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Assessment of Student Learning

Geology BS Degree


The ultimate goal of our BS geology program is that each student will develop into an educated adult with “a sense of responsibility for their own learning and the ability and desire to continue learning independently, self-knowledge and the ability to assess their own performance critically and accurately, and an understanding of how to apply their knowledge and abilities in many different contexts” (as cited by Huba & Freed, 2002, p. 75). The Department of Geology and Geophysics has developed the following specific goals for its BS program:

  • Students in the BS program will receive a quality preparatory education in the discipline that is current, relevant, practical, and personal.
  • BS students who graduate with appropriate grades will be able to compete successfully for positions at graduate schools nationwide.
  • BS students who graduate with appropriate grades will be well prepared for entry-level positions as professionals within their and other related disciplines.

We recognize that: (1) undergraduate students merit a quality education that is nationally competitive, (2) employment in the discipline may require further study at the graduate level, and (3) employment opportunities are strongly project-driven and require numeracy, computer literacy and skills in oral and written communication in addition to a current and relevant knowledge of their discipline.


Learning Objectives

I. Professional (core) Competencies:

The broad professional knowledge, attitudes, behaviors, and skills that allow an individual to work in a specialized knowledge domain and to perform tasks within that profession with skill and at an acceptable quality. Most professional competencies are common to a variety of diverse professions.

I.1 Communication:

Graduates will communicate clearly, transparently, and effectively in many formats and using a variety of the following communication skills including:

I.1.1 Verbal/oral skills: include audience awareness, active and critical listening, and networking. These skills are developed through discussions, debates, presentations, lectures, seminars, and negotiations.

I.1.2 Written skills: entail literature research, critical reading, outlining and organizing, composing a first draft, revising and editing, data presentation, developing an argument, and manuscript proofing. They are developed and honed through writing academic papers, authoring memos, composing emails, preparing reports, crafting policy statements, designing brochures, preparing grant proposals and applications, and writing commentaries.

I.1.3 Non-verbal skills: consist of audience awareness, body language and movement, facial expression, eye contact, posture, and gestures and are acquired through classroom and conference presentations, public speaking, and leading classroom discussion.

I.1.4 Visual skills: include creating presentations, models, graphs, maps, tables, photographs, drawings, diagrams, handouts, pamphlets, videos, and animations for use in digital, print, and Web formats that effectively convey a message.

I.2 Quantitative Reasoning:

Graduates will use quantitative reasoning to explain and understand the natural world and to address societal problems arising from the intersections of human, built, and natural worlds. In particular, a quantitatively literate graduate can perform the following tasks1:

I.2.1 Interpret mathematical models such as formulas, graphs, tables, and schematics correctly and draw valid and reasonable inferences from them.

I.2.2 Represent mathematical information symbolically, visually, numerically, and verbally.

I.2.3 Use arithmetic, algebraic, geometric, and statistical methods correctly and efficiently to solve problems.

I.2.4 Employ quantity calculus to express a physical quantity as the product of a numerical value and a unit of measurement thereby determining the formal relations for unit manipulation and dimensional analysis.

I.2.5 Evaluate mathematical calculations and solutions for reasonableness, identify alternatives, and select optimal results.

I.2.6 Appreciate that mathematical and statistical methods have limits.

I.3 Technological Literacy:

Graduates will recognize technology as the collection of devices, systems, and accompanying knowledge that permits humans to modify the natural world for their own purposes, to solve practical problems, and to study, observe, document, and understand the human, natural, and built worlds. A technologically literate graduate will:

I.3.1 Understand the impact of technology on the development of scientific understanding and engineering applications.

I.3.2 Appreciate the role of technology in expanding the natural resources humanity can use and the positive and negative impacts those technologies produce.

I.3.3 Learn to operate new technological devices and accompanying software and appreciate how they can change the way natural processes are investigated.

I.3.4 Realize that measurements made using scientific instrumentation, in and of themselves, cannot answer a scientific problem but must be interpreted within existing scientific paradigms.

I.3.5 Understand that each technological method for observing and recording natural phenomena has limits on detection, precision, and accuracy and interpretation of data acquired at or close to these limits, express the uncertainty associated with that method.

I.4  Lifelong learning:

Graduates will develop the skills necessary for on-going, voluntary, self-motivated, and self-directed learning necessary to deal with the increasingly rapid pace of scientific, technological, and professional change characteristic of modern life, i.e. the transition to a knowledge-based society. Graduates who have developed a life- long learning skill set will:

I.4.1 Have the capacity for self-directed learning by:2

Identifying and defining learning needs or knowledge gaps.

