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Surface Processes and Geomorphology

Author Profile
Eric Leonard
,
eleonard@coloradocollege.edu

Colorado College
a
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate
.

Summary

This is a process-oriented geomorphology course with substantial "interactive lecture", lab, field, and GIS components. In addition to an emphasis on geomorphic processes and methods particular to their analysis, the course has a strong additional focus on research design, data collection and analysis, and scientific writing.

Course URL:

Resource Type: Course Information
Special Interest: GIS
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Course Size:

15-30

Course Context:

The course in the midst of a transition from a second-level course with only an Introductory Geology prerequisite to a third-level course with an additional prerequisite of a 200-level field-based course on physical and chemical processes in the geologic evolution of the Rocky Mountain region. Under the revised curriculum the course will also have an introductory physics prerequisite. The course has been required for the Geology major, but in the future it will be one of two classes (along with Sedimentation and Stratigraphy), either of which could be used to satisfy a major requirement. The course is a prerequisite (not always enforced) for Glacial Geology. It may satisfy a cognate sciences requirement for Biology majors. Under the Colorado College "Block Plan" the class meets every morning and nearly every afternoon for 3 1/2 weeks. About 1/3 of class time is spent in the field with 2 overnight project-oriented field trips and 5-6 half-day trips. Inside time is split about evenly between interactive lecture sessions and mostly computer-based lab sessions.

Course Goals:

1 - Students should be able to look at landscapes and make a reasonable assessment of the geomorphic processes involved in landscape formation.

a) They should be able to read topographic maps, air photos, and DEMs - especially to understand the shape of the topography by looking at these.
b) Making use of this reading of topography, students should be able to develop hypotheses about the geomorphic processes that have shaped the landscape.

2 - Students should be able to apply basic principles of mechanics to understanding of geomorphic processes especially mass-movement, glacial, and fluvial processes.

3 - Students should be able to apply basic chemical principles and the mineralogy they have learned in previous courses to understanding chemical weathering and soil development.

4 - Students should be able to formulate field research questions and hypothesis, to design an unbiased sampling strategy to test the hypotheses, to collect field data, to undertake basic statistical data analysis, and to write-up their results as a coherent scientific paper.

5 - Students should learn some basic geographic information systems (GIS) skills.

6 - Students should be become familiar with contemporary ideas about the relationships between geomorphic, tectonic, and climatic processes, and with theories of landscape evolution. They should be able to construct coherent arguments about how the regional landscape might be interpreted in light of these ideas.


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

Students are introduced to geomorphic processes and their mechanical and chemical bases in several different ways during the course - in field observation and measurement exercises, computer analysis of field data, reading, and lecture/discussion.

Students are introduced to qualitative (descriptive) analysis of the landscape on field and air photo interpretation projects, and to more quantitative analysis of landscape on other field projects and in GIS and computer data analysis labs.

Students develop original research skills particularly on two projects in which groups formulate a research question, design a sampling strategy for examining the question, sample and analyze data, and present their project and results in both oral and written formats.

My assessment of whether students have met the goals comes through my evaluation of their work and presentations on seven projects during the class (1 purely lab based, 3 purely field based, and 3 combining field and lab). Projects involve primarily individual write-ups although a small number are presented and group write-ups and/or oral presentations. Student learning is also assessed with one sit-down, closed-book, exam, and one take-home open-book exam.

Skills Goals

In the class students should develop and/or improve skills in the following areas:

1 -- Scientific writing
2 -- Oral communication (although there is much less emphasis on this than on written communication)
3 -- Spreadsheet-based data analysis
4 -- Basic spatial analysis in GIS


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

The same projects I have discussed above also function to help students develop these communication and analysis skills, and I use the same instruments to measure how well they are meeting the skills goals.

Attitudinal Goals

I hope to help students understand that landscapes can be appreciated both aesthetically and scientifically ... and that (at least from my personal point of view), an improved understanding of the scientific basis of geomorphology benefits one's aesthetic appreciation of the landscape, and vice versa.


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

I don't have a particular curricular method of working towards this goal. I hope that my own enthusiasm for both aspects of appreciating and understanding the landscape is communicated to my students in all of the course activities and that some of it rubs off on them! I have not tried to develop a method of assessing this.

Assessment

I repeat my answer from above:

My assessment of whether students have met the learning goals of the course comes through my evaluation of their work and presentations on seven projects during the class (1 purely lab based, 3 purely field based, and 3 combining field and lab). Projects involve primarily individual write-ups although a small number are presented and group write-ups and/or oral presentations. Student learning is also assessed with one sit-down, closed-book, exam, and one take-home open-book exam.

Syllabus:

E Leonard 2009 Course Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 1.6MB May27 10)

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