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BYU Course Outcomes

Students will define, understand, and locate the unique geographical traits and spatial patterns that exist within the boundaries of North America and their influence on the rest of the world.

Course Outcomes

The discipline of geography has three main components. These components include physical geography (landforms, climate, biogeography, and so forth), human geography (culture, politics, economics, population, urban geography, and so forth), and geographic techniques (cartography, spatial statistics, geographic information systems, and remote sensing). These components are approached in two different ways: systematically and regionally. Taking a systematic approach, we would study population geography or climate without respect to any one region or to spatial scale of analysis (local, regional, national, or global). Taking a regional approach, we would study places or areas using an analytical tool called regions (explained in lesson one). Taking a regional approach includes examining the physical and human characteristics of places and the processes that create those characteristics. In doing so, we may use maps, remote sensing, statistics, and so forth to help us understand the regions we are studying.

In this course, we use both a systematic and a regional approach to learn more about the U.S. and Canada. In the first part of the course, we use a systematic approach to create a geographic framework for understanding how regions are created, maintained, and changed. The maintenance and changing of regions may seem to be the opposite of each other, but both ideas are necessary for understanding any region or place. In this first section, we will cover the physical environment of the continent—its surface configuration, climate, soil, and plant and animal life. These are of concern to geographers because all other geographic phenomena are superimposed upon them. One cannot fully understand the Corn Belt without having a working knowledge of its climate, soil, and terrain. In any area, a geographical image (or interpretation of the landscape) is based on the area’s physical features and cultural and historical traits. So after we learn about the U.S. and Canada’s physical environment, we will learn about the region’s historical settlement and political and economic development (its human environment). Its human environment includes people and all that they have done to modify the landscape of the earth. Cities, industrial centers, and agricultural lands are examples of human activities. We will discuss where they are and why they are there are the main considerations in any geographical analysis.

After establishing the importance of these various physical and human environments, we then use these as tools to explore specific regions of the U.S. and Canada. We will follow the outline in your text and move (generally) from east to west, starting with the Atlantic Periphery and eventually coming almost full circle back to the Far North. As your text points out, this is only one potential regional division, but I feel it is one of the more useful ones and is a well thought out and structured regional approach. As we move through each of the regions, I will give you various geographic facts that you should pay attention to. However, even more important are the geographic concepts introduced in each chapter that help us make some sense of the presented facts. While there will be some factual recall required, I will stress the concepts the most in this course.

After successfully completing this course, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Describe where things are located (using the locational concepts of site and situation), explain why they are located where they are, and present conclusions as to the possible impacts.
  2. Discuss the historical, cultural, demographic, economic, political, and physical make-up of every part of the land so that you can formulate impressions about these areas based on the facts presented.
  3. Gain sufficient knowledge of geographical place names in the U.S. and Canada. This will help you tie the geographic concepts to place.
  4. Be able to explain geographic concepts and their roles within their settings. For example, the city of New Orleans is more than just a town in Louisiana—it is a port and manufacturing center in an advantageous location with respect to raw materials, market, and labor supply. Where is it? Why is it located here? Upon what other surrounding areas is the city dependent for its prosperity? What are its outward characteristics? Similar questions could be asked about the Central Valley farming regions of California or, in fact, about any other part of the continent.
  5. Describe the differences and similarities between individual places and regions in the United States and Canada, the trends affecting the continent, and explain what factors or processes are creating the described differences, similarities, and trends.

Course Materials

Birdsall, Stephen S., Eugene J. Palka, Jon C. Malinowski, and Margo L. Price, Regional Landscapes of The United States and Canada, 7th Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.

Additional Readings

In each lesson, there are some links to additional readings on the U.S. and Canada relative to the specific lesson material. All of these links have been checked and are current at the time of publication of this lesson manual. However, because items on the Internet can and do change, some links may not work. We will update the links on our Web page so that if changes occur, you can go to our Web page for the new links.

It is important to read the additional readings, because they provide more detailed information than your text can provide on specific subjects that are of great interest and importance to the geographies of the U.S. and Canada. Although you will not be tested on the material, your knowledge of the U.S. and Canada will be greatly enhanced by these additional readings. I think you will find them enjoyable.

All links referenced in the paper version of this course can be accessed in the online version of this course.

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Course Layout

Each of the eighteen lessons in this course begins with an introduction about the subject that will be covered. In all cases, the topics are tied to a specific chapter in the required text for this course. After the introduction, each lesson contains a set of lesson objectives. I recommend that you review this section after you finish each lesson to make sure you have learned what we intended for you to learn. Following the list of objectives is a reading assignment box, along with other recommended activities. Often these activities require the use of the Internet. These activities are followed by objective sections. The purpose of these sections is for me to explain some concepts and present some material that was not covered in the text and that will help illustrate some of the concepts presented in the text.


There are eighteen lessons in this course. Each lesson has a quiz. All of the lessons also contain Self Check exercises, which you will correct yourself by viewing answers provided on screen during each exercise. There is also a scoring key so that you can gauge where you are grade-wise. Each Self Check exercise contains between five and ten questions organized by lesson objective. There are approximately fifteen questions per quiz. A portfolio assignment (usually a one-page essay) is also included with each lesson. The portfolio assignments will be turned in before you take the final exam. The quizzes are graded by computer, and I will grade the portfolio assignments.

