GEOG 468
GIS Analysis and Design

GEOG 468 Syllabus


Geographic Information Systems Design and Evaluation

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

Class Meeting Time

  • Day: Tuesday and Thursday
  • Time: 9:45 AM - 11:00 AM
  • Location: 105 Walker Bldg


Dr. Todd Bacastow
Associate Professor
2217 Earth and Engineering Sciences Building
Department of Geosciences & Dutton e-Education Institute
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802

  • Phone:(814) 863-0049
  • Email: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Communicate tab in ANGEL)
  • Office Hours: My office hours (in person or phone calls) are Monday through Friday, 1:00 p.m.. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time.

Course Overview

GEOG 468: Geographic Information Systems Design and Evaluation. Systematic approach to requirements acquisition, specification, design and implementation of geospatial information systems.

Prerequisites: None

Geography 468 course provides the geospatial information system professional an overview of systems analysis and design with emphasis the concepts behind the process including: business use case modeling, business object modeling, requirements definition, analysis and preliminary design, and, finally, detailed design. The concepts of the geospatial software and database development process are introduced and the current modeling techniques are addressed within the geospatial systems development paradigm. In a series of related activities the student learn about the methods, tools and the concepts of the systems development process to document a portion of a geospatial system with Unified Modeling Language (UML), the standard graphical notation for modeling application needs. UML affords a common unifying framework that integrates database models with the rest of a system design.

GEOG 468 is organized around activities and a capstone assignment. Each activity includes associated readings and activities about concepts and tools of system design and analysis. Throughout the course, students have "mile marker" (activities) assignments that are designed to maintain progress toward the capstone assignment. The course demonstrates the uniqueness of geospatial system design in a succession of related activities. The activities require students to confront issues that cultivate the skills and understanding required to effectively complete a geospatial system analysis, design, and implementation. Particular attention is given to the use of an established system develop process and modeling language. Those who successfully complete the course are able to model a system with UML as part of a design process.

What will be expected of you?

This course requires a minimum of 6 hours of student activity each week, depending on the speed at which you work. Included in the 6 hours each week is time to complete projects and related activities. You'll be glad to know that you don't have to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete each project and a quiz before the published deadline at the end of the week.

You will need to check out the course message boards regularly. That's where students and instructors share comments, pose questions, and suggest answers. I strongly encourage you to get in the habit of logging in to the course Web site every day to check in on the class. With only occasional exceptions, I usually check message boards six days a week. You can be sure that I will read, but not necessarily respond to, every single message.

For a more detailed look at what will be covered in each lesson, as well as due dates for our assignments and activities, please refer to the semester-specific course schedule that is part of this syllabus (see "Course Schedule").

Course Goals

At the successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • Recognize design as a human experience concerned with our ability to mould the environment to suit our needs.
  • Understand the uniqueness of geospatial system analysis and design, the conceptual basis for the current approaches, limitations, and the emerging thoughts that address these limitations.
  • Recognize design as a rational, logical, sequential process intended to solve problems.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the underlying concepts that drive the phases of geospatial systems analysis and design (planning, analysis, design, implementation, operation, and support).
  • Appraise various analytic approaches to effectively solicit input in the design process, unique perspectives and appreciate their role in the process.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of techniques used to document a design model.
  • Appropriately integrate non-spatial systems information systems design practices with spatial systems design practices.
  • Design a subset of a geospatial system using the Rational Unified Process, Unified Modeling Language, and Computer-Aided Software Engineering tools.

Required Course Materials

In order to take this course, you need to have the required course materials and an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the on-line course resources).

Using the Library

As a Penn State student you have a wealth of library resources available to you! You will need to access the library to:

  • search for journal articles (many are even immediately available in full-text)
  • request articles that aren't available in full-text and have them delivered electronically
  • borrow books and other materials and have them delivered to your doorstep
  • access materials that your instructor has put on Electronic Reserve
  • talk to reference librarians in real time using chat, phone, and e-mail
  • ...and much more!

To learn more about their services, see the Library Information for Off-site Users.

Assignments and Grading

Your grade for this course will be based on the following. Detailed instructions are located within the online course materials.

