Initial Publication Date: December 9, 2016

Vince Cronin: Using GPS, Strain, and Earthquakes in Structural Geology at Baylor University

About this Course

The majority of the students are junior and senior geology majors. I also have some engineering students with strong math but limited geological knowledge.

Three 50-minute lectures; One 2.75-hour lab
each week
Research University

Cronin Structural Geology (GEOL3445) syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 227kB Nov23 16)

A Success Story in Using Real GPS Data with Students

I proposed developing this module because I wanted to change from emphasizing finite (deformed trilobites) to infinitesimal strain in my structural geology course. I also wanted to give the students a useful skill involving the ability to use freely available data from the Web. Through coordination by UNAVCO, we partnered with GPS research scientists at the University of Nevada—Reno to ensure that the math and technical components of the strain calculator are correct. Finally a clearer link to societal impacts from earthquakes was added when the materials were brought into the GETSI project.

Students get particularly excited when they learn that GPS deformation analyses are a recent and very much ongoing research area that most geology majors are not even studying yet. They are really tickled to know that they are learning frontier science and not something that has been in textbooks for ages. Learning about earthquakes from the position of research that could be helpful to societal planning empowers them to think about geology in a much more active way. They seem motivated to want to do things to make geohazards more manageable. They were very interested to see the link between GPS measurements of strain in the crust and tangible features like faults and folds that seem to be the product or physical manifestation of the strain that they computed. And where those faults pass through population centers, they came to understand the growing threat faced by the people of those communities.

Students see, understand, and get excited about using real data, the same as geoscientists use, to learn how a wide swatch of the continent deforms and causes earthquake hazards.

My Experience Teaching with GETSI Materials

I pretty much used the materials as they are presented, although not in exactly the same order.

Relationship of GETSI Materials to my Course

I teach a semester-long course in structural geology. I have taught this module in somewhat different versions over the last few years. I usually teach it in the first half or even almost the first thing in the course. I introduce some math concepts before the main module; it is math that I use in the module and throughout the course. Addressing strain in Units 1–4 takes a bit over a week rather than just one week that I used to devote to strain, but I feel that the time is well spent. The Unit 6 final project is in addition to that time, but takes the place of another final project/capstone project that we did on different topics before. I do Unit 5 later in the course to add to my usual teaching about faulting.


Unit 6 is the summative assessment. At first students seemed fairly terrified by Unit 6 as their first experience in "doing research." In the end, however, they seemed to feel that it was a beneficial experience and were glad for the chance. The students were pretty enthusiastic about using their newly developed tool for measuring crustal strain in Unit 5 (after Unit 6 actually), showing that their overall view on the GPS analysis was positive.


The students overall performed fairly well. It has certainly helped to have multiple years to hone and refine the module materials. I feel as if we have pitched the materials at the correct level for undergraduate structural geology students. The module is technically ambitious but achievable. It also serves as a ramp up to possible further work in geodesy in a bachelor's thesis or in graduate school.