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Geosciences: Undergraduate Programs

Overview: 

The Geosciences undergraduate curriculum is designed to provide undergraduate geology majors with a strong foundation in physical sciences, mathematics, and core geological knowledge. In addition, our department has a long history of providing students with rich field and laboratory experiences, which are integral in preparation for careers in geological fields or graduate studies in geological sciences. We aim to produce graduates who are familiar with the process of scientific research, who are scientifically literate across many disciplines, who feel a connection to the scientific community, and feel a responsibility to promote scientific knowledge and the process of sound science.

The Department of Geosciences has three sub-plans that students can elect in order to complete a Bachelor of Science degree: Geology, Geophysics, and Earth Systems. Students must complete units from the geology core curriculum, in addition to elective and capstone courses designed to enhance their experience outside the classroom. All undergraduates are encouraged to participate in research experiences, the undergraduate geology club, and preceptorships.

In addition to those described above, the requirements for the Bachelor of Science geology concentration track include 3 units of computer science, 52 units in geosciences courses (including advisor approved emphasis courses), and 13 units of free electives. The requirements for the Bachelor of Science geophysics concentration track include 3 units of computer science, and 52 units in geosciences courses (including advisor approved emphasis courses). The requirements for the Bachelor of Science Earth Systems concentration track include 3 units of computer science or additional math, 4 units of biology, 19 units in geosciences courses, and 11 units in the Earth Systems distribution of geosciences courses (including advisor approved emphasis courses).

 

Expected Learning Outcomes: 

The undergraduate degree program in Geosciences is designed to give undergraduates a worldclass
experience in the geosciences during which they will develop discipline‐specific skills as well as
more general problem solving and professional skills. The undergraduate student learning outcomes for
our BS degree, adopted in November 2013 and revised February 2015, are:

1. Graduates will have a working knowledge of common Earth materials including their composition, origin, and uses. (Examples: working with/identifying rocks and minerals, soils, resources and economic geology topics.)

2. Graduates will understand Earth surface processes and how humans affect and are affected by the processes. (Examples, sedimentary systems, interaction of earth surface with oceans and atmosphere, geomorphological processes, climate and climate change, environmental geology.)

3. Graduates will understand processes in the Earth's interior. (Examples: the major geophysical and geochemical properties of the Earth's interior; their genesis and role in tectonics, earthquakes, magmatism, and other Earth properties).

4. Graduates will know the geologic time scale and major Earth events. (Examples: determining absolute and relative time, the major timescale divisions and geologic and biologic events in Earth history.)

5. Graduates will acquire specific skills required for the study and interpretation of geological materials, history, and features. (Examples: map reading, field methods and observations, analytical methods, quantitative methods).

6. Graduates will understand the scientific process (able to make observations and measurements, perform experiments, and able to formulate and test scientific hypotheses), including being able be to read and critically evaluate primary Earth science literature and data, and effectively communicate geologic information  both orally and in writing.

Assessment Activities: 

Students will gain the skills identified in the learning outcomes above within courses taken as part of the degree program. In November 2013 during its APR process the department identified 9 learning outcomes and where in our core courses or in a selection of upper division courseseach each learning outcome was either "Strongly Emphasized", "Emphasized", "Considered", or "Not Considered" (see attached November 2014 table below).   In February 2015 the department reduced/revised the number of learning outcomes to 6 and revised the table (see attached February 2015 table below). 

In academic year 2014-15 the department chose to concentrate on two learning outcomes (#2: Graduates will understand Earth surface processes and how humans affect and are affected by the processes, and #4:Graduates will know the geologic time scale and major Earth events.) and to begin collecting quantitative assessment data.  Three courses were identified that each "Strongly Emphasized" these two learning outcomes: Geos 251: Physical Geology, Geos 255: Historical Geology, and Geos 302: Principles of Stratigraphy and Sedimentation.  The current instructors of each course agreed to identify assessment activities, develop a rubric for scoring the assessment activity, and score and summarize the results of the assessment activity for one of the two learning outcomes (Geos 251 and Geos 302 worked on learning outcome #2 and Geos 255 worked on learning outcome #4).  In addition, all instructors scheduled to teach any of the three courses for the next two years agreed to continue the assessment activities when they taught the course.

In addition to the quantitative assessment activities for learning outcomes #2 and #4 initiated in academic year 2014-15, the department developed an online exit survey for graduating seniors as part of its effort to include both qualitiative and quantitative assessment activities for the undergraduate program.

In academic year 2015-16 the department will continue the qualitative exit survey and quatitiative assessment activities for learning outcomes #2 and #4, and choose one or two of the remaining learning outcomes and begin quantitative assessment activities in courses selected from the learning outcome matrix.  The four remaining learning outcomes are each "Strongly Emphasized" in at least four courses in the curriculum (see February 2015 Learning Outcomes table below).

Assessment Findings: 

The following question was asked as part of the final exam in Geos 251: Physical Geology - "List and discuss the major consequences of excessive groundwater withdrawal in southern Arizona. For full credit, you must list at least 3 consequences and discuss them in detail." to assess learning outcome #2 (Graduates will understand Earth surface processes and how humans affect and are affected by the processes.) to 77 students.  The following scoring rubric was used:

1 point per consequence identified (max. 3 points)
2 points per consequence discussed (max. 6 points)
          2 points = detailed and accurate discussion
          1 point = some discussion and/or moderate accuracy
          0 points -­‐ no discussion or inaccurate discussion
1 point for mastery of subject (i.e. more than 3 consequences, very detailed answers, well
              thought-­‐out responses, etc.)

