Initial Publication Date: October 2, 2017

Becca Walker: Using Surface Process Hazards in Physical Geology at Mt. San Antonio College

About this Course

Introductory-level. A mix of science majors and non-science majors.

physical geology syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 258kB Jul19 17)
We meet twice per week for 3 hours. The class is an integrated lecture/lab.

I teach a physical geology class with a diverse group of students with respect to academic background and major. We spend the majority of the semester working with rock and mineral identification, maps, and tectonics, but I wanted to incorporate more of a societal component into this particular course. The surface processes hazards module gave me the opportunity to help students consider the intersection between geologic phenomena and humans.

My students seemed to enjoy working with such a variety of maps and study areas. The collaborative nature of identifying landscape features and ranking areas' mass wasting susceptibility was a great opportunity for interaction, debate, and synthesis of a variety of data sets. They were quite engaged as they put their maps together for the Boulder Creek case study (Unit 5). The incorporation of human modification of the landscape and the implications for mass wasting vulnerability got them thinking about their own neighborhoods in southern California.

The module provided the opportunity to "read a landscape" and think qualitatively and quantitatively about why some areas are more prone to mass wasting than others. The decision-making necessary to complete some of the module activities gave students a sense of ownership of their products.

My Experience Teaching with GETSI Materials

Due to time constraints, I spent significantly less time on Unit 4 than I planned. Since I assigned Unit 5 as a final project, I did not offer any class time to complete Unit 5.

Relationship of GETSI Materials to my Course

I piloted the module during a 16-week semester during the last 2 weeks of the semester. Earlier in the semester, students had worked with topographic map reading and interpretation but had never looked at any of the other types of maps utilized in the surface processes module.


I used the majority of the formative and summative assessments offered in the Surface Process Hazards module during pilot testing. Some assessments were graded, while others were assessed informally to help me understand where student understanding was lacking. Here is an overview of what I did:
  • Unit 1: After students completed the discussion questions gallery walk, we had a brief group report-out at the end of the class meeting. I subsequently collected their written responses, picked out commonalities among responses, and reviewed the responses with students during their next class meeting.
  • Unit 2: With regard to formative assessment, I moved around the classroom during the landscape scavenger hunt and asked students to point out various landscape features to me as they were working. I also collected and graded the Yosemite exercise. For summative assessment purposes, I used the Level-1 question that asks students to match topographic profiles to topographic maps.
  • Unit 3: As described above in the unit-by-unit breakdown, I used numerous formative assessments during the introduction to Unit 3, all dealing with the quantitative work necessary to progress through Unit 3. I implemented the majority of these formative assessments as think-pair-shares to give every student the opportunity to grapple with the calculations. Upon the conclusion of the in-class component of Unit 3, students completed the Level-1 summative assessment question with a partner.
  • Unit 4: I collected the Oso landslide exercise and assessed their modification of Figure 6 and their answers to Question 9.
  • Unit 5: As described above in the unit-by-unit breakdown, I assigned Unit 5 as a final project. I collected student maps and written reports and used the rubric to assess their work.

Unit 5 Student Instructions for Final Hazard Map & Report PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 373kB Jun21 17)


Using the Surface Process Hazards module in my physical geology class was an effective way of infusing geodetic and geomorphic concepts into the curriculum, gave my students an opportunity to look more closely at landscape features than they had in the past, and provided a nice refresher of concepts related to topographic maps that they had studied earlier in the semester but had perhaps forgotten about. The continued emphasis of mass wasting's impact on society and the role of both environmental and built characteristics of landscapes on mass wasting potential was particularly interesting to students. The opportunity for students to investigate a variety of study areas and using the same types of data sets repeatedly increased their comfort with using topographic maps, hillshade maps, and aerial imagery. They seemed to enjoy the opportunity to discuss their interpretations with their colleagues, especially for the quantitative components of the module, and being given the opportunity to make choices as they worked on the module (examples: ranking particular areas as high/medium/low mass wasting susceptibility; choosing study areas on which to work). Despite their work on Units 1-4, I noticed that some students in creating their Unit 5 maps struggled to provide multiple lines of evidence to justify ranking a particular area in the study area as one of high, medium, or low mass wasting susceptibility. This was similar to what I observed during the landscape scavenger hunt in Unit 2, when students had a hard time taking multiple data sets into consideration at a time for a particular study area. In addition, I found that many students in creating their Unit 5 reports did not adequately address the role of society in mass wasting susceptibility or the impact of mass wasting events on society. These observations indicate the importance of giving students multiple opportunities to practice using multiple lines of evidence to support their conclusions and incorporating more writing and critical analysis of humans and the environment into geoscience curricula. I am looking forward to using what I have learned through pilot testing of the Surface Process Hazards module and continue using it effectively in my courses.