Christopher Berg: GEOL 1121 (Physical Geology) at the University of West Georgia

About this Course

An introductory course for non-majors.

Two 75 minute lecture sessions per week

Course Syllabus - Fall 2016 (Acrobat (PDF) 49kB Jul5 17)

Revising a Course with InTeGrate Materials

My course is a 16-week introductory geology lecture course that is taught in a traditional classroom / lecture hall setting. Before taking part in this project, I had been dissatisfied with the level of student engagement and interest in the material, and I was seeking ways to make geologic concepts more immersive and relevant to my students, for whom this class could be their only exposure to the geosciences. As part of this course revision, I replaced approximately half of my traditional lecture content with InteGrate modules and units. I found that by incorporating the student materials into a course packet, integrating readings and assignments into my online CMS, and using in-class polling techniques, I could successfully adapt most of the activities to my large-lecture (70-110 seat) classroom setting. Students gained an appreciation for the natural resources our society depends upon (mineral, water, energy) that they previously took for granted, and the challenges related to preparing for and mitigating natural hazard threats and their wide-reaching impacts.

The modules and activities implemented in this course redesign opened students' eyes to the issues of sustainability and resource management within the context of physical geology, both within their own community and as global concerns. These materials grabbed their attention in ways that the more traditional approach could not.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

I found that the students, once they got used to the fact that they were responsible for analyzing the data and making their own interpretations and drawing their own conclusions (and not the instructor), really enjoyed the active-learning tasks. Many of the student comments I received on my course evaluations indicated that they had a new perspective on the issues related to resource availability and natural hazards, and how events on the other side of the world could truly impact their daily lives. The modules and activities are flexible and can be easily modified to fit the context of the specific class and its needs. Whenever possible, I modified pre-class and post-class assignments as self-grading quizzes or open discussions on my CMS platform. Most handouts were included in a course packet that was made available to students.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

The 16-week course was heavily modified by incorporation of module activities: general rock cycle principles were incorporated into the Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources module; content related plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, ocean crust, deformation and mountain building were merged with the Living on the Edge module; portions of other modules were used to supplement content related to weathering, rivers and streams, groundwater, and shoreline processes.


I found that the workload suggested by the authors of the modules was generally not realistic for the sheer number of students in the classroom. The students quickly realized that the workload seemed to be much higher in this section than in other sections of the same course, let alone other general education science course offerings. With over 100 students enrolled, and one undergraduate assistant in the classroom, grading open-ended writing assignments fairly and efficiently was a major challenge. As a result, I sought ways to condense and reduce the assignments that students were required to complete. Pre-class assignments were converted to auto-graded multiple choice quizzes administered in the online CMS prior to class. In-class worksheets were collected for participation grades on the basis of completeness. To assess student knowledge and skills, I created short polling-style quizzes that were completed in class; students were also asked to write minute-paper reflections at the end of each class period.


This course is a general-education science course taken mostly by non-majors; in addition to potentially serving as a recruitment tool for new majors, one goal that I had for this course revision was to instill more of a sense of the relevance of the geosciences in the daily lives of all of the students in the class. With respect to this goal, I was quite pleased with how the students developed a more thorough understanding of the processes and forces that shape our world, and how these geologic principles directly influence aspects of our social, economic, and political spheres across multiple scales. The activities provide immersive, relevant case studies and examples to model scientific thinking and decision-making.