In order to do your best on the assignments, you should carefully go through each lesson, do the activities and assigned readings, and make sure you understand all of the important terms in the chapters. If you don’t understand what a term means from the context of the reading, turn to the glossary at the end of the book and look up the definition there (because there are a lot of new terms and concepts introduced in this course, I will provide some “hints” in each lesson on which concepts I think you should concentrate on). Then try and answer the review questions at the end of each chapter. After doing all of this, complete the Self Check questions, and then go back over the material in your text or lesson for any questions that you missed. All of this will give you more than adequate preparation to complete the quizzes. Remember, it is just as important to complete the Self Check exercises in a satisfactory manner as it is to do well on the quizzes. You may submit only three assignments within a seven day period.

Note: If you require help on any of the quizzes or portfolio assignments, please submit your questions through your course.

Portfolio Assignments

To make sure I can open and read your portfolio assignments, please save them as Word .DOC or .DOCX files.

Use the course number, your first and last name, and the assignment name for the filename. For example, GEOG250_JaneSmith_Portfolio.docx.

It’s very important that you submit all of the assignments for a portfolio at the same time. Here’s how to submit your completed portfolio assignments:

  1. Click the Portfolio Submission link in your course (it may be called “First Portfolio Submission” or “Second Portfolio Submission”—choose the one for the portfolio you’re submitting).
  2. Click Open.
  3. Attach all of the relevant assignments by clicking the Choose File button, then locating the file you wish to submit.
  4. To attach additional files, click Add Attachment and click the Choose File button to locate and upload the next file. Make sure you attach every file you need to include in the portfolio assignment.
  5. When you are finished, click Submit.
  6. You will be asked if you are sure you want to submit this assignment. Click Yes.
  7. You will receive a message that tells you that you have successfully submitted your assignment. Click OK.

Remember: Do not submit any assignment until you have completed all of the assignments for the portfolio!

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You are required to complete two exams for this course. The midterm exam will be taken after lesson 9 and will cover the material from lessons 1 through 9. The final exam will be taken after you turn in your portfolio and will cover lessons 10 through 18. You must pass the final exam to pass the course.

The exams contain multiple-choice and true and false questions only, very similar to the questions found on the quizzes. An attempt has been made to limit the number of questions that come from the assignments or Self Check exercises verbatim, but there are a number of questions that are quite similar. If you do well on the quizzes and the Self Check exercises, you should do well on the exams. You can expect a variety of questions in terms of level of difficulty. Some of the questions are simply facts that you are expected to know, while others will require you to not only know the fact or concept, but also be able to apply it to a new situation. There are also questions designed to see if you can relate, or synthesize, a number of concepts taken from throughout the lessons. Thus, some of the answers will come straight from the text, while others will require you to apply your new knowledge in different, and sometimes unexpected, contexts.

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You will probably receive higher grades on the assignments than on the exams. This occurs because you can easily work up good answers for the assignments when you have access to any materials you care to use, and there is usually ample time to do extra work if necessary. Do not let good performance on the assignments lead you to grow complacent about preparing for exams; the exams are more difficult than the assignments. The problem can be solved by preparing exceptionally well for the exams. Remember that you will not have the luxury of being able to search through your notes or reread the text while taking the exams.

You will find that the more you go beyond the text in completing each assignment and Self Check exercise, the more enthusiastic you will be about your progress in the course. It is important that you become familiar with the terms and concepts presented in each lesson and don’t just finish each lesson by marking the correct responses and moving on. Try to write out the answers in your own words, using complete sentences that would make good sense to a reader who has never seen the text or the lesson. One of the best ways of learning a new subject is to try to teach it. Take the opportunity to explain the concepts you are learning to your spouse, roommate, children, and so forth. You will be surprised how much better you remember the material if you know that someone is going to ask you to explain it to them. This will also make the material much more enjoyable. For example, sit down with your family and plan a vacation across the U.S. or Canada and explain what you would expect to see and do as you visited various regions. A couple of years ago, my family and I drove from Utah to Nova Scotia, Canada (yes, we were insane). Every time we stopped, we collected small soil samples, clearly writing the location, time of year, and the characteristics of the place (slope, aspect, land use, and so forth) in a notebook. My daughter then used a sample of these for her middle school science fair as she provided descriptions and possible explanations for the differences in each soil type. It was a great family activity that we all learned something from. We also took pictures of road signs that showed differences between places (watch for grizzlies in Montana and moose in New Brunswick). Another activity that we have done locally is to “measure” the increasing influence of the Hispanic population in Utah (nine percent of the total population, according to the 2000 census) by observing the local cultural landscape (that is, the number of Mexican or Latin American restaurants, specialized Mexican foods in local grocery stores, signs and advertisements in Spanish, and so on). Doing these sorts of activities with family or friends helps to make what you are learning in the text and lessons more real and the concepts become not just something to memorize, but ideas that remain with you long after you are finished with the course.

