Using Societally Relevant Problems to Engage Students in Structural Geology

Phillip Resor, Wesleyan University
Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College

Most students in structural geology courses do not go on to specialize in structural geology or tectonics and this course is likely to be the only significant experience that these students will have in the subjects. This single course is, therefore, a critical venue for 1) attracting students to structural geology and tectonics as potential areas of specialization, 2) relating these subjects to other specialties within the geosciences, and 3) preparing students to address problems of societal importance. By incorporating teaching resources that use authentic data sets applied to real-world problems we can address these three goals while also making the study of structural geology more relevant to students' interests and experiences.

Materials developed through the GETSI (GEodesy Tools for Societal Issues) Project provide relevant examples of this approach. For instance, the GPS, Strain, and Earthquakes Module introduces students to basic concepts of deformation and strain common to most structural geology courses through the analysis of continuous GPS data applied to earthquake hazards. We propose that much, if not all, of the content that is typically covered in a structural geology or tectonics course could be taught in a similar manner. Topics identified in Huntington and Klepeis (2017) Grand Challenge #5 (Meeting societal needs...) might provide a natural starting point for developing additional materials. For example, induced seismicity could provide a case study for the study of stress. Groundwater, energy, or mineral resources might provide a context for the topic of fault zones.

Ultimately, we envision the structural geology and tectonics community working together to develop a set of course resources that include all of the elements required to successfully implement data-driven, case-based explorations of societally relevant problems. These materials could be developed as adaptable, topical modules by teams of experts including tectonics researchers, faculty who teach structural geology, and geoscience education specialists.


Teaching Structural Geology and Tectonics