Fall 2005



Class meets in ROOM 101 DELEHANTY and in the GEOLOGY COMPUTER LAB


Professor: Paul Bierman, Geology Department and School of Natural Resources, Room 307 DELEHANTY HALL, 656-4411


GTF: Luke Reusser, Doctoral Student, Natural Resources, 656-3398


email: (absolute best way to find me since I am teaching two courses, trying to get my lab online after 15 months, developing lots of educational materials for this class, and doing lots of child care for our little and not so little ones!)  Luke is (pretty good way to find Luke too, since he is often taking classes and doing lab work).


Class Web Page:


Webct:  There is a course page in webct that you will need to visit frequently.  It will have readings, reading questions, and a grade book as well as useful links and a calendar.  Go to and log in with your netID and password.


Office hours:  Luke and I will announce our office hours after the semester begins. If you need to chat, feel free to stay after class, or better yet email or call us for an appointment.  I often work at home writing in the mornings.



This will not be your Average UVM Course


I have taught Geomorphology for 12 years at UVM and it is time for a change.  Thanks to the National Science Foundation, we have support to completely revamp Geomorphology over the next 4 years.  This support includes development of a variety of educational materials and approaches, assessment and testing to make sure the new materials and new teaching approach really works, and continual refinement in response to student feedback. 


What does this all mean to you?  Hopefully, it means a far better and more coherent course with exciting new materials to try out.  For us, it means long nights and lots of coffee getting all the new technology, presentations, and labs to work right.  It also means that we will be relying on you, as a class, for feedback.  We will do this in various ways.  First, we need to ask your permission via a consent form so that we can study your responses to the class work.  Second, we will be asking some of you to volunteer to be interviewed during and after you work through web modules.  Lastly, we ask for your patience with what will be more than the average number of surveys before, during, and after the semester as well as technical glitches here and there as we try new things. 


We hope that you will join in this effort to make Geomorphology the best class it can be for all of you and for all the UVM students who take in the future.  To see more about what we are doing with this class and why, check the link off of webct site entitled, NSF Support.




Why Geomorphology?


Landscapes surround us all and often seem to be static, unchanging backdrops for our day-to-day activities. Yet, if we begin to look closely, landscapes are anything but static features; they are continually evolving at a variety of time and length scales.


So, what then is Geomorphology? Narrowly, it is the study of landscapes, their forms and the history and processes of their development.  Broadly, it is what I hope to show you this fall.  I will argue that Geomorphology is one of the most synthetic of all geologic sub-disciplines.  Properly done it must consider any number of processes and Earth characteristics: structure, lithology, tectonism, volcanism, weathering, hydrology, and in New England, as over most of the world today, human activity. 


My goal for you as students was best expressed by one of my colleagues, "After this class you will never look at a landscape the same way again. You will always stop and wonder how and why the land looks the way it does..." 



Course Structure


Over the next 14 weeks, we will use a variety of tools and approaches to learn more about Earth's surface.  Monday classes will be devoted to a mixture of lecture, activities, and some preparation for Wednesday fieldtrips and labs. Wednesday, we will do lab work and/or take fieldtrips and gather data.  We have developed a series of image-based, on-line learning modules that you will be using before coming to class. See For those of you whose Earth Science may be a bit rusty, any of the Introductory Geology texts held by the library should serve you well as a source of information.   



Expectations and Responsibilities for the course


Luke and I will be responsible for providing you a well-organized, clearly presented view of the surface of the Earth and how it works.  We will strive to have all assignments posted and returned to you in a timely fashion.  We will strive to be available to help you with reasonable notice either in person or by email.  As long as the email system is functioning or its not a weekend, you should expect a response within 24 hours to an emailed question.


You will be responsible for completing a variety of assignments over the course of the semester.  There will be occasional readings in John McPhee's books, The Control of Nature and Encounters with the Archdruid, readings that we will refer to in class.  There will be exerts from textbooks and the occasional journal paper to read.  There will be assignments related to the fieldtrips and each of you will be part of a group research project.  There will be in class exercises to do.  There will be on-line learning modules to do for the first 5 weeks of class.  We will suggest web-sites for you to review to deepen you understanding of the material covered in class.


We expect that all assigned readings and on-line modules in Learning Landscapes will be done prior to coming to class or lab.  Without the readings, you will find yourself quite lost in our discussions and you will not get as much out of class/lab.  There is a detailed week-by-week syllabus that you should refer to and technology permitting, we will reproduce in webct.  We will post a large copy on the class bulletin board outside Delehanty 307.  Attendance in class is expected and will be graded.  If you know in advance that you will miss a class, please let me know.  Also, I will abide by and hold you all to the Arts and Sciences guidelines for classroom behavior.  Respect and courtesy are top priorities.