Your overall attitude will play a major role in how much you get out of the experience of taking this course. If you want to learn rather than just get a grade, plan to make it a pleasant experience. You will learn more and enjoy the lessons at the same time if you pace yourself, set realistic completion goals, and seek help if you get in a bind. Consistency and proper planning are probably the key factors in any Independent Study program. For three hours of university credit, the general recommendation for on-campus students is to spend approximately forty-five hours in classroom instructions and at least sixty hours in preparation and out-of-classroom assignments for a semester. Using the above recommendations, you should spend approximately five hours on each lesson if you want to fully understand the subject matter. You may find that you need to spend more time on some lessons, although in most cases you will probably be able to complete lessons in less time, especially if you have effective study habits.

Your final grade will be determined from evaluations of the assignments and your performance on the examinations.

Component Weight Total Weight
Lesson Quizzes (18) 1% 18%
Midterm Exam (1) 27% 27%
Portfolio (1) 25% 25%
Final Exam (1) 30% 30%
Total   100%

Grade Scale

All assignments will be graded using letter grades (A, B, C, and so forth), based on these percentages.
Letter Grade Percent
A 100–94
A- 93–90
B+ 89–87
B 86–84
B- 83–80
C+ 79–77
C 76–74
C- 73–70
D+ 69–67
D 66–64
D- 63–60
E (fail) 59 >

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Copyright Notice

The materials used in connection with this online course are only for the use of students enrolled in this course for purposes associated with this course and may not be retained or further disseminated. Any copying or further dissemination of these materials may be subject to applicable U.S. Copyright Laws. For questions or more information, please visit the BYU Copyright Licensing Office website.

“Members of the BYU community who willfully disregard this Copyright Policy or the BYU Copyright Guidelines place themselves individually at risk of legal action and may incur personal liability for their conduct. The unauthorized use or distribution of copyrighted material, including unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing, may subject individuals to civil and criminal liabilities, including actual and statutory damages, costs and fees of litigation, fines, and imprisonment

Violations of the Copyright Policy may result in university disciplinary action including termination of university enrollment or employment.” (Emphasis added. Excerpt taken from the BYU Copyright Policy)

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University Policy - Title IX Statement

Preventing & Responding to Sexual Misconduct

In accordance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Brigham Young University prohibits unlawful sex discrimination against any participant in its education programs or activities. The university also prohibits sexual harassment—including sexual violence—committed by or against students, university employees, and visitors to campus. As outlined in university policy, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking are considered forms of "Sexual Misconduct" prohibited by the university.

University policy requires all university employees in a teaching, managerial, or supervisory role to report all incidents of Sexual Misconduct that come to their attention in any way, including but not limited to face-to-face conversations, a written class assignment or paper, class discussion, email, text, or social media post. Incidents of Sexual Misconduct should be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at or (801) 422-8692. Reports may also be submitted through EthicsPoint at or 1-888-238-1062 (24-hours a day).

BYU offers confidential resources for those affected by Sexual Misconduct, including the university’s Victim Advocate, as well as a number of non-confidential resources and services that may be helpful. Additional information about Title IX, the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, reporting requirements, and resources can be found at or by contacting the university’s Title IX Coordinator.

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Accessibility Notice

BYU is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere which reasonably accommodates persons with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in BYU's programs and activities. In this spirit, BYU Independent Study aspires to improve web accessibility for users. While not required by law, the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Levels A and AA provide a wide range of helpful recommendations to make Web content more accessible. BYU Independent Study strives to apply WCAG 2.0 recommendations where feasible, but may deviate from any recommendations that would result in an undue hardship to BYU Independent Study or alterations to program and course content and objectives. If you have questions about accessibility, or if you need to report problems with any accessibility features please see our Accessibilities and Accommodations Web Page.

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Course Policies

These policies are specific to this course. For additional information about general policies, please refer to Independent Study Course Policies page.


18 computer graded assignments, 1 instructor-graded portfolio. You may resubmit assignments once for a fee. You may submit only three assignments within a seven-day period.

Resubmit an assignment for a fee.


1 proctored, computer-graded midcourse exam and 1 proctored, computer-graded final exam. Each exam may be resubmitted once for a fee. You must pass the final exam to earn credit for the course.

Retake an exam for a fee.

Getting Help

Please use the help menu in this course to contact Independent Study or your instructor. You can find a list of free tutors available to BYU Independent Study students on the Free Tutoring Services website.

Note: The Harold B. Lee Library website provides a number of online resources and librarians are available via phone, chat, and email to answer questions about library-related issues.

Inappropriate Use of Course Content

All course materials (e.g., outlines, handouts, syllabi, exams, quizzes, media, lecture content, audio and video recordings, etc.) are proprietary. Students are prohibited from posting or selling any such course materials without the express written permission of BYU Independent Study. To do so is a violation of the Brigham Young University Honor Code.

Copyright © 2016 Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.

Published by the
Department of Independent Study
Division of Continuing Education
Brigham Young University
120 MORC
Provo, Utah 84602-1514