Introduction to Geology

Sean Cornell, Geography and Earth Science, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania


The course covers basic concepts in geology and engages students in hands-on, learning activities integrated with lecture and field experiences. Small group lab activities (mineral identification, rock identification, topographic map analysis, plate tectonic exploration, military geology, etc.) are used to engage students in development of observational/descriptive skills, encourage scientific reasoning, and improve inferential and deductive reasoning skills.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

This class is a non-majors, general education course with 36 students in each class. Approximately 50% of the students are first year students, another 25% are teacher education majors, and the remainder are across the board. The course is not intended for majors, but often inspires a number of students to change majors into the program.

Course Content:

This class covers the majority of concepts pertinent to an introductory class. The majority of course content is focused on whole-earth systems, earth materials, and geohazards and their impact on the physical and human landscapes. The primary emphasis in all content modules is focused on how we know what we know (i.e. what data are collected to answer and support specific questions, what models are used, what is meant by consilience and how multiple lines of evidence are used to support development of hypotheses and eventually theories, etc).

All students are engaged in at least one field trip, if not two each semester. One is to a local river/stream adjacent to campus where meanders and bank erosion are consuming a portion of our athletic fields. Students are encouraged to revisit the site on their own on a periodic basis in order to investigate changes in the stream. Students who miss class, or inquire about extra credit are asked to profile the stream cross-section relative to a fixed point. These data are then added to a "monitoring" data set.

The other field trip is to investigate the Geology of the Cumberland Valley and Gettysburg Area and its impact on military strategy during the Civil War. This field trip introduces settlement geography as well as concepts of springs and groundwater supplies, soil development, differential weathering and erosion, and helps reinforce concepts of plate tectonics and structural geology (folding/faulting, rifting, etc.). Students are able to visualize features of different spatial scales in ways that are not possible from a textbook.



References and Notes: