Earth 111N Syllabus (Summer 2024)


Earth111N Syllabus (Summer 2024)

Water: Science and Society

Summer 2024 Instructor

Dr. Susan Brantley
Department of Geosciences
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

Contact Information
*Please email using Canvas when possible. If that is not possible you ccan reach me at

Course Overview

Description: This course is designed as a general-education investigation of the importance of water to the existence of life on Earth, and the qualities of water that lead to its unusual but critical properties. The first part of the course will provide a basic scientific background for understanding water movement, occurrence, and behavior, through a series of interactive activities. The second part of the course will draw upon this scientific framework to understand the relationships between water and human activities. Among other diverse topics, we will examine the role of water in climate regulation, the impact of water on human populations and activities, the benefits and drawbacks of modern water management strategies related to irrigation and dams, and policy issues regarding water quality and availability. A sense of the human history of water use and the impacts of natural cycles will be conveyed through activities, virtual field trips (filmed footage with the instructors and discussion focused on key topics related to surface water, water re-use and recycling, and dams), and assigned readings and associated online discussions. Although we will focus on case studies from the American West, we will extend this to include global issues of water scarcity and potential conflict, for example in India, China, and the fertile crescent.

Course Objectives: When you successfully complete this course, you will be prepared to:

  • Effectively describe the two-way relationship between water resources and human society: how water availability and quality affect economic opportunities and human well-being and how human activity affects water resources.
  • Knowledgeably explain the distribution and dynamics of water at the surface and in the subsurface of the Earth and how the distribution and characteristics are expected to change over the next 50 years.
  • Identify appropriate data collection practices for a variety of hydrologic data, synthesize and analyze data from multiple sources, and interpret the results.
  • Develop strategies and best practices to decrease water stress and increase water quality
  • Thoughtfully evaluate information and policy statements regarding the current and future predicted state of water resources and communicate their evaluations in terms that can be understood by the general public.


On average, most students spend eight to ten hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.

We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different from 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 us as well as with your fellow students.

Specific learning objectives for each lesson and project are detailed within each lesson.

Required Course Materials

The course relies heavily on readings provided online, and from the assigned textbook, “The Big Thirst,” by Charles Fishman. The reading assignments for each module are listed in the course schedule below. Additional citations for further reading are also provided in each module.

Assistance with textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, please contact your academic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 222 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.


This course will rely on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

  • Readings: You are expected to read all online course material in addition to any assigned reading from your course text (The Big Thirst by Charles Fishman) and/or other news articles, etc. Readings are also assigned in Canvas. You are expected to use examples from these readings in your weekly discussion question responses.
  • Discussions: In online discussion forums (hosted in Canvas) you will provide thoughtful commentary and responses to engaging questions reflecting on the content in this course and using examples from your reading to support your response.
  • Quizzes: To assess your reading and course content learning you will complete weekly online quizzes in Canvas.
  • Capstone Project: A final project (written paper and oral presentation) on water issues faced by a selected city will be assigned about mid-way through the semester and due during the last week of classes and finals week.

We strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete these assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You'll learn more, do better...and be happier!

Specific due dates for all assignments are posted in Canvas.


Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.
Assignment Percent of Grade
Quizzes 40%
Discussions 45%
Capstone Activity 15%

Your scores for all assignments will be kept current in Canvas. We have created a rubric for each assignment that you can and should review prior to submission.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
A 94 - 100 %
A- 90 - 93.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9%
C+ 77 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 76.9 %
D 60 - 69.9 %
F < 60 %

Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Late Work Policy

This course will be conducted entirely online. There are no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. The assignments are available for over a week, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities. If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical issue or emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests are understandable and will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Without an exception as explained above:

  • Discussion questions are accepted late with a 0.5 point deduction/day. Discussion questions submitted after 10 days late will be assigned a grade of up to 50%.
  • Quizzes are not accepted late. Contact your instructor to request the quiz re-open in cases of personal or medical issues that may have prevented you from completing the quiz on time. We are accommodating.
  • Other Assignments: Module 1:Water Use Project will be assessed a 2% per day deduction for late submissions up to 10 days and then assessed a grade of up to 50%.  Capstone Project submissions are accepted one day late with a 2% per day point loss.

Earth 111 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is sixteen weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. There are 12 weeks of material each involving a lab meeting. Most Modules are one week long, but some cover two weeks.

Weekly schedule: Modules open on Friday, assignments are due as in the table below:

Weekly Schedule
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday

Assignments from the previous module are due online by 11:59 pm EST

New Module Opens

Unit 0: Introduction and Orientation (Week 1)
  • Welcome
  • Course Introduction
  • Specific Course Information
  • Academic Integrity Introduction

Purchase assigned textbook, “The Big Thirst”, by Charles Fishman


Non-Graded Activities

  • Personalize CANVAS to make it easy for you to us
  • Forward your CANVAS email to your regular email (so you don't miss anything!)
  • Learn what is expected of you

Graded Assignments

  • Read the Academic Integrity Intro, take the Academic Integrity training, and submit a screen capture/copy of your completed Academic Integrity Certificate
  • Take the Unit 0 - Introduction and Orientation Quiz (and pass it!)
  • Introduce yourself to your classmates in your first Discussion Assignment

Unit 1: Fresh Water: Scarcity or Surfeit?

