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Featured video: Have you ever eaten Dinosaurs?

What is this course about?

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What was it like being a dinosaur? Where did they live? Who did they live with? Were things anything like they are today? How do we even know all this?

HKU Online LearningFind out the answers to these questions and more in our upcoming Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Dinosaur Ecosystems! Starting from February 8th 2017, Dr. Michael Pittman of the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Earth Sciences, together with Professor Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (Chinese Academy of Sciences), will lead you on an expedition to the Gobi desert to unveil a famous ancient ecosystem!

In this course, we will take you to Erlian, Inner Mongolia, and leading museums and institutions to explore:

  • dinosaur biology
  • how palaeontologists reconstruct ancient ecosystems using fossil and modern evidence
  • the traits and significance of a Late Cretaceous dinosaur ecosystem.



Our milestones
Dinosaur Ecosystems is the first MOOC on dinosaur in Asia; also the first MOOC offered by our Faculty of Science. It is the first time that we send crew members to the desert and world-renowned museums to film. Our course was also featured on the edX homepage, edx newsletter and various media reports (for the list of media reports, please refer to the “Further reading” section below).

Our course featured on the edX homepage!

Dinosaur Ecosystems @ Hong Kong Science Museum
We have also set up, for the first time, a booth in the T. rex exhibition in Hong Kong Science Museum to introduce the course.

“T-Rex Revealed – The Augmented + Virtual Reality Experience” is an ongoing exhibition in the Science Museum where you can interact with dinosaurs with Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies. Our course instructor, Dr. Michael Pittman, is the advisor of the exhibition.

A Roaring Start
With the collaborative efforts from multiple parties, our course has a roaring start. The enrollment number jumped from 2,000 to 3,000 two days before launch, and even doubled on the next day. Currently we have 8,500+ learners from over 100 countries!


Sharing Knowledge, Sharing Joy
To celebrate the joyful success of our course, Dr. Pittman hosted a party on February 8th, 2017 with almost 50 HKU colleagues and members of the general public at Stephen Hui Geological Museum.

A fun drawing competition titled “The Year of the Dinosaur” was also organized to engage dinosaur lovers in the community. The following is a selection of fun dinosaur-themed Chinese New Year scenes designed by creative young minds:

Further reading

  1. From Dinosaur Heat to Palaeontology
  2. The Art of Making MOOCs
  3. HKU Convocation Newsletter Summer 2016 (Pg 15)
  4. Interview by Noreen Mir on RTHK Radio 3: Dr Michael Pittman – Dinosaur Ecosystems
  5. 港大首辦免費「恐龍證書課程」 網上教學無限年齡 [Translation: HKU’s free online course on dinosaurs open to all] (Sing Tao Daily 星島日報, February 6th, 2017)
  6. 免費讀港大網上課程:恐龍生態系統 [Translation: HKU’s free online course: Dinosaur Ecosystems] (Mingpao OL 明報OL, February 7th, 2017)
  7. Switch onto movie action with HKU online course (The Standard, February 7th, 2017)
  8. Tracking the last days of the DINOSAUR (China Daily Hong Kong, February 8th, 2017)

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get the latest updates!

The Jurassic Park franchise has successfully made dinosaurs a popular Hollywood theme and merchandise. Yet, these striking giants are more than animated sculptures – they are a key factor in the evolutionary chain that deserves serious research effort. For this reason, Dr. Michael Pittman from the Department of Earth Sciences produced Hong Kong’s first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on geology, dinosaurs and evolution, starts on 8 February 2017 on edX.

One important reason for studying dinosaur is that their descendants might still be living among us. Dr. Pittman is devoted to proving that birds, the feathered animal we see day in day out, are a type of carnivorous dinosaur. If successful, it would be a breakthrough in our understanding of the physical evolution of birds, for example, how they make sounds and how they assemble their bodies to fly. The evolutionary links between dinosaurs and birds is also what enabled the Jurassic Park producers to simulate the sound of the dinosaurs in the film “because their larynx (vocal box) looks quite similar to their closest relatives – birds,” Dr. Pittman elaborated in an interview for timeout.com.hk.

Another purpose for producing a dinosaur MOOC in Hong Kong is to properly capture the dinosaur fever in the city. As a Hong Kong raised Londoner, Dr. Pittman finds it unfortunate that palaeontology is not a popular subject in Hong Kong despite people’s immense enthusiasm in dinosaurs. For instance, over a million people visited the Legends of the Giant Dinosaurs exhibition held at the Hong Kong Science Museum last year. As the only dinosaur expert in Hong Kong, Dr. Pittman feels that it is his responsibility to open up more channels for dinosaur enthusiasts in Hong Kong to explore the palaeontology field. Against this backdrop, Dr. Pittman teamed up with Professor Xu Xing of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Beijing, to produce Hong Kong’s first ever MOOC on dinosaur.

To give MOOC takers a real taste of the environment that housed the Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex and others, many of the MOOC lectures were filmed in the Gobi Desert in northern China. The dinosaur hunters also examined samples of fossil and ancient rocks to reconstruct the ecosystem that nurtured dinosaurs. The key is to vividly present this ancient animal before viewers’ eyes. “It takes a lot of work to get the MOOC into an attractive video format, so having a strong inspiration for it was very important,” said Dr. Pittman.

Hopefully, with more palaeontology enthusiasts and new fossil discoveries, future Hollywood blockbusters on dinosaurs will bear a closer resemblance to what actually happened over 150 million years ago.

Click here to read the full article on timeout.com.hk.


Dinosaurs are a popular theme for Hollywood movies and museum exhibitions, but how do we extend that facsination when it becomes a topic to teach? Our new MOOC Introduction to Dinosaur Ecosystems has taken on this challenge to bring you right to a place where dinosaurs once roamed.

Course Instructor Dr. Michael Pittman and Professor Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology completed an expedition to the Chinese Gobi desert this summer to collect new fossils and rock samples from the Upper Cretaceous dinosaur-dominated ecosystem of Erlian, Inner Mongolia. Against this backdrop Dr. Pittman, Prof. Xu and several guest experts recorded many of the MOOC’s lectures giving viewers a glimpse into what expeditions are like and what palaeontologists see in the burning desert landscape.

meetingOn 13 August, Dr. Pittman and videographer Cameron Dueck (first and second from the right) had a meeting with the Technology-Enriched Learning Initative (TELI) team to review the footage taken in the Gobi.

Here are some still shots for your previewing:

DinosaurDr. Pittman talking to the local wildlife

DinosaurProf Xu Xing excavating a dinosaur fossil (Dr. Pei Rui [HKU] in the distance)

DinosaurDinosaur bones on the desert floor!

DinosaurDr. Pittman sorting through previous Erlian dinosaur finds with Drs. Corwin Sullivan (IVPP) and Pei Rui

DinosaurHKU undergraduate Fion Ma helping Dr. Pittman sort through past Erlian fossil finds.

DinosaurA mounted skeleton of a therizinosauroid theropod. Theropod dinosaurs like T. rex are known for their carnivory, but this animal was a herbivore!

googlemapClick to see the interactive map
Dr. Pittman, Prof. Xu and their colleagues investigated Upper Cretaceous rocks in the desert northeast of Erlian (Erenhot), Inner Mongolia.

Want to join us on an adventurous ride back to the dinosaur-era? Stay tuned.

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