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Advanced Field Geology

Stephen J Reynolds, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University at the Tempe Campus


This is a field-based course, taught during four weekends, spread out over the semester. Each trip generally visits a different locality in order to expose students to diverse types of geology, everything from studying Precambrian shear zones to Quaternary landscape evolution.

Course Type:
Upper Level:Structural Geology/Tectonics Sedimentology/Stratigraphy Upper Level

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lab only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This course is typically for students who have already taken field camp, but sometimes includes students who have not had a field class. It is an elective and is taught by different instructors from semester to semester, each with a different focus (e.g., general geology versus volcanology versus mineral deposits). A student can take the class as many times as they want, which allows students to gain a wealth of field experiences.

Course Content:

Advanced Field Geology covers all aspects of geology in the field. It covers typical skills involved in geologic field studies, such as rock descriptions, structural observations and measurements, note taking, and geologic mapping. Students make observations and derive interpretations, both in their notes and in a single-page abstract done after the field trip.

Course Goals:

The main goal of this course is to help students learn to think like a field geologist, visualize 3D geologic structures, and reconstruct geologic histories. As such, most activities are aimed toward these goals, with an emphasis on observations, interpretations, and note taking, including representing one's observations, questions, and thoughts with annotated sketches.

Course Features:

Each weekend trip is done without any background reading, and many trips are done to localities where the instructor has not previously done detailed field studies. In this way, the students do not have any preconceived notions and can see the instructor face a new problem, rather than a "canned" field trip. At the start of each trip, the entire class stays together in the field for several hours or more, while the instructor shares, with words, gestures, and annotated sketches, all the observations, thoughts, potential problems, possible strategies, different interpretations, etc. In this way, the instructor specifically models – in a metacognitive approach – the types of geologic reasoning that are required to solve field problems.

Course Philosophy:

The design of the course is aimed toward geologic reasoning, so that goal is addressed head-on, rather than hoping that appropriate reasoning strategies and skills arise simply on their own from students mapping an area.


At the end of the weekend, students turn in their notes and maps before they leave the trip. The notes are then graded within several days (usually) and returned to the students along with a rubric that identifies where they did well and where they need to improve. For most weekends, the notes are given the most weight because they can (i.e., should) explicitly express what a student is observing and thinking. Sketches usually account for at least 25% of the grade. After students receive their graded notes, they write a single-page abstract on some aspect of the field area, accompanied by at least one figure they construct. Each abstract must receive two peer reviews before it is turned in. The abstract is graded and marked with codes from a grammar rubric (to make grading faster but still clearly identify specific issues). The notes and maps usually count more than the abstracts.


Advanced Field Geology Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 25kB May17 12)

Teaching Materials:

Advanced Field Geology Notes-Map Rubric (Microsoft Word 35kB May17 12) Advanced Field Geology Abstract Rubric (Microsoft Word 35kB May17 12)

References and Notes: