General Geology

Rachel Teasdale
, California State University - Chico


General Geology at CSU Chico is an introduction to physical geology in which students learn about the origin of the earth, rocks and minerals, development of geologic landforms and processes. The lab component of this course includes hands on activities to explore these topics.

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 is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course with no pre-requisites, typically completed to satisfy the general education requirement in physical sciences with a lab. Most students are not Geology majors, but each semester a few students from this course decide to declare Geology as their major. Generally, most students are non-science majors.

In your department, do majors and non-majors take separate introductory courses? yes
Majors are encouraged to take a separate introductory course, along with science majors. Topics covered in the majors and non-majors courses are the same. The same book is used for both courses and lab schedules are the same, but the science majors' course has one extra hour of lab (3 hours instead of 2 hours) each week.
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:

General Geology covers traditional introductory geology concepts, including lectures and lab activities on the origin of the earth, rock and mineral sample ID, geologic and topographic maps, stream flow and groundwater processes, earthquakes and plate tectonics. Students are in the field on four occasions, twice on campus and twice on local field trips during the two hour lab period.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to identify rocks and minerals, use a variety of geologic and topographic maps to describe the geology and basic geomorphology of a mapped area, and will improve their quantitative skills through activities on geologic time, rates of surficial processes, etc.

Course Features:

Lecture and lab activities are scheduled to interweave content (lecture) and hands-on experiences (lab) so that students understand concepts in context. Each week new lab activities build from students' previous experiences (in lecture, previous labs, or real-world experience) to build their knowledge and understanding of processes explored. One recurring project has students monitor physical stream flow processes throughout the semester, then synthesize that data plus data collected from previous semesters to track changes in flow properties.

Course Philosophy:

The recurring stream flow processes activities were designed to help students understand Big Chico Creek which flows through town, recreational areas, and campus. Revisiting data and multiple data collection opportunities serve to reinforce the activity and build on prior knowledge, while students build on their quantitative skills.


Lab activities and discussions serve as informal formative evaluations. A traditional final lab exam is used as summative evaluation.

References and Notes:

Texts are selected each semester, largely based on readability, clarity of graphics and support materials for students. Recent text have been Marshak or Reynolds.

The lab manual is written in-house. We can make major and minor modifications based on experiences each semester and can change lab topics as needed (per instructor, materials, scheduling). Labs are also focused on local geology, including field trips and on-campus activities.