Teach the Earth > Course Design > Course Goals/Syllabus Database > Geomorphology


Doug Clark

Western Washington University
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs


Five-credit (quarter system), junior-level field-oriented course in geomorphology that emphasizes locally observable (and measurable) geomorphic processes: rivers, hillslopes, mass wasting, glaciers.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Geomorphology
Resource Type: Course Information:Goals/Syllabi
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Geomorphology
Course Type: Upper Level:Geomorphology/Surface Processes
Course Size:


Course Context:

Although this is a 300-level course, the only prerequisites are one course in Physical Geology and College Algebra. Many of the students are new geology majors taking their second geology course, but we also get a substantial number of students from archaeology, computer science, and environmental science. The course is writing intensive, has two three-hour labs per week and four in-class field trips.

Course Goals:

Course Objectives: After successfully completing G310, students should be able to:
  1. use three different tools (methods) to collect quantitative position data about a landscape: a level and tape; a GPS (global positioning system); and a total station;
  2. compile topographic data on a spreadsheet, and then plot them as a topographic map or surface using computer software;
  3. evaluate the quality (accuracy and precision) of those data by comparing the two maps to what you know is actually out there;
  4. give an assessment of the benefits and limitations of each method for collecting topographic data;
  5. given any topographic map, be able to locate and describe the major components of the map, such as the Quad name, fractional scale, bar scale, contour interval, magnetic declination, date of publication, date of topographic base information
  6. find the altitude, within a contour interval, of a given point;
  7. find the horizontal distance and vertical separation between two points on the map;
  8. calculate an area on the map (using the digitizer);
  9. calculate the slope of a given surface;
  10. draw a topographic profile across any area of the map, or draw a stream profile;
  11. map and measure the drainage basin for a point on a stream or river;
  12. develop hypotheses of the origin of certain geomorphic relationships expressed on a topographic map (and test them!);
  13. identify several landforms from aerial photographs;
  14. describe the landform in the photo in appropriate detail to establish the process of formation
  15. propose testable hypotheses about the ways that a landform develops (e.g. a delta);
  16. make quantitative measurements of a landform that can test those hypotheses, using appropriate technology, and how to assess what the results mean (including any limitations or uncertainties with those results);
  17. interpret graphs of data and how to compare the graphs of different samples;
  18. relate those results back to the landform, in terms of the processes that act to form them;
  19. relate the model results to the real world (field observations);
  20. write a scientific report concisely and well-supported by data;

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Students complete 7 structured inquiry projects that are designed to build skills and one independent group research project to employ those skills.

Skills Goals

WRITING: Students write 7 reports that must be short and well-supported by data. The independent project has several reviewed stages (topic; proposal; intro and data; final)
ORAL COMM: students present the results of their research project in oral presentations.

Attitudinal Goals

Building students' confidence in working in field settings;
Increasing student excitement/personal wonder about learning about the Earth and Earth's surface;
Building students sense of uncertainty in any data analysis;
Improving student attitudes about working in teams.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

We spend a lot of time together in the lab; in the vans; in the field. Students work together in teams on all exercises.


Laboratory Assignments (participation and reports) 30%
Exams (2) 20%
Inquiry Project (draft and revision) 30%
Wikipedia Contribution (with revisions) 10%
Class Participation, attendance, and effort 10%


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 89kB Jun24 08)

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