3D Virtual Fossil Library and Wellesley Cohort are New Features in WellesleyX Course Reboot

May 4, 2015
WellesleyX class now offers a virtual 3D fossil library.

The WellesleyX course Anthropology 207X: Introduction to Human Evolution begins its second run on May 6. Join students from around the world on an exciting journey and exploration of our shared evolutionary story–and, for the first time, join a Wellesley-affiliated cohort of learners also taking the course.

The class, which was first offered in September 2013 and has been available in the edX archive since, has welcomed over 22,000 learners so far. The second run will follow the same format, and offer the content that made the first run so popular, but also offers some new and exciting features, like a 3D fossil library and the opportunity for Wellesley affiliates, including family members, to join the Wellesley cohort.

“One of the things that most amazed and surprised me about the course's first run was the extent to which some students organized face-to-face meetings and events with other students in the course,” said course instructor Adam Van Arsdale, associate professor of anthropology. “When people think of online learning they often associate it with one person sitting alone with their computer, but it does not have to be that way.” The Wellesley cohort will be designed to better communicate with those learners with personal connections to the College. 

Popular class features from last session include virtual guided trips to important archeological dig sites, simulated excavations, and an interactive primer on how scientists measure skeletal remains. A virtual library of rotatable 3D scans of important human fossils is new for this session.

“Students will have access to a library of 3D fossil scans, giving them—and me—greater ability to examine and compare specimens we are discussing in the course of the class, as well as independently explore fossil morphological variability,” Van Arsdale said.

The 3D library was developed using scans of Wellesley’s collection of fossil casts. Maggie Mitchell ‘18 assisted Van Arsdale with the project’s development.

“Working on the project was an incredibly rewarding experience,” Mitchell wrote in an email. “Not just for the facts I learned while in the lab, but also for the ability to look at the skulls that I have heard about—Lucy, Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal—and conceptualize what the term ‘hominid’ really means.”

Van Arsdale credits LTS staff members Iva Gishin, David O'Steen, and Laura O'Brien with developing a “fantastic platform for viewing and manipulating” the scans. “This is a resource that will aid not only the online course, but also all of my courses that deal with the fossil record on campus,” Van Arsdale said.

Students interested in taking Anthropology 207X during the second run, or viewing other archived courses, can sign up on the edX website.

Wellesley College was the first liberal arts college to join the edX collaborative and the first women’s college to offer massive open online courses (MOOCs). WellesleyX offerings represent the breadth of disciplines available at the College, and also some of the most popular courses taught at Wellesley.

WellesleyX has offered four courses so far, most recently Shakespeare: On the Page and in Performance (Fall 2014), which was instructed by Wellesley’s Yu Jin Ko, professor of English, and Diego Arciniegas, senior lecturer in theatre studies. The Washington Post recently noted that Wellesley is among a small group of elite schools that still have a Shakespeare requirement for English majors.

EdX, which was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is the leader in high quality online learning.