Geo/Physical Sciences Department - Assessment Plan

This document is taken from our departmental self-study.

Departmental Assessment

The Geo/Physical Sciences department encompasses the disciplines of Earth Systems Science, Geography and Physics.   A major track of study may be chosen in Earth Systems Science or Geography.   In both fields, successful students pursue courses of instruction and are supported in undertaking internship experiences which prepare them for entry into the job market or for acceptance to graduate school.   Both fields also offer a minor.   In addition, all three disciplines that make up the Geo/Physical Sciences offer courses that satisfy various requirements of the Liberal Arts and Sciences Program, as well as those of majors in other departments.

Geo/Physical Sciences Departmental Objectives and Expected Student Outcomes:

Earth Systems Science

Earth Systems Science: Introduction

The Earth Systems Science track is designed to ensure that students will:

  • Be effective communicators of scientific information in written, oral, graphical, and spatial forms.
  • Understand the nature and ethical principles of scientific inquiry, including experimental design, implementation, and interpretation of scientific data in the context of earth science investigations.
  • Apply principles from complementary disciplines (mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology) to solve earth science problems.
  • Understand the consideration of Earth as a system, including Earth-sun relations and relationships among Earth's subsystems.
  • Be familiar with the overall structure and composition of the Earth system.
    Understand processes that form Earth materials and shape the landscape.
  • Recognize the enormousness of geological time and identify major evolutionary events since Earth's formation.
  • Develop a scientific understanding of interactions between humans and Earth, including geological hazards, global environmental issues, and use and conservation of Earth's resources.

Students will achieve these objectives through developing essential skills and mastery of relevant content knowledge, as outlined below.

Earth Systems Science: Skills

A.  Communication Students will demonstrate effective communication via:

  1. oral presentations
  2. scientific manuscripts
  3. collaboration with other students

B.  Scientific Inquiry Students will:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the scientific method and the role of observation and experimentation in science.
  2. Understand the processes of gathering, organizing, reporting, and interpreting scientific data in the context of earth science investigations.
  3. Integrate principles of physics, chemistry, and biology to answer geosciences questions.
  4. Understand the ethical principles related to scientific inquiry and demonstrate professional standards in reporting research results.
  5. Critically and logically analyze competing ideas, and distinguish between scientific and non-scientific approaches to solving problems.

C.  Quantitative, analytical and mapping skills

  1. Apply mathematical principles to quantitatively interpret geoscience data.
  2. Use common software (e.g., Excel) to organize and graphically present data.
  3. Construct and interpret geological maps.
  4. Conduct spatial analysis in a GIS environment

Earth Systems Science: Content Knowledge

Students will understand:
A.  Earth as a System Students will understand:

  1. Relationships among lithosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere in shaping Earth
  2. Earth-sun relationships, including reasons for seasons
  3. Energy transfer in the Earth system, such as Earth's energy budget, atmospheric composition and circulation, and ocean circulation

B.  Earth Materials and Structure Students will understand:

  1. Processes of mineral and rock formation
  2. Characteristics of different types of minerals and rocks
  3. Methods used to identify and classify minerals and rocks
  4. Structure and composition of Earth's interior, surface, and atmosphere

C.  Earth System Processes Students will understand:

  1. Constructional forces that have shaped Earth's surface (e.g., plate tectonics), theories and evidence of crustal movements, and the effects of crustal movements on Earth's landscape.
  2. Erosional-depositional processes that change Earth's surface (e.g., weathering, erosion) and the relationship between these processes and landscape development.
  3. Processes by which water moves on, above, and beneath Earth's surface.
    Ocean-atmosphere-lithosphere interactions, particularly related to climate.

 D.  Earth History Students will understand:

  1. Geological time, including its subdivisions and its measurement
  2. Earth's physical evolution through geologic time, including formation of the solar system
  3. Evolution of life forms as evidenced from the fossil record
  4. Natural climate changes (e.g., glaciations) caused by Earth's orbital geometry

E.  Societal significance and human stewardship Students will:

  1. Recognize society's dependence on Earth resources (e.g., mineral, rock resources, soil, and water resources; fossil fuels)
  2. Understand natural hazards related to geological processes
  3. Develop a scientific understanding of the effect of human activity on Earth's natural processes (e.g., global warming, ozone depletion, air pollution, water pollution)

Courses concerning expected ESS content knowledge:

Content Course(s)
A.i. Relationship among spheres 1000, 2100, 2300, 2500, 4200, 4600
A.ii. Earth-sun relationships 1000, 2000, 2200, 2300, 2500, 4110
A.iii. Energy transfer 1000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 4110
B.i. Mineral/rock origins 1000, 2100, 3270
B.ii. Types minerals/rocks 1000, 2100, 3270
B.iii. Methods of classification of minerals & rocks  1000, 2100, 3270
B.iv. Earth's structure/composition 1000, 2100, 2200, 2500
C.i. Plate tectonics 1000, 2100, 2500
C.ii. Erosion/weathering 1000, 2100
C.iii. Water cycle 1000, 2200, 2500, 4600
C.iv. Sphere interaction 1000, 2100, 2300, 2500
D.i. Geological time 2100, 3250
D.ii. Earth's evolution 2000, 2100, 2300, 3250 
D.iii. Fossil record 2100, 3250 
D.iv. Long-term climate 1000, 2300, 3250 
E.i. Earth resources 1000, 2100, 2500 
E.ii. Geological hazards 1000, 2100 
E.iii. Human impacts 1000, 2200, 2300, 2500, 4110  

Courses and assessment of ESS expected skills:

Skill  Course(s)  Assessment tool
A.i. Oral presentations   2200, 2300, 3250, 3500, 4110, 4200, 4600 Faculty evaluation of student presentation
A.ii. Manuscripts    3250, 4110, 4200, 4600, 4900 Detailed manuscript
A.iii. Group work 2100, 2200, 2500, 3250,4110, 4200, 4600 Faculty evaluation of student work in lab exercises or group projects
B.i. Scientific method   2100, 2200, 2500, 3250,4110, 4200, 4600  Lab portion of course grade
B.ii. Geoscience data  1000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2400, 2500, 3250, 3500, 4110, 4200, 4600   Lab reports and manuscripts
B.iii. Integrating sciences  1000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 3250, 4110, 4200, 4600 Competency evaluation
B.iv. Ethical principles  All courses Competency evaluation 
B.v. Competing ideas;   science vs non-science  1000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 3250, 4110, 4200, 4600  Competency evaluation
C.i. Applying math   1000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500, 3250, 4110, 4200, 4600 Competency evaluation 
C.ii. Organize/present data via computer software   1000, 2100, 2200, 2400, 2500, 3250, 4110, 4200, 4600  Projects and lab reports
C.iii. Geological maps   1000, 2100, 2800, 4800 Competency evaluation
C.iv. GIS skills  2400, 3500, 4500, 4800 Assignments and final project

Geo/Physical Sciences Departmental Objectives and Expected Student Outcomes


Geography: Introduction

The Geo/Physical Sciences Department expects that each geography graduate should have a well rounded understanding of geographic knowledge and skills.   With this intent, the program requires the students to take a series of courses which include the following essential elements of geography.

  1. The use of maps to present and interpret patterns of physical and human characteristics on the Earth's surface;
  2. The distinctiveness of places and regions with respect to the integration of physical and human characteristics;
  3. Description and explanation of human characteristics and their spatial distribution on the Earth's surface, including composition of population, cultural complexes, economic interdependence, settlement and political patterns;
  4. Human-environment interactions, including the perception, distribution and use of natural resources.

Geography: Skills

The program provides students with opportunities to develop the following skills and understandings with respect to the elements of Geography:
A.  Acquiring Data and Asking Questions

  1. Understanding geographic terms and concepts and applying them effectively in both description and analysis of physical and human conditions on the Earth's surface.
  2. Asking and beginning to answer questions arising out of the geographic elements and as applied to solving problems;   developing and testing geographic generalizations;   and developing an appreciation for complexities.
  3. Pertinent courses: 

     a.  With regard to physical geography and resources:  Geog 1000, 2300, 4200, 4700
     b.  With regard to human geography:  Geog 1100, 3000, 3100, 3400, 4400;   Econ 1200, 2550;   POLS 1500, 2200
     c.  With regard to the integration of physical and human characteristics in regional study:   Geog 3200; 3400; 4200; 4400, 4700 

B.  Written and oral expression 
     1.  with respect to clarity, logical organization, and effective argument 
     2.  Pertinent courses:   Geog 1100, 2400, 2800, 3000, 3100, 3200, 3400, 3500, 4200, 4400, 4700, 4800
C.  Research 
    1.   understanding the breadth and historical development of geographic inquiry;
     2.  identifying and using appropriate written and other sources for geographic research and ongoing independent learning in geography
     3.  especially in Geog 1100, 2400, 3400, 3500, 4200, 4400, 4700, 4800
D.  Graphic expression
     1.  acquiring, interpreting, and presenting spatial information by graphic means including maps, graphs, photographs, and data bases
     2.  appreciating their respective advantages and limitations.
     3.  All geography courses include aspects of this as related to the subject matter of the course;   Geog 2400, 2800, 3500, and 4800 are especially pertinent.
E.  Specialized technical skills
     1.  advanced study in the following sets of more technical skills and understandings:
          a.  geospatial study - methods of observing and investigating physical and human features of the landscape, including description and explanation of observed spatial patterns as well as problems and complexities encountered in such endeavors in Geog2400
          b.  geographic information systems:   computer-based acquisition, display and analysis of geographic data in Geog3500;
          c.  computer cartography:   computer-based design and reproduction of maps in Geog 4800

Assessment of Geography Core Requirements

A.  GEOG 1000: Earth Systems Science 
     1.  Geographic tools
         a.  Map skills
               i.  Be able to plot locations on map projections given their latitude and longitude
               ii.  Determine the latitude and longitude of a location on a map projection
          b.  Tme zones
               i.  Convert between local time and UTC, and vice versa
               ii.  Understand the number of hours associated with each degree of longitude based on Earth's rotation
               iii.  Understand political modifications to that system , e.g., China one time zone, India, Nepal, etc. uses 30 min blocks;   Daylight saving
          c.  Unit conversions
               i.  Be able to convert between the American system and metric system, including temperature (Fahrenheit and Celsius);   length (miles, meters);
               ii.  Know SI prefixes (e.g., kilo-; centi-)
          d.  Graphing skills -- make a graph with data, interpret graph
               i.  example:   Construct a climograph given temperature and precipitation data
               ii.  Interpret a climograph
               iii.  Construct a graph depicting a water budget;   interpret water budget graph
     2.  Energy transfer
          a.  Reasons for seasons:   Describe Earth's seasonality, including the tilt of the Earth during each solstice and equinox
          b.  Controls on temperature:   Describe natural factors that control global temperature
     3.  Atmospheric structure and circulation
          a.  Be able to identify the thermal structure of the atmosphere
          b.  Gas composition of the troposphere
          c.  Construct a model of general circulation
          d.  Understand the effect of Coriolis on wind direction 
          e.  Name/label trade winds, Westerlies, polar easterlies
     4.  Layers of the Earth and plate tectonics
          a.  Label layers of Earth based on chemical composition and physical/mechanic properties
          b.  Describe the three plate boundaries
     5.  Human stewardship
          a.  Discuss the interaction between humans and their environment.   Example:   Global warming/climate change;   urban heat island;   air pollution and acid rain;   ozone depletion;   water scarcity;   resource consumption