Establishing goals and objectives based on need.

Setting timelines and developing action plans for learning.

Developing the skills to locate relevant information, evaluate its quality and appropriateness, organize the acquired information, and employ it effectively.

I.4.2 Practice metacognitive awareness to increase the effectiveness of their self-directed learning by:

Planning and selecting learning activities appropriate to the manner in which they learn best.

Evaluating the effectiveness of their learning plans, activities, and strategies.

Adjusting their learning strategies to optimize learning.

Deliberately reflecting on their learning and its effectiveness, and modify their learning plans and activities accordingly

I.4.3 Exercise the traits that lead to successful lifelong learning, a desire to develop deeper understanding, treat learning as an on-going process not a one-off activity, display self-motivation, and practice persistence.

I.5 Teamwork & Collaboration:

Graduates will work effectively both independently and within diverse teams, i.e. groups of individuals working together toward a common goal or purpose. Accordingly, graduates will:

I.5.1 Understand the differences between teamwork (interaction between team members with similar skill sets and disciplinary knowledge) and collaboration (team members with different skill sets and disciplinary backgrounds) and be aware of the skills necessary for both types of professional interaction.

I.5.2 Work with colleagues effectively by supporting each other, communicating well, and sharing equitably the work and subsequent credit or criticism.

I.5.3 Practice skills or traits important for effective teamwork, e.g. reliable, effective communicator, highly adaptable, cooperative, excellent listener, objective critic, and effective time manager.

II. Critical Thinking Skills: 

The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend disciplinary boundaries. They encompass clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.3 Critical thinking skills are critical to professional success as well as personal achievement. Graduates with well-developed critical thinking skills will:

II.1 Remember (Knowledge4):

Graduates will recall relevant subject information about topics of import. Accordingly, they will be able to list, define, and identify previously learned subject matter including major concepts, ideas, while displaying a mastery of fundamental subject knowledge. They will also be able to find, locate, and assimilate information necessary to fill any information gaps.

II.2 Understand (Comprehension):

Graduates will understand and make sense of the information they have learned or researched. This will include the ability to interpret, summarize, explain, paraphrase, and discuss relevant information.

II.3 Apply (Application):

Graduates will be able to use information in new but similar contexts and settings. Common activities include graphing data, creating figures and diagrams, calculate numerical results, etc.

II.4 Analyze (Analysis):

Graduates will be able to break larger concepts into smaller, coherent sections, and explore relationships between the various components of a concept. Relevant tasks include categorizing, examining, comparing or contrasting, and organizing information.

II.5 Evaluate (Evaluation):

Graduates will be capable of critically examining, testing, criticizing, and critiquing information, models, papers, graphs, etc. and forming defensible positions, judgements, responses and evaluations.

II.6 Create (Synthesis):

Graduates will be able to use information to create new meanings, interpretations, histories, inferences, and testable ideas. The difference between application and creation is that the former works with a setting similar to previous learning experiences. Creating occurs in new and unique settings and situations that the graduate has not previously encountered in an educational setting.

III. Earth Science and Society:

The appreciation for the role the Earth sciences play in society and the need to convey accurately and objectively Earth science knowledge to governmental agencies, public officials, policy makers, regulators, and the public. Graduates demonstrating knowledge about the Earth science-society connection will:

III.1 Understand the Earth science-society nexus:

Graduates will comprehend the impact of Earth science on society and the influence society on the Earth sciences.

III.2 Be Grand Challenge Literate:

Graduates will grasp the variety, scales, and magnitudes of the global grand challenges that humanity faces (e.g., water-energy-climate nexus, resource utilization, land-use change, critical minerals, geologic hazards); appreciate the magnitude of humanity’s impact on Earth systems, and appreciate the role the Earth sciences in creating a more sustainable future for humankind.

III.2.1 Understand that nearly all the resources humanity requires, e.g. air, water, land, soil, energy, metals, etc., are supplied by Earth processes that have operated in the geologic past and are currently operating.

III.2.2  Appreciate that there are geobiophysical limits to the supply of Earth materials,e.g. planetary boundaries, and that how these limits are viewed (Malthusian vs. non-Malthusian) is important in the future stewardship of the Earth’s resources.

III.2.3  Know that Earth systems and spheres provide a variety of goods and services, e.g. ecosystem services that are materially important for creating a safe and stable environment for humanity but that are difficult to price economically.