Group Research Projects:

A research project is an integral part of this class. It will be done in groups of two and will require the collection of data, and the analysis and interpretation of the your data in the context of the published work of others. The purpose of this project is many-fold including: an introduction to the geologic literature, experience in data collection and interpretation, honing your writing and presentation skills, and practice in collaboration and hypothesis testing.   All parts of the research project should be submitted using Adobe Acrobat as PDF files (this allows full cross platform readability).  Well show you how to make a PDF and help you as needed through the semester.  The final presentations will be done as a poster session with the poster created in PowerPoint.  Again, we will help you out with this.



There are two required texts for the course, available at the UVM bookstore or through your favorite on-line or other bookseller.


McPhee, J., The Control of Nature

McPhee, J., Encounters with the Archdruid


There is no text book for the course.  Rather, we have compiled a group of readings that you will need to download from the class web site or from webct.  For each reading, there is a set of questions that you need to answer in web-ct after you have done the reading and before the reading is due.  The questions are available from the class web site and from webct so that you can see them before reading and use them as a guide for study.  The questions are designed to focus your reading and thinking and provide a vehicle for in-class discussion of material.


Field Trips:

Field trips make up an integral part of this course. All trips will include some amount of walking and sturdy shoes are a necessity. Of course, since it will be fall in Vermont, the weather will be cool and clear but make sure you are prepared for cold, wet conditions.  Unless the weather is extreme enough to present a hazard, we will go out in the, rain, fog, snow, wind.  For each trip you MUST have:


            waterproof raingear

            sturdy footwear

            a sweater or fleece for warmth

            a waterproof field notebook and pencil

            perhaps a small knapsack to carry all this.

            money for bakery and store stops

            some food to stave off hunger pangs


There will be substantial communication for this class via email.  I will be using the  blast email (office of the registrar) so you will need to check your UVM email address regularly.  Some of your assignments will be due electronically so email is a must.



Course Goals


We have structured both the classroom and field portions of this course to give you the best chance of achieving the following broader goals by the end of the class.

       Understand and be able to interpret the landscape of Vermont in which you live in terms of both geologic history and surface process,

       Predict how a landscape will respond to both human and natural perturbations,

       Improve your ability to read, understand, and discuss scientific and popular literature relevant to the topics and places we study,

       Improve your ability to do, document, and present independent and original scientific research,

       Experience the power of peer review and revision in the production of high quality scientific reports and presentations,

       Learn and be able to explain the important topics and tools of Geomorphology as a field of study,

       Master data collection techniques with wide application including surveying and GPS,

       Increase you ability and comfort with quantitative calculations,

       Improve your ability to collect quantitative and qualitative field data in adverse conditions,

       Recognize the value of simple models to represent physical systems and apply such models to data we collect or situations we observe,

       Improve your ability to reduce field data and write meaningful summaries of your observations,

       Begin to understand linkages between processes active at Earths surface with processes in the deep Earth.


Early in the class, we will ask you to take a knowledge survey.  This is a battery of over 100 questions about Earths surface.  You can also think of the knowledge survey as a list of specific learning goals for the class.  You will not need to answer these questions to take the survey; rather, you will be self-assessing your ability to answer each question.  Once you have taken the knowledge survey, we will give you a copy that will function both as a class outline and as a study guide for you.  As you approach the first hour exam, you should be able review the first half of the knowledge survey and feel confident about answering the questions.  If you cannot answer all the questions, then it is time to start talking with your classmates and see Luke and Paul until you feel confident that you know the answer to every question.





Fieldtrip reports and lab exercises (drop lowest or  missed lab)                            35%

on-line modules (participation)                                                                         5%

first and second hour exams (each)                                                                  30%

project                                                                                                          15%

reading questions                                                                                            10%

attendance and effort                                                                                       5%

beginning and final survey                                                                              +1% extra credit each


Luke will be grading your laboratory assignments.  On-line modules (Learning Landscapes and reading quizzes) will be tracked automatically.  I will grade your projects.  Luke and I will grade your hour exams, project presentations, attendance, and effort together.


Hour exams will not be cumulative.  They will draw from the lectures, the readings, and the laboratory and field exercises.  Any question posed on the knowledge survey will be fair game for the hour exams.  Indeed, testing yourself against the knowledge survey questions will be the best way to study.