Structural Geology

Sarah Titus

Carleton College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


This is a pretty standard upper-level Structural Geology course.

Course URL:
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Course Context:

This is an upper-level course. Technically the only pre-requistite is one Introductory Geology course, but in practice the course is filled by junior and senior majors who have often had numerous courses in our Department.

Course Goals:

1. Students should be able to separate observation from interpretation, and understand and articulate why this distinction is important.
2. Students should have a firm grasp of the strengths and limitations of the fundamental principles of structural geology, including strain, stress, and rheology.
3. Students should be able to correlate regional structural patterns with the tectonic environments in which they form, with a particularly detailed understanding of the San Andreas fault system.
4. Students should understand how large-scale deformation is manifested at a range of smaller scales and, understand how to (carefully) make structural predictions at one scale based on observations at another scale.
5. Students will develop their critical thinking skills, their ability to write and speak effectively, and their three-dimensional thinking skills.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Weekly homework assignments address goal (1). The textbook, lecture, and basic content of the course address goal (2). The term-long project, described in more detail below, addresses goal (3). A field trip provides the practical experience for goals (3) and (4). Many in-class activities, known as skill puzzles, are used to address goal (5).

Skills Goals

The course is focused on being able to "speak like a geologist." To that end, there is a term-long project focused on the San Andreas fault system. Students read and discuss three papers during the term. They also read one paper carefully, and present the paper orally in a GSA-style talk, as if they were the author of the paper. (They typically come in costume.) Finally, for this project, they synthesize ideas that they heard from multiple talks into a short paper.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Discussing papers with peers is an important part of speaking like a geologist.
The talk is essentially speaking like a geologist.
The paper requires listening to other geologists speak in order to construct an argument.

These goals are assessed by grading discussion prep sheets, the talk, and the paper.


Most assessment is via grading. There is one long take-home exam, and multiple components of the term-long San Andreas fault project, in addition to laboratory exercises, homeworks, and formative, in-class assessment (e.g., skill puzzles).