Susan Swanson

Beloit College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


This course focuses on the origin and development of landforms created by fluvial, glacial, and eolian processes. In addition, the relationships of landforms to underlying geologic structures and the history of geologic and climatic changes as recorded by surface features are explored. Landscapes and surface processes are analyzed using air photos and topographic maps as well as field-mapping techniques and geographic information systems.

Geomorphology is by nature an interdisciplinary science because the land surface is located at the interface of the earth's lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. As a result, this course aims to expand your knowledge of chemical and biological processes as well as geological processes that shape the earth's surface. Specifically, the purpose of the course is to study continental landforms and the fluvial, glacial, and eolian processes that form them. In addition, through both descriptive and quantitative analysis, the course will provide an understanding of the scales and rates at which the diversity of surface processes occur. This approach utilizes landscapes that are currently exposed to surface processes to reveal the geologic and climatic changes that have occurred as part of earth history.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is a 200-level geomorphology course with a prerequisite of an introductory geology course. The course has a three-hour laboratory and a required one-day field trip. The course is also writing intensive. It is often the second or third geology course for many of our majors. In addition to geology majors, environmental biology and anthropology majors often take the course.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to analyze an unfamiliar geologic setting and describe driving and resisting forces involved in forming the environment.

Students will be able to predict how current surficial processes and/or changes in surficial processes may alter a given geologic setting.

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

Many of the assignments in the course are related to two to three major projects. The projects are designed to mimic typical research or consulting activities in the field of geomorphology. Students often work individually on one aspect of the project, but then rely on each other to fill in information on other aspects of the project. Students are assessed throughout the course of the projects through milestones that address quality of data collection, preliminary data analysis, final data analysis and synthesis, and scientific writing.

Skills Goals

scientific writing
quantitative abilities

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

I use grading rubrics extensively in this course. The rubrics help provide feedback to students not only on their writing skills, but also on their data/results presentation in their final reports.

Individual lab and classroom activities are designed to help strengthen quantitative abilities.


I assess student learning through a midterm exam, a final exam, projects, and individual lab or classroom exercises. The exams are usually structured as three major questions with multiple parts. The students can select two of the three major questions. There are two to three major projects per term, as described above, and multiple individual lab or classroom assignments.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 188kB Apr25 08)