Physical Geology

Michael Kimberley
, North Carolina State University


This is a traditional introductory science course that is designed to fulfill a science requirement within the general education requirements at a large (30,000-student) state university.

Course URL:
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 an introductory course with no pre-requisites but it does serve as a prerequisite for several other courses. Typically, 70% of the students take the course to satisfy a general education requirement. The course has an optional lab but most students must take the lab to meet their science requirement. Students who decide to major in geology may use this as a prerequisite for several higher-level courses.

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 focuses on classical geology but includes topics in oceanography, meteorology, and planetary science. About half the students choose to write essays about their encounters with with renowned geologists on Sunday afternoons whereas the other half choose to answer multiple-choice questions for their homework.

Course Goals:

Students become better able to appreciate geologic news. This includes all media that relate geologic news to the public. Students become better travelers because they become familiar with the metric system and because they learn more geography, as well as more geology.

Course Features:

The half of the class that chooses to write essays based on Sunday-afternoon discussions gets a lot of attention because each essay is read carefully and the grader's comments become recorded in a Blackboard (Vista) system . Given about 5000 essays per year in this course, this amounts to an enormous amount of interaction with the students. The other half of the class sees only multiple-choice questions for both their homework and their exams. It is frankly questionable how much they benefit from that type of interaction.

Course Philosophy:

I teach about 1500 students per year and have never had a TA except for essay grading. Given this level of responsibility, I have had to learn how to write my own Java applets and handle all available commercial software with some dexterity. Nonetheless, I offer students a lot of choice because I am confident that I can keep track of them through the programs that I have designed.


All grading is keyed to the class average. Given 1500 students per year, the class average is obviously statistically significant.


Syllabus (Microsoft Word 84kB Jul11 08)

Teaching Materials:

optional text (Acrobat (PDF) 29.2MB Jul11 08) optional text (Acrobat (PDF) 25.5MB Jul11 08)

References and Notes:

Course texts:
Skinner, B.J., Porter, S.C., and Park, J., 2004, Dynamic Earth: Wiley & Sons
I have worked with Wiley for 30 years. They have published half-a-dozen books for me. The foregoing book may be obtained very inexpensively on the Web and I do not see any big advantage in vastly-more-expensive books.
We have a home-made lab manual that explains local geology and our particular field trips.

Other readings:
The half of the class that chooses to write essays is asked to write in dialogue format. This gets around the possibility of plagiarism. We suggest some optional books that demonstrate such a dialogue format, e.g., Kimberley, M.M., 2008, Discussing Earth: Wiley & Sons, 356 p.

Pedagogic References:
I have had the good fortune to work with brilliant instructors such as Tuzo Wilson and Dick Holland. I learned a lot from people like this.