B.  GEOG 1100:   Principles of Human Geography
     1.  Geographic Skills:   Understand how geographers describe where things are.
          a.  Maps: longitude and latitude, scale, projection, time zones 
          b.  Contemporary tools:   GIS, remote sensing, GPS
     2.  Population and Migration
          a.  Understand where the world's population is distributed, where and why population is increasing / decreasing at different rates in different part of the world
               i.  Population concentration pattern
               ii.  Fertility, Mortality, Natural increase
               iii.  Demographic transition and Population pyramids
               iv.  World population growth 
          b.  Understand why people migrate
               i.  Reasons for migrating
               ii.  Global migration patterns
               iii.  US immigration patterns
     3.  Patterns of Diversity and Unity
          a.  Understand the origin and diffusion of folk and popular cultures, why folk culture is clustered, why popular culture is widely distributed, and why globalization of popular culture causes problems
               i.  Origin and diffusion of folk and popular cultures
               ii.  Isolation promotes cultural diversity vs. mass media diffuses popular culture
               iii.  Environmental impact of popular culture
          b.  Understand the concepts of language families and language branches and their distributions
               i.  Distribution of language families
               ii.  Indo-European Branch
               iii.  Global dominance of English
          c.  Understand where ethnicities are distributed and why ethnicities clash
               i.  Distribution of ethnicities in the US
               ii.  Multinational states
               iii.  Ethnic competition
     4.  Dynamic Patterns of Space Economy
          a.  Understand how to measure development and why development vary among countries, where more and less developed countries are distributed, and why less development counties face obstacles to development
               i.  Economic, social, and demographic indicators of development
               ii.  Distributions of more and less developed regions
               iii.  Development through self-sufficiency or international trade in less development countries
          b.  Understand how to measure development and why development varies among countries, where more and less developed countries are distributed, and why less development counties face obstacles to development
               i.  Location of agricultural hearths
               ii.  The three agricultural revolutions
               iii.  Globalization of agriculture and Fair Trade
          c.  Understand where industry is distributed, the Least Cost Location Theory, and the Economic Base Model
               i.  Industrial revolution and Industry distribution pattern
               ii.  Least Cost Location Theory
               iii.  Economic Base Model
          d.  Understand why consumer services are distributed in a regular pattern
               i.  Central place theory
               ii.  Threshold analysis
          e.  Understand where urban areas have grown and where people are distributed within urban area
               i.  Urbanization
               ii.  Models of urban structure
     5.  Human Actions and Environmental Impacts
          a.  Understand why resources are being depleted and polluted and why resources are reusable and can be conserved
               i.  Energy and Mineral resources
               ii.  Air, water, land pollution and climate change
               iii.  Renewing and recycling resources
               iv.  Sustainable development

C.  GEOG 2800:   Map Use and Interpretation 
     1.  The Units Shall Lead You [a Proficiency/Assessment Quiz skill]
          a.  Significant Figures in calculations
          b.  Unit conversion using Unit Proportionality Constants (to be applied later in map scale and interpolation problems)
     2.  Geodesy
          a.  Earth's shape approximated as a sphere, ellipsoid, geoid
          b.  Great circles, small circles, points of tangency
          c.  Babylonian base-60 number system of degrees, minutes, seconds [±ddd°mm'ss''−> ± ddd.ddddd°, a Proficiency/Assessment Quiz skill]
           d.  The graticule (latitude and longitude)
                i.  Geocentric latitude and longitude
                ii.  Geodetic latitude and longitude
          e.  Determining latitude and longitude
               i.  Latitude by altitude of Polaris above horizon 
               ii.  Latitude by altitude of Sun at local noon, date & analemma
               iii.  Longitude by difference between local time & UTC
          f.  Importance of horizontal & vertical datums
               i.  Change in longitude due to different Prime Meridians used before 1884
               ii.  Changes in latitude & longitude values due to change in horizontal datums from NAD27 to NAD83
               iii.  Changes in elevation due to change in vertical datums from NGVD29 to NAVD88)
               iv.  Elevation vs. GPS ellipsoidal height
     3.  Map Scale [a Proficiency/Assessment Quiz skill]
          a.  Large-scale maps
               i.  Verbal/written scales
               ii.  Ratio/representative fraction (RF) scales
               iii.  Graphic/bar scales
               iv.  Determining map scale from mapped objects of known length [e.g., airport runways], lat/long ticks, UTM grid lines, USPLSS section lines
          b.  Large-scale vs. small-scale maps
          c.  Small-scale maps
               i.  Recognition that map scale varies across map
               ii.  Determining map scale from spacing of graticule lines & knowing/computing equivalent Earth ground distances for 1° of great circle or small circle arcs (with caution that such scales on small-scale maps are only good for specific directions or points).
          d.  Applying map scales to practical problems in either direction (going from ground object to mapped image, or mapped image to ground object)
               i.  Verbal/written scales applied to large-scale maps 
               ii.  Ratio/RF scales applied to large-scale maps
               iii.  Graphic/bar scales applied to large-scale maps 
               iv.  Determined scales applied to large-scale maps
               v.  Inverse projection of a small-scale map back to a sphere in order to use spherical trig to determine distances between two (lat,long) locations
     4.  Map Projections
          a.  Globes
          b.  Developable surfaces and their geometric projections
               i.  Planar
               ii.  Cylindrical
               iii.  Conic   

