Learning Outcomes in Geosciences

Learning Outcomes in the Department of Geosciences include three broad subject areas:

  1. Communication (oral and written)
  2. Quantitative Skills
  3. Geological Knowledge

Skill in communication – sensu lato – is an important outcome of a college education, and therefore the department has chosen it as one of the key, highlighted outcomes.  We distinguish between oral communication (public talks) and written communication (expository writing); both outcomes are to be assessed as part of the Department’s self-review.


Expository Writing.  Our undergraduate students generally either go to into private industry (environmental “consulting” and remediation) or graduate school.  In both cases, expository writing is key; in fact, every industry alumnus (or alumna) that we have polled within the past five years has uniformly insisted that the single most important skill that we can offer our undergraduates is expository writing.  With this in mind, we have built expository writing experience into the curriculum in several different places – at the beginning; middle; and end – reinforcing the training throughout the academic trajectory.

Quantitative Skills:

In a science, at least a basic quantitative facility is required; not only as a means of reaching a particular answer, but as a means of thinking about problems.  Quantitative exercises are thus introduced in the introductory class (GEO 103, “Understanding Earth”), and reinforced throughout the curriculum, with more advanced quantitative exercises generally being delivered in upper-division GEO courses.

Geological Knowledge.  While virtually everything we teach is disciplinarily important at the undergraduate level, our ultimate outcomes need to be more contextual than fact-driven, that is, they need to constitute a integrated, intellectual context – or framework – into which our students can insert geological observations, facts, and inferences as their careers unfold.  This allows them to integrate knowledge they acquire after graduation into a meaningful, cohesive disciplinary knowledge base.  This has been termed “back pocket knowledge” by Associate Dean Anne Veeger, by which she means that our job is to establish the intellectual framework that will allow our students to move forward and grow as they pursue their chosen specialization within the field.  “Back pocket knowledge” is less about particular disciplines and associated facts (many of which can be quickly accessed on the web), and more about the integrated knowledge base that unites the geosciences; the basic suite of information and constructs that inform working geologists.  This outcome, along with the communication and quantitative outcomes, will be assessed as part of the Department’s self-review.