Structural Geology and Tectonics (GLY 4400C)
Tectonics (GLY 6425)
Stratigraphy and Timescales (GLY 6519)
Syllabus (Fall 2009)
There are a number of constituents of good teaching at university level: (1) accurate and up-to-date material, (2) rigorous treatment of material, (3) relevance to overall departmental teaching goals, (4) clarity and enthusiasm in presentation, (5) fairness in testing and grading.
I wish to address each of these factors with reference to my own teaching efforts. For the last several years, I have taught Structural Geology (GLY 4400), and Tectonics (GLY 6424). Much of the statement below refers specifically to GLY 4400, although all points are also relevant to GLY6424. There are, of course, differences in teaching style between 4000 and 6000 level courses due to the difference in background and experience of the students.
Accurate and up-to-date material. This aspect of teaching draws on the symbiotic relationship between teaching and research. Accuracy of information requires that the teacher be up-to-date in the subject matter. As in most fields of earth science, structural geology and tectonics have evolved rapidly in recent years. They have become less descriptive and more quantitative, drawing on techniques and information from engineering, material science and geophysics. This change in structural geology from the descriptive to the quantitative can be attributed, in large part, to John Ramsay (formerly of ETH Zurich) who wrote the classic text on structural geology. A comparison of this text with a descriptive approach (e.g. Billings) illustrates this important shift in emphasis. In recent years, the assigned text for GLY 4400 has been that by R.G. Park entitled: Foundations of Structural Geology (1989) with the lab. manual being Basic Methods of Structural Geology, by S. Marshak and G. Mitra (1998). Both texts are shortened and simplified recent adaptations of the Ramsay text and are suitable for students at GLY4400 level. Research interests help me to keep current in the field of structural geology and tectonics. My research in structural geology is derived from the use of paleomagnetism to discern thrust sheet rotations in mountain belts and using this information to make pre-deformation (palinspastic) reconstructions and balanced cross-sections, particularly in Sicily and the Southern Alps. My research experience in tectonics is derived from finite element modeling of lithospheric structure in mountain belts and use of paleomagnetism to reconstruct the paleogeography of mountain belts (notably in the Alpine/Mediterranean region).
Rigorous treatment of material. In both GLY4400 and GLY6424, I endeavor to give complete coverage of important methods and techniques. The modern quantitative trend in structural geology translates into a quantitative approach in the classroom. This allows the teaching style to steer away from the “definition of terms syndrome” which plagues some low level geology classes. The litany of jargon is kept to a minimum and I strive to get the students to think quantitatively about the problems in structural geology and tectonics, and to stimulate clear thinking. From my days as a student, it is the physical principles and “hard science” aspects of my studies that have been most useful to me in the intervening years. The rapid rate of evolution of the earth sciences require that we emphasize these aspects so that what we teach remains relevant to the student throughout his/her working life. With this in mind, I consider that the more theoretical/fundamental aspects of Structural Geology to be particularly valuable. This emphasis in the classroom is balanced by the hands-on practical assignments that go with the lab (see lab syllabus).
Relevance to overall departmental teaching goals. I consider that both Structural Geology and Tectonics are vital components of our departmental teaching effort, and should be an integral part of our graduate and undergraduate curricula in geology. Although very few of the students who take Structural Geology at UF will ever use the described techniques to measure strain in rocks (for example), the principles governing stress/strain are, of course, the same for the engineering geologist or the environmental engineer. If the student follows a career in the environmental engineering industry, for example, this information will be useful. Indeed, my impression of the environmental engineering industry in Florida is that an understanding of the principles of rock mechanics is quite uncommon. I feel that a structural geology course that includes a rigorous treatment of stress, strain and rheology of materials (see syllabus) puts the student in good stead to compete in this industry.
Clarity and enthusiasm in presentation. I believe in interactive teaching and I believe in engaging the students. I make constant use of the chalk-board. Every derivation, every formula and all principal points of discussion are written on the chalk-board. I then know that the student has the time to write this material into his/her notes as I talk. The passage of information from chalk-board to student’s notebook is an important aid to assimilation and understanding. Hand-outs and web presentations, on their own, do not facilitate this process. The students have web access to screen images shown in class. They are encouraged to make print-outs that can then be annotated with the students own notes. I emphasize to the students the importance of “doing their work in the classroom”, in other words, coming to class prepared to think through an argument and not simply to transfer the information to their notes “unfiltered”. I also emphasize the advantage of understanding over memorization. If understanding is in place, relatively little needs to be memorized. A good movie presentation can be a useful, however, “too much of a good thing” can lull the student into a disengaged mode. In general, I find Powerpoint images more useful as they lend themselves to the illustration of specific points. While not diminishing the utility of the well-designed web page, the chalk-board is often preferable to an overloaded web-page, as too much information presented at one time can cause the student to “zone out”.
Fairness and standards in testing and grading. The grading system should be consistent and fair, and should accurately divide the class on the basis of knowledge, understanding and performance. As a student, I felt most comfortable about course grading when confident that my ability would be accurately assessed. Accurate assessment requires thorough and demanding tests. For Structural Geology (GLY 4400), for example, grading is based on regular lab. assignments (30%), class test 1 (20%), class test 2 (20%), and class final exam (30%). The tests and the final are 50% multiple choice and 50% “short-answer” questions. For the “short-answer” questions, about half a page is provided for the answer that may be a short essay, a derivation, or a numerical problem. For Tectonics (GLY 6424), the tests are entirely composed of essay questions, no multiple choice questions.
After each class test, I display a histogram distribution of scores and outline the grading scheme. The idea is to keep the student continually in touch with his/her assessed performance. The final grade is based on the cumulative class score. The dividing line between grades is based on natural breaks in the distribution of scores, while maintaining a sensible percentage of A grades, B grades etc. In the last few years, in GLY 4400, there have been about 15% A grades, 35% B grades, 35% C grades and 15% D grades.
I believe that standards in grading are important, not only for maintaining the quality of the degrees awarded, but also for the sense of well being among the students. If the standards are either too lenient or too severe, this creates dissatisfaction amongst the students. An unfortunate byproduct of teaching competitions, such as TIP, has been grade inflation. I feel this is not only bad for the department and the university, but also detrimental to the self-esteem of the students themselves.