One third (26) of the students scored a perfect 10/10 on the question, and the average score was 7.17  A document summarizing the results is attached below (Learning Outcome #2: Geos 251 Spring 2015 Results).

 

Assessment activities in Geos 302: Principles of Stratigraphy and Sedimentation were also carried out in Spring 2015.  The assessment activity was an assignment on identifying geology sequences and events in the geologic record (see assigment attached below: Geohistory.pdf).  The grading rubric is shown below:

Grading Rubric:

20 points are available for this assignment. The maximum points for each category are outlined below, with points subtracted for incorrect or incomplete responses.

  • 5 points are awarded for correct order of geologic events.

  • 5 points are awarded for correct interpretation of geologic processes responsible for creating the observed geologic relations.

  • 5 points are awarded for correct use of geologic time terms.

  • 3 points are awarded for correct use of magnetic, chemical, and orbital information to determine geologic time.

  • 2 points are awarded for appropriate writing style.

The average score for the class on the assessment instrument was 14.1/20, and 17.9/20 for those who completed the assessment.  Scores of the assessment activity are also plotted against final course score (see graphic attached below: Plot of Geos 302 Scores versus Course Score Spring 2015).

 

Assessment activities in Geos 255: Historical Geology were also carried out in Spring 2015.  There were two separate assessment instruments administered that addressed: 1); Learning Outcome 2 (Earth Surface Processes) and 2) Learning Outcome 4 (Geologic Time).  The instruments are attached below (Geologic Time Geos 255 Spring 2015 and Earth Surface Processes Geos 255 Spring 2015, respectively).  When results of analyzing the data are available they will be posted here.

 

The graduating senior exit survey covered 38 students graduating in May and August 2015.  Eleven students responded to this initial survey effort, for a 29% response rate.  The survey included six questions (the six student learning outcomes), in addition to demographic and other data. The questions and average response values follow:

“I have a working knowledge of common Earth materials including their composition, origin, and uses. (Examples: working with/identifying rocks and minerals, soils, resources and economic geology topics.)”

Average Response: 8.2/10

“I understand Earth surface processes and how humans affect and are affected by the processes. (Examples: sedimentary systems, interaction of earth surface with oceans and atmosphere, geomorphical processes, climate and climate change, environmental geology.)”

Average Response: 8.9/10

“I understand processes in the Earth's interior. (Examples: the major geophysical and geochemical properties of the Earth's interior; their genesis and role in tectonics, earthquakes, magmatism, and other Earth properties.)”

Average Response: 8.5/10

“I know the geologic time scale and major Earth events. (Examples: determining absolute and relative time, the major timescale divisions and geologic and biologic events in Earth history.)”

Average Response: 8.8/10

“I have skills required for the study and interpretation of geological materials, history, and features. (Examples: map reading, field methods and observation, analytical methods, quantitative methods.)”

Average Response: 8.5/10

“I can read and critically evaluate primary earth science literature and data, I can present geological information clearly in written and oral form, and I understand the process of scientific inquiry.”

Average Response: 9.1/10

 

The faculty will discuss the findings from the three courses and the graduatng senior exit survey at an early faculty meeting of the 2015-16 academic year.

Change in Response to Findings: 

Changes to program updates for July, 2017

Feedback from students and instructors led us to establish new prerequisite requirements for several Geos core classes. These include requiring first-semester physics for both Stratigraphy and Sedimentology (GEOS 302) and Structural Geology (GEOS 304), and requiring first-semester calculus for Geophysics (GEOS 322) and Petrology (GEOS 356).

In response to student input, we changed the name of the Earth Systems subplan to one that more accurately reflects its content and purpose: Earth, Oceans, and Climate. 

Peer teaching evaluations performed in required intro course GEOS 251 resulted in improved visual materials, incorporation of presentation of explicit learning objectives at the beginning and end of class, and increased instructor movement around the class room.​

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The department has a long history, before adoption of the formal student learning outcomes and associated assessment activities, of making changes in its undergraduate program in response to informal and formal feedback from faculty and students.  Some examples include:

1.  Introduction of an Earth System Science track among the BS opportunities to provide both greater flexibility for those declaring the major later and better integration of ocean, atmosphere, and climate into the degree program.

2.  Reintroduction after more than 20 years of Geos 255: Historical Geology based on the fact that faculty in 300‐level GEOS courses felt that students were missing a critical element in understanding earth history in the old curriculum, and for better articulation for transfer students.

3.  Creation of a new mid-career undergraduate field mapping class based on student and faculty feedback on inadequate preparation for the capstone field camp course.

4.  Creation of a Marine Science minor in collaboration with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Sciences to meet interdisciplinary demand.

5.  Development of a fully online Geos 212: Oceanography course because of high interest and demand in in our NATS Oceanography course.

6.  Initial efforts have begun to develop a hybrid course in physical geology, in collaboration with faculty from PCC to promote greater success for students transferring to UA Geosciences from Pima Community College.

7.  Creation of an Astrobiology minor with the Department of Astronomy when student feedback revealed an expressed lack of student opportunity in connecting geosciences and biosciences.

8.  Developed a B.S. degree in Environmental Science upon creation of the School of Earth and Environmental Science.

9.  Developed a Geoscience track in the new UA General Science undergraduate program based on student feedback that our traditional degree options make it difficult to complete a B.S. degree program if interest in majoring Geosciences comes late.

As the department makes changes in response to the formal assessment activities begun in academic year 2014-15 they will be posted here.

Updated date: Mon, 07/24/2017 - 14:36