On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Teaching Geophysics in the 21st Century
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Example Goals for Undergraduate Courses in Geophysics

What are we trying to accomplish in an entry-level geophysics course for majors beyond exposing them to a body of knowledge and providing them with grades on their transcripts? What do we want students to be able to do when they are finished with the course? What value have we added to their future abilities as a result of having taken the course? Answering this question is crucial, because a course should be designed not merely to expose students to information, tell them about topics, and show them concepts. Rather, a course should give students first hand experience in what we want them to be able to do when they are done with our courses.

We asked the participants of the workshop Teaching Geophysics in the 21st Century to answer the question, "What do I want my students to be able to do when they are done with my entry-level geophysics course?" We have listed their reponses to the question below.

If you are interested in sample course descriptions and syllabi for a variety of geophysics courses, go to our Course Collection.
If you are interested in ideas for taking goals such as those below and designing a course to help students achieve those goals, go to Choosing Content to Achieve Course Goals and Developing a Course Plan in the Cutting Edge Course Design Tutorial. This tutorial provides an outstanding framework for developing a course around a set of goals.

Sample Goals for an Entry-level Geophysics Course

General examples

  • Students will be able to read a geophysics article and assess the advantages, disadvantages, and limitations of the technique(s)/method(s) employed and evaluate how those influence the conclusions drawn by the author(s).
  • Students will be able to find information on and evaluate new developments in geophysics at the review article level and be able to communicate their evaluations to someone with no more than a high school background in the geosciences (e.g., a senator).
  • Students will be able to employ fundamental principles of physics in describing and analyzing geologic structures and processes and apply these same fundamental principles to solve geologic problems across a broad range of spatial/temporal scales.

Examples involving data manipulation and interpretation

  • Students will be able to create subsurface interpretations that are non-conflicting, consistent with local surface geology, and based on evaluation of geophysical data synthesized with other data.
  • Students will be able to assess the quality and precision of a geophysical data set.
  • Students will be able to synthesize a variety of geological and geophysical data in the region into a single model and defend the model.
  • Students will be able to choose suitable filters and apply them to an unfamiliar data set to enhance anomalies of interest.
  • Students will be able to interpret a well log suite, identify downhole material and pore space contents, and correlate among multiple wells.
  • Students will be able to create and justify reasonable subsurface interpretations based upon evaluation of geophysical data synthesized with other data.
  • Students will be able to analyze and interpret a suite of geophysical data from a particular locale and defend their interpretations.

Examples involving survey design and field data collection

  • Given an environmental scenario, students will be able to design an appropriate geophysical investigation and justify why the chosen techniques are the best to collect data to address the problem.
  • Given an unfamiliar problem/scenario, students will be able to choose appropriate geophysical techniques, design a geophysical survey, justify the choice of techniques and survey design, collect data, interpret results, and communicate the solution/results.
  • Students will be able to effectively use forward modeling programs to predict the geophysical signature of a given geologic scenario and collect data to compare with forward modeling.
  • Students will be able to use their knowledge of the advantages, disadvantages, and resolutions of different geophysical techniques to evaluate the best geophysical technique(s) to use to address a new problem.
  • Students will be able to select a geophysical technique that could resolve a subsurface structure/feature/anomaly, defend the selection, and design and implement a survey using that technique.
  • Students will be able to design, execute, and analyze a GPR survey to evaluate a shallow environmental problem.
  • Students will be able to design appropriate data collection strategies based upon site specifics and justify their designs.

Examples involving forward modeling

  • Students will be able to effectively use forward modeling programs to predict the geophysical signature of a given geologic scenario and collect data to compare with forward modeling.
  • Students will be able to predict the hypothetical physical properties of an unfamiliar geological survey target (including geometry) and predict the gravity, magnetic, and EM anomalies that will be observed.
  • Given specific parameters of hypothetical bodies, students will be able to correctly sketch the resulting magnetic anomalies, gravity anomalies.
  • Students will be able to correctly sketch refraction seismic time-distance curves given a simple subsurface layer configuration or structure.

Example for a seismic processing lab

  • Students will be able to design a processing sequence that will convert a line of seismic data into a geologically reasonable output seismic section, apply the processing sequence to a real data set, and communicate the rationale for the choices, including issues and pitfalls.