Introduction to Geology

, Arizona State University


This course provides an introduction to geology, emphasizing geologic processes and concepts, investigating geologic questions, and observation of landscapes.

Course Type: Intro Level Physical Geology
Course Size:
greater than 150

Course Format:
Students enroll in separate lecture and lab components. The lecture is taught by the professor and the lab is taught by TAs.

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is a 100-level, general studies-type course, taken by diverse students, including majors in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (including geologists). Nearly 2500 students take this class each year at ASU, and most also take the lab. This satisfies the physical geology requirement for our majors, but we also teach introductory integrated geology-astronomy-engineering courses that also serve as a pathway into the major.

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:

It covers most standard physical geology topics, but places a higher emphasis on observing, interpreting, and problem solving and less emphasis on terminology.

Course Goals:

(1) Students will NOT be turned off to science;
(2) Students will be better able how to observe and think about landscapes and other aspects of Earth;
(3) Students will better understand the relevance of geology to their local geologic setting and the larger societal issues, like resources;
(4) Students will understand main geologic concepts and demonstrate an ability to apply geologic concepts;
(5) Students will become more informed citizens and leave class with an interest in learning more.

Course Features:

Much time is spent in class having students observe geologic features and phenomena and having them solve authentic geologic problems. We rely heavily on the textbook, What-to-Know-List, and newly developed online content, rather than using class time to mainly tell students what is important.

Course Philosophy:

We designed the class toward all of our goals, rather than letting 95% of the class time be consumed by content delivery, as is typical of many such classes.


We use short, daily in-class exercises and quizzes (done with CPS), tri-weekly concept-sketch exercises, and chapter-ending investigations done online, in class, or as homework.


Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 26kB Jun25 08)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Exploring Geology, by Reynolds, Johnson, Kelly, Morin, and Carter
I wrote it specifically to free me and other instructors from simply delivering content, so we could address our other goals. Students can learn from this book on their own, an instructor can clearly indicate to the student what is important, and the book de-emphasizes terms, emphasizes process, and has inquiry embedded throughout it.

Lab manual: Observing and Interpreting Geology, Reynolds and others
We developed this lab manual and associated website at ASU to situate authentic learning around a place (a virtual world called Painted Canyon) and to put things in a Southwestern context. We've used it for over a decade with great results.

We heavily use Iview3D files and Google Earth, to provide students with interactive representations of geologic places and to give them an opportunity to observe and to explore ideas.

We have been very heavily influenced by cognitive and science-education research, and we try to have everything we do be consistent with the best documented educational principles and practices.