Paper: "Limitations and Hazards to Home Construction"

Rich Whittecar
Old Dominion University
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This is a semester-long writing project that incorporates exercises completed during first two thirds of the term. Students evaluate geomorphic conditions and potential hazards on one of four properties in western Virginia. The writing effort focuses upon broad-scale logical organization of sections and the entire paper.

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Upper-division course for undergraduate majors and minors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

College-level writing skills; basics of tectonic and fluvial geomorphology, mass movements, soil/hillside and stream hydrology

How the activity is situated in the course

Students evaluate a real property with strong relief by using soil maps, topographic maps, and regional geologic maps. During the first two-thirds of the semester, they develop some of the illustrations and captions needed for the report (e.g. expansive-soil maps; hydrographs) while we discuss that course topic. Writing the final report forces students to put together the pieces logically.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

1. Interpret the landforms and soils of a specified area in order to predict the properties of the materials in the shallow subsurface.
2. Become acquainted with sources of geomorphic information available in electronic and printed media, specifically U.S.G.S. hydrologic records and publications, N.R.C.S. Soil Surveys, aerial images from U.S.G.S. and Google Earth, VDMR geologic maps, and other journals and books in the library.
3. Assess the environmental hazards that exist at this site.
4. Practice writing a scientific report using a specified format and style of referencing.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students must analyze several types of data from maps, reports, and graphs, and synthesize and explain the information for non-specialists, and generate a text clearly organized by paragraph, section, and whole report.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students must use specific web sites and extract data and images, use graphics packages to manipulate those data and images and prepare them as illustrations, and organize and explain their information at several logical scales.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are assigned a client who has an option to buy a very large tract of land in western Virginia. On this land she plans to build a large residence with a scenic view, a full basement, a septic system, and a paved driveway for access. For that site, students must use maps, aerial images, and soil survey reports to evaluate the geologic setting and the geomorphic processes, both active and ancient. Their goal is to warn the client of problems and alert her to resources on the property.
Designed for a geomorphology course
Has minimal/no quantitative component
Uses geomorphology to solve problems in other fields

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete assignments throughout the semester that permit feedback on content and writing. In preparation for the final report, students prepare a detailed outline and then a first draft of the first two sections; these are reviewed in 1-on-1 sessions. The final report is graded according stated guidelines.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Libre Map Project (topo pams):
Web Soil Survey:
Streamflow Data for Virginia: