GEOG 160
Mapping Our Changing World



Geog 160: Welcome to Mapping Our Changing World, Summer 2020


Ellie Nasr Azadani serves as lead instructor of GEOG 160 during the Summer 2020 term

Please contact me through Canvas Inbox with any questions.

Course Overview

(BA) This course meets the Bachelor of Arts degree requirements

Mapping involves producing and using geographic data. Geographic data specify the locations and characteristics of people and objects both natural and anthropogenic in nature. Geographic data are produced by several methods, including land surveying, aerial photography and photogrammetry, satellite remote sensing and positioning systems, social surveys such as those conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, and by an increasing array of personalized sources (e.g., cell phone GPS). Geographic information systems (GIS) and related technologies are used to turn data into maps, tables, and other kinds of information people need to make informed decisions. In a rapidly changing world, detailed, up-to-date geographic data are indispensable for governance, for commerce, and for research intended to improve our understanding of social and environmental systems.

Geographic information science (GIScience) is a research enterprise concerned with the design, development, and use of geographic information technologies (sometimes also called geospatial technologies) to help institutions and individuals not only respond to, but, ideally, to predict environmental and social change. The course is intended to be of value not only to future specialists in the geographic information enterprise but also to every student who is concerned with social and environmental research and policy-making.

Course Objectives & Outcomes

The overall goals of GEOG 160 are that students will:

  1. gain a broad perspective on geographic information science and related technologies;
  2. be able to identify the kind(s) of geographic information needed for a particular task, to determine whether needed data are available, to use relevant technologies to acquire, process, and assess the quality of the data if available, and to interpret and appraise maps of the data critically;
  3. be prepared for more advanced study of GIS, remote sensing, and cartography;
  4. gain experience with asynchronous online learning.

Learning Outcome

Fulfilling these objectives should result in students becoming knowledgeable and critical consumers of geographic data and information produced by government agencies, industry, and popular media.

Course Expectations (your responsibilities)

The Department of Geography offers two versions of GEOG 160: one in the classroom, the other on the Web. The Web version consists of a required orientation; a free, online course text that consists of nine lessons; eight graded quizzes; two graded projects and 3 graded mini-projects; and participation in discussion. Everything takes place online. All of the material you will need is within the University’s online course management system, Canvas.  

Students never have to log into the class at any particular time or place. Students are expected to keep pace with the assignment calendar posted in Canvas. Students communicate with instructors and with fellow students within Canvas using forums/discussions and email from within Canvas using the Conversations tool. They upload project reports by submitting an assignment in Canvas. Depending on their prior experience and comfort level with desktop computing and Web publishing, students need to devote about 6 or 7 hours of effort per week over the 15-week course. Working on course assignments sporadically, or not at all, will earn poor or failing grades. As is often the case in e-learning, the Web version is more demanding than the classroom version of the course.

Required Course Materials

To participate in GEOG 160 as a registered student you need high-speed access to the Internet, and access to Penn State's course management system, Canvas. The course text is open to anyone with Internet access. Access to Canvas requires a Penn State computing account, which registered students acquire by paying an annual technology fee. Students may be asked to download and install free software applications for mapping. No additional materials or proprietary software or data are required for GEOG160.

Using the Library

Many of Penn State's library resources can be utilized from a distance. Students can...

  • access electronic databases, and even full-text articles, from the University Libraries website;
  • 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."

Access to these services is available under the Library Resources tab in Canvas.

Technical Requirements and Help

Minimum technical requirements for this course are as follows (Required for your own computer):

  • Robust Internet Connection
  • Internet Browser Settings: Cookies, Java, and JavaScript MUST be enabled

Assignments and Grades

Detailed descriptions for each of these requirements are given on the Canvas site. Please see those descriptions or the course calendar for the appropriate deadlines, and guidelines for submissions!

8 Graded Chapter Quizzes (120 pts)

Quizzes are open-book, multiple-choice format, and provide feedback immediately after submission. The purpose of these quizzes is to help you self-assess your understanding of the course text. Many quiz questions also challenge students' ability to think beyond what they've read.

Starting with Chapter 2, each chapter includes one cumulative graded quiz, worth 15 points each (with a mix of 1 and 2 point questions, depending on the chapter). The graded quizzes are open-book format and can only be submitted once. Once you submit the graded quiz, the grade you receive on it is final. You are welcome to open, view, and even print quizzes, and to consult them while reading the text. While throughout the course you are free to collaborate with classmates, please remember: if you are not able to score well on the graded quizzes on your own, you will probably earn a poor score on the projects and a disappointing grade for the course.

3 Mini-Projects (150 pts)

In conjunction with weekly chapters, registered students are assigned three graded mini-projects (10%, or 50 points each). Projects require you to conduct research (primarily via the Web), make maps, perform tasks, and demonstrate your ability to apply concepts discussed in the course text. Details on required forms of submission for each mini-project will be contained in the project instructions. In all cases, some components of the project will require an assignment submission in Canvas; whether you have met the project deadline will be determined by submitting the assignment on time and (in some cases) the time of posts to a discussion forum. Teaching assistants provide detailed individual critiques and itemized scores in response to every student report.

Depending on your previous experience and comfort level with computing, you'll find projects to be moderately to highly challenging. The key to success is to pace yourself, pay close attention to the grading criteria/rubric, and take time to write at a professional level. Due dates appear in the course Assignments list in Canvas as well as in the calendar.

2 Projects (200 pts)

Two larger projects will be assigned that count for 40% of your final grade (worth 100 points each). These projects also require you to conduct research (primarily via the Web) and prepare a report to demonstrate your ability to apply concepts discussed in the course text. Details on required forms of submission for projects will be contained in the project instructions. In all cases, some components of the project will require a submission to Canvas; whether you have met the project deadline will be determined by submitting your project as an assignment within Canvas on time and (in some cases) the time of posts to a discussion forum.

We expect submissions for all projects to be original. You may build upon ideas, words and illustrations produced by others, but you must generate original results and put ideas into your own words (or quote directly, when necessary). It is essential to cite and provide references for your sources (not only for quotes but for sources of ideas that you put into your own words). Reports that contain unacknowledged contributions by others are considered to be plagiarized. We use the plagiarism detection service to evaluate the originality of students' work. Detailed guidelines about how to prepare an original report are included in the Academic Integrity Guide.

Participation in focused discussions (30 pts)

The final component of your grade will be based upon your participation in structured online discussions. There is a general discussion forum available throughout the course, and we encourage you to use those to ask questions, provide answers to other students, and make relevant observations (e.g., about interesting maps you see online that fit with what you have read about). In addition to this ungraded forum, there will be 5 discussion forums set up during the semester that provide a focused discussion topic that you are expected to address. At a minimum, for each, you are required to make at least one relevant post about the topic or a relevant follow up on someone else’s post. You can earn up to 5 points per discussion assignment.

Assignment Due Dates

Each graded quiz has a primary due date/time and a late due/date time. Quizzes will not be available after the second of these (a zero will be assigned for quizzes not submitted). For each quiz submitted on or before the primary due date/time, 1 timeliness bonus point will be added to your overall score (thus up to 8 points total).

Discussion contributions must be submitted by the due date/time to receive full credit. Discussions will remain open for 1 week beyond the deadline; 1 point will be deducted for late contributions during that period. No contributions will be allowed beyond the 1 week late window.

Project due dates are announced at the beginning of the course and are enforced. "Timeliness" points are awarded as a substantial part of each project score. Mini-projects submitted after the published due dates will forfeit all timeliness points. Mini Projects and Project 1 will be accepted for credit (minus timeliness points) until two weeks after the due date. Beyond that time, a project will receive zero points. For Project 2, Late projects will be accepted up to 24 hours late, but not after that. Any project submitted within the 24-hour late window loses 10 (out of 100) points. Any project that is more than 24 hours late receives a zero.

Grading Policy

Course grades are awarded on the basis of weighted percentages of assignment points earned within each category (chapter assignments, quizzes, projects, and participation). There is no final exam for this course. At the conclusion of the course, your instructor calculates the percentages of possible points you earned in each component of the course. Finally, letter grades are awarded based on the breakdown in the table below. Note: Geography majors need to earn at least a ‘C’ grade in Geog 160.

Letter Grades and Percentages
A 95-100%
A- 90-94.9%
B+ 85-89.9%
B 81-84.9%
B- 78-80.9%
C+ 75-77.9%
C 70-74.9%
D 60-69.9%
F <60%

Geog 160 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Check out the schedule via the Calendar in Canvas. The Calendar in Canvas will have specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates. Here are the topics and objectives for each of the nine chapters of the online textbook and the course orientation.

Course Orientation
  • An overview of the course website
  • An overview of Canvas, our course management system
  • How to succeed in this course
  • Where to get assistance if you need it
Chapter 1: Location is Where it's At: Introduction to GIScience and Technology
  • Identify geographic data and what makes location-based data special;
  • explain the qualities of a map and what separates maps from other graphics;
  • recognize the sources of geographic data;
  • describe the kinds of questions that GIS can help answer.
Chapter 2: Shrinking and Flattening the Globe: Scale, Projections, and Datums
  • Understand the concept of map scale and the multiple ways it is specified;
  • demonstrate your ability to specify geographic locations using geographic coordinates;
  • convert geographic coordinates between two different formats;
  • explain the concept of a horizontal datum;
  • recognize the kind of transformation that is appropriate to geo-register two or more data sets;
  • describe the characteristics of the UTM coordinate system, including its basis in the Transverse Mercator map projection;
  • describe the characteristics of the SPC system, including map projection on which it is based;
  • interpret distortion diagrams to identify geometric properties of the sphere that are preserved by a particular map projection;
  • classify projected map graticules by projection family.
Chapter 3: Can I Map That? Maps to Depict Anything in our World
  • Understand the core components of the cartographic process;
  • understand the basic “graphic variables” of map symbolization and how they are used;
  • recognize thematic maps of different types, identify their purpose, and interpret maps within each type;
  • understand the data requirements of different thematic map types and recognize maps that depict data in inappropriate or otherwise misleading ways;
  • understand the implications of data categorization for what maps show (and do not show) about the phenomenon in the world that the map and data behind it represent;
  • select the most appropriate map type to represent a given set of data.
Chapter 4: Encoding our World: Geographic Data Representation
  • Distinguish the difference between features and attributes;
  • identify the different attribute measurement scales and basic operations for each type;
  • understand what a database management system is and identify what it is used for;
  • understand what metadata is and why it is used;
  • identify the difference between vector and raster data.
Chapter 5: How We Know Where We Are: Land Surveying, GPS, and Technology
  • Identify and define the key aspects of geographic data quality, including resolution, precision, and accuracy;
  • explain how radio signals broadcast by Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites are used to calculate positions on the surface of the Earth;
  • state the kinds and magnitude of error associated with uncorrected GPS positioning;
  • identify and explain methods used to improve the accuracy of GPS positioning;
  • list and explain the procedures land surveyors use to produce positional data, including traversing, triangulation, and trilateration.
Chapter 6: Can We Get There from Here? Applications of Topology, TIGER, and Geocoding
  • Explain how geometric primitives in MAF/TIGER are represented in TIGER/Line Shapefile extracts;
  • define topology and explain why and how it is encoded in TIGER;
  • understand what address geocoding is and how it works;
  • describe how TIGER/Line files and similar products can be used for applications within transportation, routing, and business applications.
Chapter 7: Remote Sensing: Imaging our World
  • Compare and contrast the characteristics of image data produced by photography and digital remote sensing systems;
  • use the Web to find Landsat data for a particular place and time;
  • explain why and how remotely sensed image data are processed; and what types of corrections are necessary for getting geographically accurate information;
  • understand how remotely sensed imagery is turned into a range of map products through application of photogrammetric techniques.
Chapter 8: Representing Surfaces
  • Identify different techniques and approaches to representing the Earth’s surfaces;
  • describe how topographic data are compiled from aerial imagery;
  • calculate an interpolated spot elevation based on neighboring elevations;
  • understand how continuous surfaces are created from a set of measured values at discrete locations through interpolation;
  • given a regular or irregular array of spot elevations, construct a triangulated irregular network, interpolate contour intervals and draw contour lines;
  • compare vector and raster representations of terrain elevation;
  • acquire and view digital elevation data from the National Elevation Dataset.
Chapter 9: Geo-Analytics: From Data to Answers
  • Recognize the characteristics of geographic data that must be taken into account to overlay multiple data layers;
  • compare and contrast vector and raster approaches to site suitability studies;
  • have realistic expectations about what geographic data analysis can achieve.

Course Policies

Attendance/Online Participation Policy

Due to the online and flexible nature of the course, generally, no excuses will be accepted for late work. There is plenty of time to plan ahead to finish projects on time. You are responsible for managing your coursework and your class/extracurricular schedule to allow yourself time to complete your assignments before they are due. We encourage you not to wait until the last minute to start working on projects.

The course abides by the Penn State Class Attendance Policy 42-27 and Attendance Policy E-11. Please also see the Illness Verification Policy and the Religious Observance Policy. Students who miss project turn-ins for legitimate reasons will be given a reasonable opportunity to make up missed work. Students are not required to secure the signature of medical personnel in the case of illness or injury; the University Health Center will not provide medical verification for minor illnesses or injuries. Other legitimate reasons for missing project deadlines include religious observance, family emergencies, and regularly scheduled university-approved curricular or extracurricular activities. Students participating in University-approved activities should submit to the instructor a Class Absence Form available from the Registrar’s Office, at least one week prior to the activity. (Note: This form is currently only available online as a PDF).

Use of Trade Names

When trade names are used, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, of The Pennsylvania State University, is implied.

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.

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.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

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

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. 

According to Penn State policy  G-9: Academic Integrity, an academic integrity violation is “an intentional, unintentional, or attempted violation of course or assessment policies to gain an academic advantage or to advantage or disadvantage another student academically.” Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, you must complete all course work entirely on your own, using only sources that have been permitted by your instructor, and you may not assist other students with papers, quizzes, exams, or other assessments. If your instructor allows you to use ideas, images, or word phrases created by another person (e.g., from Course Hero or Chegg) or by generative technology, such as ChatGPT, you must identify their source. You may not submit false or fabricated information, use the same academic work for credit in multiple courses, or share instructional content. Students with questions about academic integrity should ask their instructor before submitting work.

Students facing allegations of academic misconduct may not drop/withdraw from the affected course unless they are cleared of wrongdoing (see G-9: Academic Integrity). Attempted drops will be prevented or reversed, and students will be expected to complete coursework and meet course deadlines. Students who are found responsible for academic integrity violations face academic outcomes, that can be severe, and put themselves at jeopardy for other outcomes which may include ineligibility for the Dean's List, pass/fail elections, and grade forgiveness. Students may also face consequences from their home/major program and/or The Schreyer Honors College.

Please also see Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Procedures, which this course adopts. 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 Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides the contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website.

To receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation. See Student Disability Resources: Applying for Services. 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 wellbeing.  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 with others whom you do not know. 

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.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, 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 emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

In EMS, inclusivity is one of our core values. We prioritize fostering a diverse and equitable community where each member knows they belong here and is inspired to succeed. We encourage everyone in our EMS community to be actively engaged in fostering this ideal, and all members of this class should contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and interact with civility. Our commitment to inclusivity aligns with Penn State’s values and policies. 

To learn more, visit EMS Educational Equity.  Here, you will find information about the EMS ALLWE initiative, the Rainbow EMS Network, Anti-Racism, active ally-ship, bystander intervention, and more. The site also has resources for where to turn if you need assistance and links to University references.  Also, contact your EMS department’s Associate Head for DEI for more information about department initiatives. 

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. Changes to the syllabus shall be given to you in written (paper or electronic) form.