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Geology By Touch: The First Iteration Of Integrating Overarching Examples And Laboratories Into An Introductory Geology Class

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Learning by Doing

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.614.1 - 15.614.11

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Paper Authors

author page

Andrea Welker Villanova University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Geology by touch: the first iteration of integrating overarching examples and laboratories into an introductory geology class


All civil engineering students at Villanova University are required to take geology in their sophomore year. About one half of the course is devoted to historical geology and the other half is devoted to physical geology. In the past, the class has been lecture-based with four laboratories throughout the semester. In the fall of 2009, a plan was implemented to build upon the existing strengths of this course, which include well-developed and assessed information literacy modules, by creating additional hands-on laboratories and three over-arching examples to place the content into context. The additional laboratories and the over-arching examples will be described in this paper. The effectiveness of this plan was assessed using student work and via an attitudinal survey conducted at the end of the semester. These assessments, as well as the observations of the professor, indicate that the plan did yield some improvement in student learning; however, several modifications are needed when the class is taught again.


Karl Terzaghi, widely regarded as the father of soil mechanics once said, “In soil mechanics the accuracy of computed results never exceeds that of a crude estimate, and the principle function of theory consists of teaching us what and how to observe in the field.”1 This quote drives home the point that civil engineers, and anyone else that works at the interface of the natural and built environment, needs to understand geology. Because of the importance of geology to civil engineering, GLY 2805 Geology for Engineers is a required sophomore-level course in civil engineering at Villanova University. Although the course is predominately civil engineering students, often environmental studies and geography students enroll as well.

Villanova University is the largest Catholic university it the state of Pennsylvania with over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Villanova was founded by the Order of Saint Augustine in 1842 and is located about 15 miles west of Philadelphia. There are approximately 900 students in the College of Engineering; the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department graduates between 40 and 65 students per year. The university and the college are well ranked by US News and World report. For example, amongst master’s level universities, Villanova was ranked #1 in the Northeast and the college of engineering was ranked #102.

In the past, GLY 2805 Geology for Engineers has been taught in a fairly traditional format dominated by lecturing on physical and historical geology with four laboratories. An analysis of prior student assessments revealed that students were performing well on the student work assessed in this course, but that they often described the class as “boring.” While boredom may not be the most compelling reason to change a course, it is important to note that this course comes at a pivotal time in a student’s education: first semester of sophomore year. This course helps set the tone for the remaining three years the students will spend in their major and, as such, it is an opportunity to spark interest in the sub-disciplines of geotechnical, water resources, and environmental engineering. The changes implemented in this course also compliment a shift

Welker, A. (2010, June), Geology By Touch: The First Iteration Of Integrating Overarching Examples And Laboratories Into An Introductory Geology Class Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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