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


Lisa Ely

Central Washington University
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs


Geomorphology is the study of the earth's surface: the processes that shape the surface of the earth, as well as the forms and features created by these processes. Through lectures, labs, field trips and discussions we will investigate various geomorphic processes, such as weathering, mass movements, rivers, wind and glaciers, which are responsible for creating the enormous variety of landscape features on Earth. By understanding the processes involved, you will have the tools to begin to identify and interpret the 'hows and whys' of the landforms you see all around you.

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


Course Context:

This is an upper-division geomorphology course for students majoring in Geology, Environmental Geology, Earth Science Teaching, or Geography. Prerequisites are Introductory Physical Geology or Introductory Physical Geography. The course consists of four 1-hour lecture periods and one 3-hour laboratory session per week, and a required all-day field trip.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to:
-Construct a geomorphic map from aerial photographs, maps and field observations
-Understand the processes by which different soils form and use this knowledge to interpret and compare two soils in the field
-Assess the effects of climate and lithology on weathering and hillslope processes
-Formulate a research question to measure and analyze the relation between river hydraulics and channel pattern and dimension in the field
-Differentiate landforms from glacial, fluvial, eolian, karst, and tectonic processes on aerial photographs
-Assess the effects of past glaciers on the present landscape in the context of a field mapping project.

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

Most of the discipline-related goals are achieved by applying these concepts in short classroom exercises or, in most cases, in weekly 3-hour field or laboratory activities. The field and lab activities always involve students collecting and analyzing their own data. The students' accomplishment of these goals is assessed through written reports and exams.

Skills Goals

-Analyze and interpret field observations and measurements
-Design and carry out field experiments to test a hypothesis
-Critically read a scientific paper on a geomorphic process and summarize the main findings
-Conduct an original research project and present findings in written report and oral presentation

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

Students collect and analyze data during the weekly lab sessions, which start out as more structured assignments and develop toward more student-designed experiments as the term progresses. Pairs of students conduct an original research project of their own design, in which they submit a proposal, gather and analyze the data, and present a written and oral report of their findings. Assessment is based on their weekly reports as well as final project reports.


Student learning is assessed through a combination of written exams, formal written reports of field and laboratory investigations, in-class activities, and a written and oral presentation of a final original research project (conducted in pairs). I also conduct frequent, brief, in-class assessments. These usually take the form of pairs of students discussing a particular question or tackling a problem for 2-5 minutes, reporting their findings to the class as a whole, and writing their thoughts down to hand in. I look these over to assess the students' grasp of concepts and note attendance patterns for individual students, so that I can talk with students who are frequently absent or seem to be having difficulty with the material.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 26kB Apr25 08)

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