On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Teaching Hydrogeology in the 21st Century
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Cutting Edge > Hydrogeology > Course Goals

Example Goals for Undergraduate Courses in Hydrogeology

What are we trying to accomplish in an entry-level hydrogeology 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 in the field of hydrogeology 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 70 participants of the workshop Teaching Hydrogeology 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 hydro course?" We also asked the same question of Dr. Mary Jo Baedecker (former Chief Scientist for Hydrogeology at the USGS), Dr. Charlie Andrews (President, Papadopoulos & Associates), Dr. Ann Bleed (Nebraska State Hydrogeologist), Dr. Nan Lindsley-Griffin (Emeritus Member, State of Nebraska Board of Geologists), and Dr. Donald Siegel (Professor of Geology, Syracuse University). We have grouped responses to the question by broad content area in the list below.

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.

Goals related to posing and solving problems, designing studies, and dealing with data

  • I want students to be able to be able to solve problems in hydrogeology and make decisions about hydrogeologic issues that involve uncertainty in data, scant/incomplete data, and the variability of natural materials.
  • I want students to be able, given a hydrogeologic problem/issue to determine what data are necessary to address the issue, how to acquire and interpret the data, how to recognize likely errors in data collection and interpretation, and how to quantify the uncertainty in the "answer".
  • I want students to be able to design a field experiment to address a hydrogeologic question (e.g., how would you characterize a site with a contaminated spring?).
  • I want students to be able to evaluate data collection practices in terms of ethics.
    • I want students to be able to formulate a question/problem and identify and assess data that would be required to answer that question and estimate the uncertainly of the answers.
    • I want students to be able to determine the type(s) of measurements that should be made, how to make those measurements, and how to calculate hydrogeologic parameters to solve a problem.
    • I want students to be able to design a study and gather data to predict how future (or past) "disturbances" may alter hydrologic systems.
    • I want students to be able to construct and justify a "best" hypothesis concerning a local hydrologic problem.
    • I want students to be able to analyze data, interpret results, and solve real-world practical problems in hydrogeology.
    • I want students to be able to develop a plan of action to address a hydrologic question.
    • I want students to be able to identify, compile, and interpret the necessary hydrogeologic data and apply appropriate hydrogeologic tools and methods (analytical solutions, etc.) to solve an unfamiliar (new) hydrogeologic problem.
    • I want students to be able to collect hydrogeologic data and interpret its significance, making connections and drawing appropriate conclusions.

Goal involving solving an integrated, complex problem with multiple data sets

  • I want students to be able to interpret basic hydrological processes such as groundwater flow, water quality issues, water balance and budget at a specific site at local and regional scales based on available geological maps and data sets.

Goal related to water supply/demand

  • I want students to be able to plan and carry out a water supply and water demand analysis for an unfamiliar area.

Goals related to groundwater maps and cross sections

  • I want students to be able to evaluate hydrogeologic test data and correlate those data with subsurface geology.
  • I want students to be able to analyze cross sections for how contaminants will move.

Goals related to groundwater flow

  • I want students to be able to predict the effect of heterogeneity on groundwater flow patterns in a new (unfamiliar) setting.
  • I want students to be able to understand the concept to hydraulic conductivity sufficiently to be able to construct a water table map and interpret the basic physics of groundwater flow based on a water table map.
  • I want students to be able to collect data in the field and determine the groundwater flow direction and evaluate why and how water quality changes from recharge to discharge areas.
  • I want students to be able to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation to determine the time it would take for water to move from point A to point B given geology, flow direction, etc.
  • I want students to be able to determine the three dimensional geometry of an aquifer system and predict how the geometry influences aquifer flow/dynamics.
    • I want students to be able to take water table and piezometer data and interpret groundwater dynamics.
    • I want students to be able to collect groundwater elevation data, construct a groundwater contour map, and determine direction of flow.
    • I want students to be able to calculate groundwater flow directions and rates and know whether the rates are reasonable.
    • I want students to be able to predict groundwater flow direction from field data collected on water level and/or surface water features.
    • I want students to be able to take structural maps plus a couple of water head points and their knowledge of contaminant processes to draw a map of the future extent of a gasoline plume.
    • I want students to be able to characterize flow directions, chemistry, etc. when presented with a new field site.
    • I want students to be able to quantify K, A, I, and Q and apply Darcy's Law to solve real-world problems.
    • I want students to be able to develop simple flow models that demonstrate understanding of boundary and initial conditions, given the hydrogeology.
    • I want students to be able to predict rate and direction of groundwater flow and to justify assumptions.
    • I want students to be able synthesize geologic and hydrologic data to characterize regional/local flow.
    • I want students to be able to predict approximate groundwater flow direction, volumetric discharge, and velocity given borehole data and water level data.

