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Learning Objectives



The goal of the Geology undergraduate program is to equip students with the fundamental knowledge of the diverse fields of Geology (encompassing Geomorphology & Surface Processes, Hydrology & Low-Temperature Geochemistry, Sedimentology & Paleoecology, and Tectonics and Solid-Earth Processes).  In addition, it is critical that students learn to think like a scientist and to apply the scientific method in their coursework and in their lives.

NSF Summit on the Future of Geoscience Undergraduate Education

A working group behind the NSF-funded Summit on the Future of Geoscience Undergraduate Education has engaged a diverse spectrum of the geosciences academic and employer community in a comprehensive review of the skills, competencies, and conceptual understandings needed in geoscience undergraduate programs, the best methods of producing these learning outcomes, and how to best broaden, recruit and retain undergraduate geoscience students, especially underrepresented groups. One effort included a survey aimed at anyone in the geoscience community to offer their opinions on the priorities for improving undergraduate geoscience education.

The survey yielded 455 responses -- 78% from the academic community, 17% from industry representatives, 13% from government representatives, and 12% from representatives of professional societies and other organizations. The skills have been split into two groups: skills needed by any science professional and skills specifically needed by geoscience professionals in the workforce. The employer community provided more detail on the technical and non-technical skills needed and ways to develop these skills in students. (From American Geosciences Institute, 2015).

Critical Geoscience Skills

The following were all deemed to be very to somewhat important by the majority of respondents:

  1. Make inferences about Earth systems from observations of the natural world combined with experimentation and modeling.
  2. Readily solve problems, especially those requiring spatial and temporal (i.e. 3D & 4D) interpretation.
  3. Work with uncertainty, non-uniqueness, incompleteness, ambiguity, and indirect observations.
  4. Integrate data from different disciplines and apply systems thinking.
  5. Have strong field skills and a working knowledge of GIS.
  6. Have strong computational skills and the ability to manage and analyze large datasets.
  7. Be technologically versatile (i.e. be able to use Google Earth, tablets, smart phones, apps).

Critical Professional Scientist Skills

The following were all deemed to be very to somewhat important by the majority of respondents:

  1. Critical thinking/problem solving skills.
  2. Communicate effectively to scientists and non-scientists.
  3. Ability to access and integrate information from different sources and to continue to learn.

Geology Coursework

All Geology courses have developed sets of learning objectives that are intended to provide our students with the skill sets listed above. Student success in courses is gauged via traditional methods of examinations, homework and laboratory- and field-based projects.  Overall mastery of concepts is assessed by a senior capstone course that incorporates fundamental knowledge and skills acquired while participating in the undergraduate program, GEO 5200, Geology Field Camp.

In addition to the above overarching learning objectives, the following specific knowledge bases and skills are required.

Specific Geoscience Learning Objectives and Skills

  1. Interpret topographic maps and terrain models and create profiles.
  2. Interpret geologic maps and construct cross sections.
  3. Know the geologic time scale and place important geologic events in a temporal framework.
  4. Explain how and why the Earth has changed over time.
  5. Describe large-scale internal Earth processes and the features produced by them.
  6. Identify common fossils and their ages as well as the conditions under which they lived.
  7. Identify common rock-forming minerals.
  8. Infer environments of deposition of sedimentary rocks based on composition, texture and/or internal structures.
  9. Measure and create stratigraphic sections and three-dimensional facies diagrams.
  10. Identify common igneous and metamorphic rock types.
  11. Relate rock types to tectonic regimes.
  12. Distinguish between various structural features and determine the types of stress responsible for their formation.
  13. Use compasses, survey instruments, and images in geological investigations.
  14. Collect and evaluate three-dimensional geologic data and create geologic maps.
  15. Distinguish and describe various types of surficial deposits and make surficial geologic maps.
  16. Create and interpret graphs of quantitative data.
  17. Interpret geophysical measurements of subsurface properties.
  18. Communicate observations and interpretations in oral and written formats.

Learning Objectives Regarding Affiliated Sciences

  1. Apply basic principles of chemistry and physics to geologic topics.
  2. Show proficiency in the use of mathematics; apply algebraic, geometric, and calculus concepts in geoscientific problem-solving.


The learning objectives for the Geology major and Earth Science Composite Teaching (ESCT) major overlap considerably with some exceptions.  The field-based map-making skills of learning objectives #14 and #15 are not required for the ESCT major.  Neither is learning objective #17, interpreting geophysical measurements of subsurface properties.

Earth Science Composite Teaching majors must meet an additional set of learning objectives, which require the demonstration of competency in the latest and most effective teaching methods and in accessing and utilizing pedagogical resources.   This is accomplished through successful completion of the Secondary Teaching Education Program (STEP) including coursework, clinical experiences, portfolio preparation, and student teaching.

These Department of Geology objectives are in addition to the learning objectives of Utah State University's Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP):

  1. Students will maintain a minimum accumulative GPA of 2.75 and a grade of "C" or better in all courses that constitute the Profession Education Framework (course work from content major and minor departments as well as the secondary education coursework).
  2. Students will participate in on-campus teaching simulations as well as sixty (60) hours of clinical experiences in middle and high school settings preceding student teaching.
  3. Students will complete successfully a comprehensive professional portfolio demonstrating their understanding of the ten standards based on their course work and clinical experiences at Levels 1 and 2 before entering student teaching (Level 3).
  4. Students successfully will meet the requirements of secondary student teaching and for the professional seminar that accompanies this experience.