Breakdown of each lesson's value as a percentage of the total course grade
Activity Deliverable Effort Where/How Delivered Percentage of Grade
Lesson 1:
The Nature of the GIS Design Problem
Discuss a "wicked problem" that has some geospatial aspect. Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 2:
GIS Basics for System Design
Quiz Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 3:
Spatial and Geospatial Thinking in System Design
Discuss the behavioral, physical, and cognitive geospatial aspects of a "town and gown" problem. Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 4:
What is Design?
Discuss a fundamental concept in the Norman or Senge reading and describe how you would apply the concept in the design of a geospatial system. Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 5:
Capstone Introduction
Project pre-proposal Team Team DropBox & Instructor Meeting 10%**
Lesson 7:
Foundations of Geospatial System Development
What is unique about designing a geospatial system (GIS)? Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 8:
Geospatial Systems Analysis and Fact-Finding
Describe an experience with an information technology and explain why the Keen reading was included in this lesson? Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 9:
Developing Designs
Explain why you might use "use cases" in your team's design project? Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 10:
Documenting Solutions
Explain why we "model" a system? Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 11:
Software Architectures
Name and discuss a geospatial architecture. Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 12:
Geospatial Systems Modeling
Why is UML described as a language? Name and discuss a geospatial concept that is or should be part of the UML language. Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 13:
Geospatial Systems Human Factors
Discuss a unique human factor to be considered when designing a geospatial system. Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 14:
Evaluating GIS Systems
What circumstances would one employ the methods tested by Haklay and Zafiri? Individual Lesson DropBox 5%*
Lesson 15:
Capstone document, presentation, and individual quiz on key concepts Team Team DropBox & Presentation 30%**

* Grade earned based on +3 points for submission and an additional +2 points for acceptable content. Late without acceptable explaination, 3 pts.; work over two weeks late will not be accepted.

** The Capstone (course project) includes grades for Lessons 5 and 15 which is a total of 30% of your course grade.

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Letter Grades and Corresponding Percentage Ranges
Letter Grade Percentages
A 90–100%
A- 87.5–89.9%
B+ 85–87.4%
B- 77.5–79.9%
C+ 75–77.4%
C 70–74.9%
D 60–69.9%
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

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

Geog 468 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the lesson objectives for this course and the associated time frames. Assignment information will be located on each lesson's checklist. This course is 15 weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on Wednesday. There are three different styles of reading that are referred to in the syllabus:

  • Scan: Do not deal with all of the content, but search through the material for a specific purpose or a specific word (or its synonym), such as finding the answer to a question.
  • Skim: To skim read a page by reading the headings and first sentences of each paragraph or section.
  • Read:The purpose of this style is to understand the concepts and arguments that the text contains and is should be preceded by the Skim reading style.
Lesson 1: The Nature of the GIS Design Problem
Date Jan 10
Lesson 2: GIS Basics for System Design
Date Jan 12
Assignments Lesson 1 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 2: GIS Basics for System Design (Continued)
Date Jan 17
Lesson 3: Spatial and Geospatial Thinking in System Design
Date Jan 19
Assignments Lesson 2 Quiz Due
Lesson 3: Spatial and Geospatial Thinking in System Design (Continued)
Date Jan 24
Lesson 4: What is Design?
Date Jan 26
Assignments Lesson 3 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 4: What is Design? (Continued)
Date Jan 31
Lesson 5: Capstone Introduction
Date Feb 2
Assignments Lesson 4 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 6: Building the Team
Date Feb 7
Lesson 5: Capstone Introduction (Continued)
Date Feb 9
Assignments Project Pre-proposal Due
Lesson 7: Foundations of Geospatial System Development
Date Feb 14
Lesson 7: Foundations of Geospatial System Development (Continued)
Date Feb 16
Assignments Lesson 7 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 8: Geospatial Systems Analysis and Fact-Finding
Date Feb 21
Lesson 8: Geospatial Systems Analysis and Fact-Finding (Continued)
Date Feb 23
Assignments Lesson 8 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 9: Developing Designs
Date Feb 28
Lesson 9: Developing Designs (Continued)
Date Mar 1
Assignments Lesson 9 Think-Piece Due
Spring Break
Date Mar 3-10
Lesson 10: Documenting Solutions
Date Mar 13
Lesson 10: Documenting Solutions (Continued)
Date Mar 15
Assignments Lesson 10 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 11: Software Architectures
Date Mar 20
Lesson 11: Software Architectures (Continued)
Date Mar 22
Assignments Lesson 11 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 12: Geospatial Systems Modeling
Date Mar 27
Lesson 12: Geospatial Systems Modeling (Continued)
Date Mar 29
Assignments Lesson 12 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 13: Geospatial Systems Human Factors
Date Apr 3
Lesson 13: Geospatial Systems Human Factors (Continued)
Date Apr 5
Assignments Think-Piece Due
Lesson 14: Evaluating GIS Systems
Date Apr 10
Lesson 14: Capstone Quiz
Date Apr 12
Assignments Lesson 14 Think-Piece Due
Lesson 15: Capstone Work Period
Date Apr 17
Lesson 15: Capstone Work Period
Date Apr 19
Lesson 15: Capstone
Date Apr 24
Assignments Project Due
Lesson 15: Capstone (Continued)
Date Apr 26
Assignments Project Due

Course Policies

Late Policy

Work over two weeks late will not be accepted.


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 Virginia Shea's "The Core Rules of Netiquette" for general guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course.

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.


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

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.

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.

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