III.2.4  Recognize that the exploitation of any Earth resource produces both negative and positive impacts on third parties, i.e. externalities and that these externalities must be accounted for in any resource planning activity.

III.2.5  Comprehend that the problems associated with the grand challenges are ill- defined, have only good/bad solutions, involve multiple stakeholders, are unique and novel, and commonly tied to other problems, i.e. they represent wicked problems. Solving wicked problems requires a set of skills, tools, procedures, and co-operative effort far different from those appropriate for purely scientific or technical problems (tame problems).

III.3  Practice Interdisciplinary Competence:

Graduates will be able to integrate ideas, data and information, methods, tools, concepts, and theories from other natural science disciplines when studying the Earth’s evolution and its systems or from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities when addressing the complex problems and questions arising from the geologic aspects of global grand challenges.

III.3.1 Recognize the different types of interdisciplinary approaches and recognize which is appropriate for a given task:

Multidisciplinary projects employ two or more disciplinary perspectives that provide insight into same problem. The results from each discipline are not integrated. Commonly appropriate for narrow Earth science focused research tasks and questions5

Interdisciplinary investigations focus on a common problem from two or more disciplines and subsequent findings are synthesized and interpreted as a synergic whole.

Transdisciplinary analyses tackle complex, multifaceted, social problems of the human environment by employing dialog between multiple disciplinary experts and stakeholders from different impacted groups.

III.3.2 Attain masteries of different allied disciplines, but a level of appropriate adequacy and the ability to communicate effectively with other disciplinary experts and diverse stakeholders.

III.4 Act GeoEthically:

Graduates will apply the principles of ethics, inclusion, and diversity in their professional dealings with colleagues and the public.6

III.4.1 Reflect on the values which underpin appropriate behaviors and practices, wherever human activities interact with the Earth system.

III.4.2 Conduct their professional duties while considering the ethical, social, and cultural implications of Earth science knowledge, education, research, practice, and communication, and at the same time being cognizant of the social role and the responsibility of Earth scientists.

III.4.3 Act ethically at all scales7:

Self: maintain the internal attributes of an Earth scientist that establish the ethical values required to prepare successfully for and contribute to a career in the Earth sciences.

Professional: practice the ethical standards expected of Earth scientists if they are to contribute responsibly to the community of practice expected of the profession.

Society: acknowledge the responsibilities of Earth scientists to communicate effectively and responsibly the results of Earth science research to inform society about issues ranging from geohazards to natural resource utilization to protect the health, safety, and economic security of humanity.

Earth: meet the obligation of Earth scientists to provide good stewardship of the Earth based on their knowledge of Earth's composition, architecture, history, dynamic processes, and complex systems.

IV. Earth Science Literacy:

the understanding that the Earth, its materials, and processes that have shaped the Earth and its systems and that will continue tocreated change in the future.8 Accordingly, graduates will display adequate understanding of the following Earth science concepts.

IV.1 Systems & Cycles:

Graduates will understand Earth systems and human-Earth interactions from a systems science perspective using logical, temporal, and spatial reasoning. To employ this type of scientific approach, graduates will understand the following broad system science concepts.

IV.1.1 Linear and non-linear systems and tipping points of systems.IV.1.2 System behavior, i.e. size and extent, boundary conditions, feedback loops, interactions, inputs and outputs, and forcings and perturbations.IV.1.3 Workings of the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and pedosphere and their interactions.

IV.1.4 Biogeochemical cycles (i.e., carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus) and how they interact with the lithosphere and hydrosphere, and how these interactions can be extrapolated to other elemental cycles.

IV.2  Earth Materials:

Graduates will be familiar with common Earth materials and assemblages, and understand their composition, origin, uses, and associated hazards. They will also understand how these materials are utilized by society and the benefits and hazards such usage may incur. Important Earth material concepts a graduate must grasp include:

IV.2.1 Minerals and rocks: their physical and chemical properties and relationships. Including an understanding of potentially hazardous chemical and physical properties.

IV.2.2 Water: its physical and chemical properties, the behavior of surface water and groundwater, water economics and public policy, the importance of the oceans for natural resources and controlling climate, its role in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and pedosphere, water quality and quantity issues, regulatory standards

IV.2.3 Hazardous geologic materials: (e.g. asbestos).

IV.2.4 Geologic resources: non-renewable vs renewable resources, the classes of geologic resources (water, land & soil, building materials, chemical minerals, industrial minerals, metals, and energy sources), spatial and temporal distribution and formation of geologic resources, formation of ore minerals and ores, basics of resource economics and sustainability, issues of resource depletion, and importance of critical minerals in humanity’s future.

