This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to a specific section. That being said, it is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in Lesson 0. Together these serve the role of our course "contract."

Photo of Laura GuertinDr. Laura Guertin
Assistant Professor of Earth Science
Penn State University Delaware County
25 Yearsley Mill Road
Media, PA 19063

  • Phone: (610) 892-1427
  • Fax: (610) 892-1490
  • Email: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Communicate tab in ANGEL)
  • Home Page:
  • Office Hours: Laura, would you like to add this information?

EARTH 105: ENVIRONMENTS OF AFRICA - GEOLOGY AND CLIMATE HISTORY (3 credits). Significant natural features of Africa as related to human endeavor; case studies include the Nile, climate change, and natural resources.
Prerequisites: None

This course investigates the interrelationships between geology, hydrology, land use and human development in several areas of Africa. We will focus primarily on regions north of the equator, although there is a brief segment on South African mining. Specific topics include the Nile River (sources of the Nile, agricultural practices, effects of damming the Nile, and hydropolitics), the Sahara and Sahel (salt mines, climate change, drought, and weather resources), and natural resources and their role in politics (gold, diamonds, oil, and gas). The theme of climate change cuts across the entire semester. The quantitative and analytical components of the course involve working through a combination of map exercises and data manipulations (flood stage, groundwater age, rainfall, and temperature records). Readings for the course come from the popular scientific literature, current refereed journals, and transcribed oral histories of African people. In addition to those external reading assignments, you will be expected to read "lecture" materials and to engage in weekly learning activities (some of which are submitted for a grade, while others are for self-practice). You will also engage in weekly online, asynchronous class discussions.

What I expect of you

On average, most students spend eight to twelve hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your prior experience with computing and the Web in general, and with geology in particular.

My colleagues and I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet is still a novel learning environment, but in one sense it is no different than a traditional college class: how much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule, and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me, as well as with your fellow students.

Specific learning objectives for each lesson and project are detailed within each lesson. The class schedule is published in the Calendar (see Calendar tab above).

The goals of the course are to:

  1. introduce the scientific study of Africa;
  2. develop quantitative and scientific reasoning skills;
  3. explore the relationship between human society and the natural world.

The topics that we explore (e.g., global climate change, allocation of limited water resources) are important political issues that affect peoples in developed and developing countries throughout the world. It is crucial that the next generation of citizens be informed as to how scientific data are obtained, presented, and interpreted by scientists as well as politicians. Through this course students will gain an appreciation of the scope of geological time and change, and will be able to incorporate this new long-term perspective into identification and resolution of modern questions.

In order to take this course, you need to have the required course materials (see below) and an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the on-line course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact your campus Registrar.

Required Materials

  • Africa (Collins World Travel Maps) (Paperback) - Published by American Map Corporation. ISBN: 0-00-711337-4
    Check your campus bookstore. In addition, this item can be obtained from many popular online booksellers.

Supplemental (optional) Readings

  1. The Physical Environment - An Introduction to Physical Geography by Michael E. Ritter
  2. An Introductory Geoscience Virtual Textbook by Christopher DiLeonardo
  3. Laura, this link is broken

Using the Library

Many of Penn State's library resources can be utilized from a distance. Through the Library Resources and Services for World Campus and Distance Education site, you can...

  • access electronic databases, and even full text articles, from the LIAS Fast Track,
  • borrow materials and have them delivered to your doorstep...or even your desktop,
  • access materials that your instructor has put on Electronic Reserve,
  • talk to reference librarians in real time using the "Virtual Reference Service,"
  • ...and much more.

NOTE: You must be registered with the University Libraries in order to take full advantage of the Libraries' resources and services. Registration and services are free.

There are four types of assignments in this course:

  • ANGEL Discussion Forum discussions - Some discussion forums are required and will be graded, while others are optional for you to post general questions or comments. Pay attention to the details in the weekly lessons and under the "Calendar" tab to note which discussion forums are required.
  • Topic-Specific Assignments are those that focus on a narrow subject that involve some research and some synthesis of information.
  • Thought-Provoking Assignments may be wider in scope and require more in-depth research and formulation of hypotheses and supporting information.
  • Climate Change Project is a lengthy research activity.

As you can see, there is one lengthy research activity (the Climate Change project) that forms the crux of the climate change section of the course. Along with this project, you will be asked to electronically record reflective statements that catalogue your reactions to various readings and exercises, as well as areas of concern or confusion. There will be no final examination.

The overall percentages of the final course credit allotted to each element are as follows:

ANGEL Discussion Forums
Topic-Specific Assignments
Thought-Provoking Assignments
Climate change project

Detailed rubrics for each of these assignments is provided on the Course Assignments page in Lesson 0.