c.  Geometric projection parameters
               i.  Orthographic
               ii.  Stereographic
               iii.  Gnomonic
          d.  Tangent vs. Secant projections
               i.  Standard points and lines
               ii.  Principal scale and scale factors
          e.  Equatorial, polar, transverse, oblique aspect 
          f.  Mathematical maps (compromise projections)
          g.  Map properties
               i.  Conformality
               ii.  Equivalence (equal area)
               iii.  Equidistance
               iv.  Azimuth/direction 
               v.  Tissot indicatrix to visualize
          h.  Common projections & their properties
               i.  Uninterrupted vs. interrupted projections 
               ii.  Rhumb lines (loxodromes) vs. Great Circle routes
               iii.  Mercator
               iv.  Transverse Mercator (of UTM coordinates)
               v.  Gall-Peters
               vi.  Equirectangular (Plate Carrée) 
               vii.  Lambert azimuthal equal area (Schmidt net in geology) 
               viii.  Polar stereographic (Wulff net in geology, UPS coordinates)
               ix.  Lambert conformal conic projection (basis of MA state plane coordinate system)
     5.  Coordinate systems (Frames of Reference, part 1) 
           a.  Latitude, Longitude
           b.  UTM coordinates [Interpolation in Lat, Long & UTM coordinates is a Proficiency/Assessment Quiz skill:   given a point on a large-scale map, determine its Lat, Long or UTM coordinates;   and given Lat, Long or UTM coordinates, plot the point on a large-scale map]
          c.  UPS coordinates
          d.  State plane coordinates
          e.  Grid cell systems
     6.  Which North is North (Frames of Reference, part 2) [a Proficiency/Assessment Quiz skill]
          a.  True/Geographic North
               i.  Azimuth
               ii.  Bearing
               iii.  Compass points
          b.  Grid North
          c.  Magnetic North
               i.  Magnetic declination
               ii.  Temporal variability in magnetic declination
          d.  Use of declination diagram to swap reference frames
          e.  Use of protractor and appropriate reference frame to construct/extract direction information on/from a map
     7.  Use these new skills to construct a pace map of McKay B & C wings 
     8.  Land partitioning systems
          a.  Metes and bounds
          b.  US Public Land Survey System 
               i.  Townships
               ii.  Range 
               iii.  Sections and their fractional divisions
          c.  Cadastral maps
     9.  Topographic maps [a Proficiency/Assessment Quiz skill]
          a.  Planimetric vs. topographic maps
          b.  Vertical datum for elevations vs. bathymetric soundings
          c.  Rules for contouring 
          d.  Relief displays
               i.  Topographic contours
               ii.  Hypsometric tinting
               iii.  Digital Elevation Models (DEM)
               iv.  Raised relief models
               v.  Hatchure patterns
               vi.  Relief shading
               vii.  Perspective maps/block diagrams
               viii.  Hillsigns/Raisz maps
               ix.  Anaglyphs & stereo pairs
          e.  Topographic profiles
               i.  Construction 
               ii.  Expressions for slope 
               iii.  Vertical exaggeration
                    I.  Computation from vertical & horizontal scales
                    II.  Distortion of slopes
               iv.  Intervisibility 
     10.  Where the hell am I? (Position finding)
          a.  Resectioning
          b.  Triangulation
          c.  Trilateration
          d.  GPS
     11.  Analytical Geometry
          a.  Determine distance and slopes given UTM and elevation coordinates of two points
          b.  Determine the area of an irregular polygon given the UTM coordinates of the vertices
     12.  Thematic Maps
          a.  Symbolic representation of mapped features
          b.  Perception of size when symbols represent quantitative data
          c.  Cartograms
          d.  How to lie with maps (& recognize when you are being lied to)

