plan

The University’s Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes outline the requirements for progression on and completion of degree programmes. Within limitations, non-finalist students who fail a unit are given the chance to resit for a capped pass mark. Finalists are only afforded resits if their end-of-degree average does not qualify them for the award of their degree. Students who miss an exam and self-certify their absence may complete a supplementary assessment for an uncapped mark as if taken for the first time. Resit and supplementary exams are habitually taken during the reassessment period later in the summer. As far as is practicable and appropriate, resit and supplementary assessments will be in the same form as the original assessment but will always test the same intended learning outcomes as the initial missed or failed assessment. In the case of group work, failure by a whole group would result in an appropriate group task being set and reassessed for all group members. If a single student fails a group assessment or is unable to participate for an evidenced reason, an individual reassessment will be set.

There are rigorous and fair procedures in place to support students who are ill or whose studies and assessments are affected by exceptional circumstances.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. EASCM0001).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.