Geography 596A: Individual Studies - Peer Review

GEOG 596A Syllabus

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. Together these serve the role of our course "contract."

Fritz Kessler, Beth King, and Jim Detwiler
2217 Earth-Engineering Sciences Building
University Park, PA 16802

E-MAIL: Please use your PSU e-mail address in all correspondence about this course.

AVAILABILITY: Students are welcome to contact me by email anytime; I usually am able to respond within 24 hours. Although e-mail correspondence is preferred, students may also contact me by telephone.

This is an individual studies class and, as such, has very little in the way of formal online instruction. The "instructor-of-record" of this course will make sure that you're connected with your faculty adviser as you're doing your independent study and will set up the end of term online seminar in which you present your work to the others in the class.

Most students will utilize their independent study credits in this course to work on their proposal for their capstone project.

Information for Students Who Are Working on Their Project Proposal

Since the project proposal forms the basis for your capstone project, each of you will be working with your program adviser on your proposal. Therefore, proposal formats will likely vary, as each adviser may have different requirements for the length and format of the project proposal.

A typical proposal format would include the following sections:

  1. Background
  2. Goals and Objectives
  3. Proposed Methodology
  4. Project Timeline
  5. Anticipated Results

While your work schedule for the course will vary depending on what is agreed upon between you and your program adviser, here is a typical course schedule:

  • Part 1 (Weeks 1-3)
    A. Refine the problem - Narrative discussion of research to be conducted and why it's important
    B. Conduct a literature review
    Deliverable to adviser: 2-3 page narrative identifying significant literature, including identification of major issues discussed, approach used, lessons learned, history of issues, and future of the issues, include formal reference citations
  • Part 2 (Weeks 4-6)
    A. Identify research approach
    B. Identify research steps/methods
    C. Identify anticipated research results
  • Part 3 (Weeks 7-9)
    A. Develop a rough draft of consolidated narrative
    B. Develop a PowerPoint presentation
    C. Adviser review and comment on narrative and presentation
  • Part 4 (Week 10)
    A. Present via Zoom
    B. Collect peer review comments
    C. Revise narrative and presentation based on peer review

Check with your adviser to see what requirements s/he has for your project proposal and evaluation and grading.

Information for Students Taking GEOG 596 to Meet the Peer Review Requirement

You will use GEOG 596 credits to meet your peer review requirements and you will use this opportunity to present preliminary work or a project proposal for your capstone project. We will have an end of term virtual seminar where you present your preliminary work or capstone project proposal to the rest of the class. That will usually take place in the final week of the class.

What will this all look like? By the end of the term, you will have completed a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes your work and that can be delivered in 25 minutes. We reserve 5 minutes at the end of the presentation for questions. You will present your work in a live Web conference, using Zoom (a collaboration tool that includes video conferencing, application sharing, and chat). Depending on the number of students registered for the course, we will likely need to schedule more than one date/times to give these live. While I hope that you will be able to (virtually) attend all of the presentations given in this course, presentations will be recorded and made available online for later viewing, as well. That way everyone will have an opportunity to provide feedback, either live or via the Web, on the presentations. Everyone in the class is required to provide feedback to each of their peers in the class.

I want to maintain as informal a process as I can in this course--really modeled after our independent studies in-residence.

Technical Requirements

Equipment requirements: High-speed internet access, webcam optional. See the Online Geospatial Education Technical Requirements for details.

Not sure if your computer is set up correctly? You can use the links below to test your settings:

  1. Adobe Acrobat
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If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the World Campus Help Desk.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

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 camps 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 to foster 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:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


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 with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.