NASC130 - Principles of Geology

Liane M. Stevens
, Bentley College


Introduces the basic principles of geology. Topics covered include the origin of Earth; the classification and origin of the minerals and rocks composing Earth; discussion of geologic features and processes such as volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics, and the sculpture of Earth's surface by erosion and deposition; and the concept of geologic time.

Course Type: Intro Level:Physical Geology Intro Level
Course Size:

Course Format:
Students enroll in one course that includes both lecture and lab. The lecture and the lab are both taught by the professor.

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This an introductory geology course at a (primarily) undergraduate business college. All students are required to take one four-credit introductory laboratory science course (astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, or physics) and one elective math or science course. This course serves as a potential prerequisite to most elective science courses. The majority of students take this course to fill a requirement. There is no major in geology or geosciences. Students may elect "Earth, Environment & Global Sustainability" as a Liberal Studies Major, which requires a broad selection of courses from Arts & Sciences departments and Business departments.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? no

If students take a "non-majors" course, and then decide to become a major, do they have to go back and take an additional introductory course? no

Course Content:

This course covers typical introductory topics in Geology (minerals and rocks, plate tectonics, geologic time, deformation, etc.). Students have 13 lab experiences during the semester - including 5 mineral and rock identification labs. Additional labs focus on map skills and critical thinking skills. Students have one campus field experience, which feeds in to the current course project - mapping the campus in Google Earth.

Course Goals:

Students are given course goals relating to knowledge, skills, and perspectives. A complete listing is also found in my syllabus.

Knowledge: Describe the origin of Earth and relate formation processes to Earth's current structure. Define and understand the chemistry of basic mineral structures; relate the arrangement of the SiO tetrahedron to the physical properties of silicate minerals. Label a plate tectonic cross-section with reference to Earth's layers, mantle processes, tectonic forces, igneous processes and volcanic landforms, metamorphic processes, and deformation; describe evidence for plate tectonic theory; comprehend the unifying aspects of plate tectonic theory. Know the mantle processes related to the production of magma; relate magma production processes to the tectonic setting of igneous rocks, volcanic processes, and volcanic landforms. Relate sediment characteristics to the processes of the sedimentary cycle and to sedimentary environment. Describe the evolution of stream characteristics along a longitudinal profile and through time. Label a hydrogeologic cross-section and classify water sources according to FDA standards for bottled water; assess bottled water labels for geologic meaning. Know the principles used to determine relative geologic age; use these principles to interpret geologic cross sections. Know and comprehend the variables of the radiometric age equation and their significance in the determination of absolute geologic age. Apply principles of relative and absolute geologic time to comprehension of the depth of geologic time. Apply understanding of geologic materials and processes to the interpretation of regional geologic history and the geology of the Bentley campus. Relate tectonic forces to deformation processes and strain (faults and folds); categorize faults and folds by geometry and geologic significance; relate deformation to orogenic characteristics. Describe the earthquake cycle; compare and contrast earthquake magnitude and intensity; describe seismic waves; analyze seismic waves for information on epicenter; describe the use of seismic waves in the study of Earth's interior.

Skills: Master and apply the skills required to accurately observe and identify geologic materials (rocks and minerals). Interpretation of geologic and topographic map data; relate topography to geologic characteristics and landforms. Development of skills applicable to laboratory exercises: critical thinking, quantitative analysis, effective collaboration, and problem-solving capabilities. Application of geologic knowledge and use of appropriate equipment in the development and completion of original investigative research.

Perspective: Appreciation for the beauty and intricacies of geologic materials, processes, and landforms. Appreciation of the interconnectedness of natural processes and human activities.

Course Features:

The structure of the course allows for weekly labs to reinforce lecture topics - putting concepts and skills into practice immediately. Students take occasional "Quick Quizzes" designed to evaluate retention and understanding of primary lecture topics. The current course project is the investigation and written description of a geologic feature on campus, and creation of a Google Earth placemark (including text and photographs). This project is undertaken in three-four shorter assignments, and is designed to reinforce primary skills (mineral identification, observation, etc.) and connect course topics (rock cycle, deformation, glaciation, regional geology, etc.) with "reality"

Course Philosophy:

My students are business students, and many begin the course with limited knowledge of geosciences and some degree of discomfort in regards to science. This course design covers a broad range of topics at an appropriate pace and depth. Students are kept focused on the course through weekly assignments and a variety of class formats. There are multiple opportunities for students to earn grades (labs, quizzes, projects, exams) - such that no one assessment carries too much weight. Connections between lecture, lab, and other assignments reinforce concepts and are helpful for students with varied learning styles. Finally, the course assignment connects abstract topics with a realistic experience. Students also learn skills with Google Earth presentations, which may be concretely useful in their business lives.


Students are assessed throughout the semester via lab assignments and Quick Quizzes. These assignments are a first step in evaluating students' progress. These assignments also key in evaluating the development of skills that are not assessed on a final exam. As of this semester, students take a midterm exam and (non-cumulative) final exam.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 285kB May7 08)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Course text: Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology by Tarbuck & Lutgens, 9th edition
We require a textbook that is straightforward and clear. Some of the "essentials" texts for nonmajors are too simplified; this textbook provides a better balance. Additionally, we find that the figures in this textbook are clear, attractive, and relatively accurate.

We have ceased using a lab manual to reduce the textbook costs for students - particularly as students are not destined for future science courses. Additionally, we found that we were modifying manual exercises to such a degree that it was hardly worth the purchase. We now write our own exercises.
Students are required to read a weekly pre-lab document that introduces and/or reinforces concepts critical to the week's lab assignment. These assignments are written by the professor and posted on Blackboard.