IV.2.5 Natural and anthropogenic waste: various classes of waste, i.e. industrial, radioactive, mining, mineral processing, electronic; sources and fate of pollutants.

IV.3  Earth Processes:

Graduates will understand the processes operating throughout Earth systems, how those processes create the Earth's landscape and impact the biosphere, and how humans affect and are affected by these processes. Important Earth processes concepts include:

IV.3.1 Atmospheric processes: ozone UV filtering, greenhouse warming, atmospheric circulation, radiative forcing, and cloud formation.

IV.3.2 Magmatic processes: source rock melting and magma generation, magma ascent and transport, magma emplacement/eruption, solidification and crystallization of magmas, wallrock-magma interaction.

IV.3.3 Metamorphic processes: thermal, dynamic, regional (orogenic, burial, ocean floor), and contact metamorphism, metasomatism, pressure-temperature-time mineral paths, fluid-rock interaction, impact (shock) metamorphism.

IV.3.4 Sedimentary Processes: erosion, transport, deposition, weathering, lithification, clastic vs chemical sediments, and diagenesis.

IV.3.5 Ore-forming processes: hydrothermal alteration, weathering, supergene enrichment, ore formation.IV.3.6 Plate tectonics and geodynamics: plate spreading, plate boundary processes, plate motion, plate reconstruction, driving mechanisms, continent formation, sediment recycling.

IV.3.7 Deformation and tectonics: folding and faulting, stress and strain, deformation mechanisms and surface processes:

IV.4 Earth Structure:

Graduates will know the basic structure of the Earth, the tools for investigating the Earth’s interior, and its relation to natural hazards and resource distribution. Important concepts include:

IV.4.1  Earth’s layering, and structure and interaction within and between layers (i.e., atmospheric-surface processes, and mechanical and compositional layers in the solid Earth).

IV.4.2  Deformation, stress and strain, rock mechanics, deformation processes, fractures, faults, folds, other structural features, etc.

IV.4.3  Gravitational and magnetic fields

IV.5. Earth History:

Graduates will understand the broad biological, chemical, geological, and physical history of the Earth as well as the various lines of evidence for reconstructing that history. Key concept themes involve:

IV.5.1 Relative versus absolute ages, age dating, rates, and geologic timing.

IV.5.2 Development of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere, and tools that geologists use to reconstruct these changes.

IV.5.3 The major trends in invertebrate, vertebrate, and microbial life through Earth history.

IV.5.4 Co-evolution of life and Earth, and role of changing environments in driving evolution.

IV.6 Rates and temporal and spatial scales:

Graduates will appreciate the temporal and spatial scales of Earth processes and systems and the rates of process changes. Fundamental themes and concepts incorporate:

IV.6.1 Duration, frequency, magnitude and residence time.IV.6.2 Timing, scale, sequencing, and rates of change.

IV.6.3 Spatial scales from the atomic (mineral structure) to the global (ocean currents) and from the Earth’s surface to the core.

IV.6.4 Temporal scales from the short time spans of some geologic hazards to the formation of the Earth and its history to the age of the Universe (deep time).

IV.6.5 Rates of Earth science process, ranging from the decay of short-lived radioactive isotopes to the Wilson cycle.

IV.6.6 Models can be used to simplify Earth processes for a given time and space.

1 Mathematical Association of America, 1994

2 Dunlap, J.C., 2003. Preparing Students for Lifelong Learning: A Review of Instructional Features and Teaching Methodologies. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 16(2): 6-25; Collins, J., 2009. Lifelong learning in the 21st century and beyond. RadioGraphics, 29(2): 613-622.

3 Scriven and Paul, 1987, statement at 8th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking and Education Reform, Summer 1987, available at

4 Terms in parentheses are those used in the original form of Bloom’s taxonomy.

5 Repko, A. F., 2008, Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory: SAGE Publishing, 393 pp.

6The Capetown Statement by the International Association for the Promotion of Geoethics (IAPG), hhtp://

7Teaching GeoEthics Across the Geoscience Curriculum, What is GeoEthics?, SERC,

8Earth Science Literacy Initiative,; Future of Undergraduate Geoscience Education, Summit Materials, PowerPoints and Webcast Archive. 




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Department of Geology and Geophysics

1000 E. University Ave.

Laramie, WY 82071-2000

Phone: 307-766-3386

Fax: 307-766-6679


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