Goals related to developing conceptual models

  • I want students to be able to conceptualize the geology/hydrogeology of a particular area in three dimensions and be able to predict the effects on a system when changes are imposed on it (e.g., what pumping a well will do to the groundwater table and low, where and how fast a contaminant substance will migrate).
  • I want students to be able to make inferences and develop a conceptual model of flow based on field observations.
  • I want students to be able to develop a conceptual model that solves a problem and use appropriate mathematical relations to quantify the solution.
  • I want students to be able to build numerical and analytical models to test conceptual models.
    • I want students to be able to ask the right questions in order to create a conceptual model of an area. This includes knowing what kind of field data to collect and being able to critique data quality.
    • I want students to be able to construct a conceptual model of groundwater flow within an aquifer system given basic geologic and hydrologic data.
    • I want students to be able to formulate a conceptual model to explain what is happening vis a vis hydrogeology/water resources at a new/unfamiliar site.
    • I want students to be able to interpret field data and develop conceptual models.
    • I want students to be able to develop a simple hydrogeological conceptual model for a study area.
    • I want students to develop an intuition for controls on groundwater flow and contaminant transport and apply it to the development or evaluation of conceptual models of aquifer systems.

Goals related to water budgets

  • I want student to be able to use real world data to develop a water budget for an unfamiliar basins.
  • I want students to be able to estimate components of the water budget and evaluate the budget for an unfamiliar setting.

Goal related to groundwater chemistry

  • I want students to be able to interpret groundwater chemical data and correlate the geology with the groundwater chemistry.

Goal related to surface water

  • I want students to be able to predict stream response to storm events in an unfamiliar basin.

Goals involving using hydrogeology in decision-making

  • I want students to be able to evaluate the consequences at various scales of using groundwater: 1) local/physical changes (e.g., changes in flow), 2) ecosystem changes (e.g., changes in groundwater/surface water interactions), and 3) political/social issues (e.g., water rights).
    • I want students to be able to apply the principles of hydrogeology to discern the environmental impacts of a proposed spring water bottling plant.
    • I want students to be able to develop a plan for building a new water supply.
    • I want students to be able to provide an honest assessment of a hydrologic problem or issue that is directly relevant to either themselves or their families. Depending on the issue, "assessment" might include investigation, testing, prediction of fluid flow paths, etc., or analysis of veracity of reports, if the issue is politically hot. The idea is to connect hydrogeology directly to the student's life.

Goal related to connections with other disciplines

  • I want students to be able to evaluate ways in which water influences various geologic processes (weathering, tectonics, etc.).

Goals involving communication skills and self-teaching skills

  • I want students to be able to hold an intelligent give-and-take conversation with a professional hydrogeologist about that's person's current project.
  • I want students to be able to critically review journal articles.
    • I want students to be able to communicate hydrogeologic principles using everyday language.
    • I want students to be able to think on their feet.

Other goals

  • I want students to be able to identify interconnections in systems and to predict how changes in one part of the system will influence other parts of the system.
  • I want students to be able to pass the hydrogeology part of the ASBOG test.