All assignments will be turned in through ANGEL. Some assignments will be forms in ANGEL where you record your responses, while other assignments require you to type up information and submit in a drop box. All assignments that require you to type up information outside of ANGEL must be completed in Microsoft Word - no other word processing package (such as WordPerfect) will be acceptable. All Penn State computers have Microsoft Word installed on them, and all Penn State campuses have public access computer labs in academic buildings and in the libraries. Be sure to include the following information in all of the assignments that you submit:

  • An APA-formatted title page with your name, course name and number, and date
  • APA-formatted in-text citations
  • APA-formatted works cited list

Please see information on how to incorporate APA citation and reference style into your assignments . Please keep an electronic copy of all your work. We cannot assume responsibility for lost items

Final overall grades will be determined based on averaged grades of assignments. So that you know where you stand, all grades will be posted in ANGEL with each assignment . You will be able to track your progress and calculate your average as the course goes along.

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student.

Note: Do not expect me to round up or curve grades during or at the end of the semester. Grades will not be curved, and I do not give extra credit exercises or bonus points. Put your best effort into all of the assignments as you complete them.

Below you will find a summary of the learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is 12 weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on Saturday.

Lesson 0 - Orientation Week (1 Week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Get familiar with the resources listed in this lesson
  • Complete the course information quiz
Lesson 1: Africa in Context (1 week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Early Development of Global Population
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - Crossing the Sahara
  • Thought-Provoking Assignment - Africa's Languages and Environments

Lesson 2 - Africa Geologic History and Paleontology (1 week)

  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum and Assignment- Virtual Dating Lab
  • Discussion Forum - Dinosaur Hunting in Africa
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - The Dating Game - Prehistoric Edition!
Lesson 3 - African Bio diversity and Conservation (1 week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Women for African Conservation
  • Discussion Forum - Globalizing African Conservation
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - The Fate of the Mountain Gorillas

Lesson 4 - The Nile River - An Overview (1 week)

  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - The Meeting of the Niles in Khartoum
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - Nile Basin Geography
  • Thought-Provoking Assignment - Rains and Rivers

Lesson 5 - The Nile River - Finding the Source (1 week)

  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Analyzing an Ancient Map
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - Flows and Floods
Lesson 6 - The Nile River - Where Does the Water Go? (1 week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - The Future of the Jonglei Canal
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - The 1959 Water Agreement
Lesson 7 - Climate of Africa, Part I (1 week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Climate of Africa, Part I
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - The Age of Saharan Groundwater

Lesson 8 - Climate of Africa, Part II (1 week)

  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Climate of Africa, Part II
  • Climate Change Project, Part A

Lesson 9 - Climate of Africa, Part III (1 week)

  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Climate of Africa, Part III
  • Climate Change Project, Part B
Lesson 10 - East African Rifting (1 week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Nyiragongo
  • Thought-Provoking Assignment - The East African Rift Valley Map Assignment
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - Paleoclimate Activity: Palynology from African Rift Lakes
Lesson 11 - Natural Resources (1 week)
  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Oil and South African Penguins
  • Thought-Provoking Assignment - What's the Conflict with Diamonds?

Lesson 12 - Miscellaneous Cool Topics (1 week)

  • Read all of the online materials for this lesson
  • Discussion Forum - Man-Eating Lions of Tsavo - is it their fault?
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - Managing the Serengeti National Park
  • Topic-Specific Assignment - Africa's Strength to Overcome

Deferred Grades: If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by email or US post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If for any reason the course work for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Late Policy - Laura do you follow a particular late policy that we can list here?

Academic Integrity: It almost goes without saying that "successful completion" of this course involves doing one's own work. Unfortunately, there have been rare instances in which individuals have attempted to pass off other students' assignments as their own. To minimize such incidents, I make it a habit of stating the academic integrity policy up front.

Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly project in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting other's work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other student's papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure.

You will find Penn State's "A Statement on Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty" ( to be a valuable resource. That site includes helpful "Examples to Avoid."

I have also included Penn State's iStudy module on academic integrity, plagiarism, and copyright issues for you to review. In addition to these resources, the tool is available to assist students in preventing plagiarism in assignments. Please note that you are responsible for covering all the material in Lesson 0 before you start the course and at any point during the semester you have questions on these issues.

Accommodating Disabilities

Penn State encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact the instructor in advance of your participation.


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review "Netiquette 101" for specific guidelines.

For this course we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the ANGEL Help and Information Guide for "Recommended Browsers and Computers." If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the ANGEL Help Desk