Ellen Cowan

Appalachian State University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


This course includes a study of the nature of landforms. Qualitative and quantitative aspects of landform analysis in the field and laboratory using maps and aerial photographs are introduced.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an upper-level elective course for geology majors or minors with prerequisites of introductory geology or geography. It is a required course for Earth Science Teaching. The course has a required weekly 3-hour laboratory and a required weekend field trip. Many laboratories are field based.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to formulate multiple working hypotheses for a field problem and know how to evaluate data to select the best one.
Students should be able to group landforms into landscapes and predict the major processes that are at work.
Students should be able to analyze landscape change and identify ways that this change can be measured.
Students should be able to interpret the major processes at work in a southern Appalachian mountain landscape from topographic maps and aerial photographs.

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

Students participate in a group project developing multiple working hypotheses for formation of rock weathering pits at a site along the Blue Ridge Parkway. They collect data and interpret it to confirm or rule out hypotheses. Students write a library research paper on a landform of their choice and describe the processes that form it. Field trips during the laboratory focus on landforms in the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

Skills Goals

Working in groups is an important skill developed in laboratory exercises.
Laboratory exercises focus on students quantitative abilities. Students focus on writing in term papers and laboratory write ups.

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

Students work in 3-person groups that I select. They prepare a group report and make a presentation to the class.
Students turn in laboratory exercises with calculations that are graded.
Students are guided through library research and writing in Geomorphology on a topic that interests them.

Attitudinal Goals

Increasing student awareness of the processes that are active around us.
Increasing student interest in global scale processes and landscapes.

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

Through laboratory we explore the local environment and in lecture we focus on global geomorphology.


Students write 3 essay exams worth 60% of the student assessment. Laboratory Exercises and quizzes count for 20%, Library research paper counts for 10% and class participation (including the weekend field trip) is 10%.