Structural Geoloy

Elizabeth Goeke

Salem State University
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Structural Geology course that focused on how theoretical knowledge of the brittle and ductile behavior of a wide-range of geological materials can be applied to real-world problems.

Course URL:
Subject: Geoscience:Geology:Structural Geology
Resource Type: Course Information
Theme: Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Structural Geology
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

Upper-division class designed for students who were in their junior / senior year and had completed Mineralogy, Structural Geology, Sedimentology / Stratigraphy, and Geomorphology. Course taught during spring semester in Minnesota, so field trips were limited to post-snow at the end of the semester. Professional papers read each week were chosen to highlight application of the theory learned during that portion of the course. In-class labs were also focused on applying theory to real-world problems. Two hours of lecture, one hour of paper discussion, and three hours of lab. Three weekend field trips were required.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to complete a structural analysis of a new region that includes the ability to:
  • recognize a structural problem
  • identify & collect appropriate data to address the problem
  • apply appropriate analytical techniques to the data
  • interpret the data & analysis
  • be able to discuss the wider tectonic implications of the problem

The techniques that the students should be comfortable with include:
  • interpretation of geologic maps
  • construction of complex cross-sections
  • stereonet manipulation
  • Mohr circles
  • identification of microstructures in thin section
  • identification of rocks, primary vs. secondary structures, and field relationships

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

I realize that my first list of goals is ambitious, but I feel that by this point in the student's education that they need to be working towards integrating material from across their wide diversity of classes and learning how to apply it to real problems.
I feel I address my goals in three ways:
  1. I include discussion of one professional paper per week that deals with a specific technique or theory that is the topic at that point in the semester. The paper discussion includes having the students identify what was the geological problem addressed; what methods were chosen for study & why; how are the data, analysis and interpretation related; and what is another area / question that should be tackled based on what you learned from this paper. I feel the focus on other's research helps the student learn how geologists think.
  2. the labs are designed to lead the student's through the thought process of IDing a problem, what are the appropriate ways to tackle the problem, and then doing the data collection and analysis. As the semester progressed, the instructor provided instructions decrease so that the lab final is posed as "tell me the geological history of the region" and the students determine what data & analysis is needed and how to interpret it as a group.
  3. to emphasize mastery of techniques, once a specific method is introduced in the class it is used in the majority of the subsequent labs and exams

Skills Goals

  • being comfortable reading and interpreting geologic literature
  • basic analysis of public news stories regarding geologic topics

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

I've discussed how I integrate the geologic literature into my class above. The basic assessment is whether or not students participate in discussions, contribute meaningful questions or comments regarding the paper in question, and whether or not the students approach the discussion with interest.

Every week the students were required to find two articles about the same geologic story in the public news media. They summarized what was presented by the media and then used their previous geologic education to analyze whether or not the media report was accurate. Examples of errors identified by students included misinterpretation of climate data, a lack of understanding about what can be produced by different volcanoes, and how earthquakes are described. I assessed the success based on whether or not students managed to ID obvious errors (which they did).

Attitudinal Goals



I've moved to mainly using rubrics to grade exams, labs, and news summaries.
Paper discussions were assessed based on whether or not students participated.

If students understood how to apply techniques and the overarching themes of the class, I considered the course a success even if mistakes and errors existed here and there.


Syllabus for Structural Geology (Acrobat (PDF) 116kB Jun18 12)