D.  GEOG 3500:   Geographic Information Systems 
     1.  Basics
          a.  Understanding the basic functionality of ArcMap
          b.  Open a map document
          c.  Zoom and pan
          d.  Create spatial bookmarks
          e.  Measure distances
          f.  Identify features
          g.  Change size and color of features
          h.  Select features on a map
          i.  Find features 
          j.  Label features
          k.  Save a map using relative paths
     2.  Map Design
          a.  Understanding the necessary steps to compose common maps
          b.  Create choropleth maps
          c.  Set threshold scales for dynamic display
          d.  Create pin (point) maps
          e.  Create pin maps based on feature queries
          f.  Add hyperlinks
     3.  GIS Output
          a.  Being able to generate many forms of GIS output, including interactive desktop projects, printed maps, and image files
          b.  Constructing map layout with necessary map elements such as title, map legend, north arrow, or scale bar;   in addition, adding graphs or tabular reports to layouts.
               i.  Produce interactive desktop projects and print layouts
               ii.  Create a custom map template
               iii.  Add reports and graphs to a layout
          c.  Export layouts as PDF and image files
     4.  Geodatabase
          a.  Understand that a geodatabase is a collection of maps and database tables stored in a relational database management system.
          b.  Being able to build personal geodatabase and use ArcCatalog utilities
               i.  Build and modify a personal geodatabase
               ii.  Join tables
               iii.  Aggregate data
               iv.  Export data from a personal geodatabase
     5.  Importing Spatial and Attribute Data
          a.  Understand how to use free GIS data resources on the internet. Familiar with major GIS file formats: shapefiles, coverages, CAD files, and raster images.
          b.  Know how to export and import files to and from other applications.
          c.  Understand projection of GIS data.
          d.  Download GIS data in a variety of formats from internet
          e.  Identify and change data projections
          f.  Understand metadata
          g.  Utilize attribute data
     6.  Digitizing
          a.  Knowing how to editing spatial data, such as digitizing new vector features, adding attribute data to a table, and georeferencing vector data with aerial photo
               I.  Digitize and edit point, line, and polygon layers 
               II.  Spatially adjust features
     7.  Geocoding
          a.  perform address geocoding using tables of address data, TIGER street centerlines, and ZIP Code polygons
          b.  know how to find and fix errors in the address data used for geocoding
          c.  Geocode data by ZIP Code
          d.  Geocode to street
          e.  Interactively locate addresses
          f.  Perform batch geocoding
     8.  Spatial Data Processing
          a.  Understand how to extract a subset of spatial features from a map using either attribute or spatial queries.
          b.  Perform geoprocessing functions and different type of spatial analysis.
          c.  Create and run simple GIS workflow models.
          d.  Use data queries to extract features
          e.  Clip, dissolve, append, union layers
          f.  Run multiple operations with model builder
     9.  Spatial Analysis
          a.  Conducting proximity analysis by placing buffers around features.
          b.  Perform site selection or suitability analysis.
          c.  Buffer points for proximity analysis
          d.  Conduct site suitability analysis
     10.  3D Analysis
          a.  Understanding the basic functionality of ArcGIS 3D Analyst.
          b.  Load ArcGIS 3D Analyst extension
          c.  Create 3D scenes
          d.  Create a TIN