Module 1: Freshwater Resources - A Global Perspective (Week 2)

  • Global Freshwater Resources
  • Water Usage: What and Where?
  • Demand for Water
  • Pricing Water
  • See Module 1 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 1 Discussion: Fresh Water: Commodity or Right?
  • Module 1 Assignment: Water Use Assignment
Module 2: Climatology of Water (Week 3)
  • Unique Properties of Water
  • Water Distribution on Earth
  • Relative Humidity
  • See Module 2 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 2 Quiz
  • No discussion question this week

Unit 2: Physical Hydrology

Module 3: Rivers and Watersheds (Week 4)

  • Water Moves Through the Landscape
  • River Flow Changes Over Time
  • Rivers Come in Many Shapes and Sizes
  • See Module 3 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 3 Discussion: The Excruciating Dilemma
  • Module 3 Quiz
Module 4: Flood and Drought (Week 5)
  • Making Sense of Hydrologic Variability
  • Normal Versus Extreme Hydrologic Events
  • Floods
  • Droughts
  • Hydrologic Variability Versus the Human Need for Water Resource Reliability
  • See Module 4 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 4 Discussion: Ellicot City
  • Module 4 Quiz
Module 5: Dam it All! (Week 6)
  • Introduction to Dams
  • Ponding the Waters: Impacts of Dams
  • Bringing Down the Dams
  • The Future of Dams: Developing Nations
  • See Module 5 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 5 Discussion: Regulating Dam Construction *small group discussion*
  • Module 5 Quiz
Module 6.1 Groundwater Hydrology - Aquifiers and Properties (Week 7)
  • Aquifers Explained
  • Types of Aquifers
  • Aquifer Properties
  • Regional Aquifer Systems: Examples
  • Darcy's Experiments and Darcy's Law
  • See Module 6.1 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 6.1 Discussion: Groundwater Levels Near You
  • Module 6.1 Quiz
Module 6.2: Groundwater Hydrology - Aquifer Processes and Dynamics (Week 8)
  • Driving Forces for Groundwater Flow
  • Effects of Pumping Wells
  • Groundwater Budgets
  • The High Plains Aquifer
  • See Module 6.2 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 6.2 Discussion: High Plains Aquifer Overdraft *small group discussion*
  • Module 6.2 Quiz
Unit 2: Reflection & Capstone Introduction (Week 9)
  • Capstone Project Introduction
  • Unit 2 Reflection and Capstone Assignments
  • See Module 6.2 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Unit 2 Discussion Reflection
  • Capstone City Selection

Unit 3: Social Science of Water

Module 7: What is in Your Water? (Week 10)

  • Units of Water Chemistry
  • Drinking Water Regulation
  • The Chemistry of Natural Waters
  • Contaminant Example 1: Arsenic in Groundwater
  • Contaminant Example 2; "Dead Zones" and Excess Nutrient Runoff
  • See Module 7 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 7 Discussion: The Problem of Dead Zones *small group discussion*
  • Module 7 Quiz
Module 8.1: Cities in Peril: Dealing With Water Scarcity - History and Current Approaches (Week 11)
  • Surface Water Allocation and Management
  • Cities in Peril: LA
  • Cities in Peril: Las Vegas
  • The Colorado River Compact 
  • See Module 8.1 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 8.1 Discussion: Cadillac Desert
  • Read through your Capstone Project Assignment.
  • No quiz this week. Quiz next week will cover material from Module 8.1.
Module 8.2: Cities in Peril: Future Climate Change, Population Growth, and Water Issues (Week12)
  • Water Use, Water Stress, and Population Growth
  • Climate Change
  • All Water Problems are Local
  • See Module 8.2 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 8.2 Discussion: Projected Climate Change
  • Module 8.1 and 8.2 Quiz
  • Work on Capstone Project
Module 9: Water and Politics (Week 13)
  • Sharing the Waters
  • See Module 9 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Module 9 Discussion: Water Sharing *small group discussion*
  • Work on Capstone Project
Module 10: Solving the Water Crisis (Week 14)
  • Potential Solutions to Problems with Water Scarcity and Quality
  • Seawater Desalination (SWRO)
  • Water Re-Use
  • Water Banking and Optioning of Water Rights
  • Distant Sources
  • See Module 10 in Canvas for up-to-date reading assignments.
  • Unit 3 Reflection
  • Work on Capstone Project
Capstone Project (Week 15)
  • Capstone Project Assignment
  • None
  • Capstone Project Assignment
  • Capstone Project Part 1: Written
  • Capstone Project Part 2: Presentation

Course Policies

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity 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 others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.