Structural Geology

Jack Loveless

Smith College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Introductory structural geology

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an intermediate level course in structural geology, required for Geoscience majors (one of three tracks in our department; the other two are Environmental Geoscience and Geoscience Education, and this course is optional for those majors). The course follows a three-lecture, one-lab per week format.

Course Goals:

Evaluate the geometry of geologic structures

Use concepts of solid mechanics to interpret the kinematics and dynamics of geologic structure formation

Use graphical tools to compile and interpret structural data

Evaluate lithologic and structural patterns on geologic maps

Make primary observations in the field and using them to construct and test structural hypotheses

Integrate topics in structural geology and plate tectonics through survey of scientific literature

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

Lectures focus on geometric, kinematic, and mechanical analysis of geologic structures. Labs use maps, stereonets, and physical analogs to illustrate these concepts. Students lead discussion of four Geology papers spread throughout the semester, each of which integrates recent class topics with large-scale active tectonics. Field trips in the second half of the semester encourage small-group discussion of observations and interpretation of local structural history.

Take-home exams stress application of course concepts in interpreting the structural geology of various tectonic settings. Field trip concept sketches require students to concisely synthesize their observations and interpretations.

Skills Goals

Accessing and critically reading the geologic literature

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

A group of students is responsible for leading discussion of each Geology paper we read in the course, while the other students submit critical questions in advance to help frame the discussion.


Student preparation of critical questions about literature should illustrate their understanding of course concepts applied to a real-world study.

Field trip concept sketches allow students freedom in how they present their structural observations and interpretations. I encourage students to peer-review each other's sketches before submitting, and assess the assignments primarily in terms of how well the interpretations are supported by the observations.

I aim for take-home exams to require students to think about how course concepts can be used to explain the structural geology of various tectonic settings.


lovelessstructuralgeol (Acrobat (PDF) 113kB Jun18 12)