Global tectonics

John Weber

Grand Valley State University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Global Tectonics is our capstone course. Half of the course is devoted to getting a handle on basic plate kinematics (which is not covered explicitly in any other courses). Half of the course explores topics that integrate material from other courses students have taken into a global and/or tectonics context.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Tectonics
Resource Type: Course Information
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Plate Tectonics
Course Size:


Course Context:

This is an upper-division seminar-style capstone course that has no exams, weekly homework and reading assignments, and a major term project, which is built progressively through the semester.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to DO plate tectonics in 2-D and 3-D and on a sphere. This involves solving kinematic problems and puzzles given incomplete and/or overdetermined data sets.

Students should be able to understand large-scale connections between ideas, data, concepts, etc. that was covered in a fragmentary way in earlier majors courses.

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

Goals are achieved through weekly homework sets, readings, and term projects which are graded, journaled, and discussed/presented in-class.

Skills Goals

Critical reading and thinking, and writing development.

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

Students have multiple opportunities to get the material covered. All homework sets are graded and done on white boards in-class. All readings are journaled. Term papers are peer-reviewed.

Attitudinal Goals

Helping students become critical thinkers and skeptical of over-simplified second-handed coverage of material.

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

We read, journal, and discuss a suite of excellent peer-review papers that treat in detail, many aspects of plate tectonics (and geodynamics) that were glossed over in their introductory geology courses. This helps students realize how over-simplification leads to misconception.


Graded homework, graded journals, graded term paper plus presentation.


GVSU Global Tectonics (GEO 495) syllabus (Microsoft Word 37kB May30 12)