GEOG 479
Cyber-Geography in Geospatial Intelligence

GEOG 479 Course Syllabus: Spatial Data Science for Cyber and Human Social Networks


GEOG 479 Course Syllabus: Spatial Data Science for Cyber and Human Social Networks Spring 2020

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document . It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together, these serve as our course "contract." The text of the syllabus also appears in CANVAS for convenience, however, should there be any questions about content, the authoritative information in Drupal takes precedence.


Dr. Michael L. Thomas: Senior Lecturer, Geospatial Intelligence Program, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is the lead instructor for GEOG 479. Please note that I currently am working with SPAWAR LANT as an analyst, reside in Germany, and am 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

  • Skype phone: michael.thomas.304
  • Office phone: Direct dialing to my office 334-953-6621.
  • Course e-mail: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Inbox tab in Canvas).
  • Personal e-mail:
  • Alternate email:
  • Availability: I check e-mail daily and am available for a live chat on an appointment basis.

E-mail: Please contact your instructors through the course e-mail system in Canvas (see the Inbox tab). Always send correspondence to All in Teachers to ensure that any course assistants also receive the note.


The instructors will read and respond to e-mail and discussion forums at least once per day during the work week (Monday through Friday). You may see the instructor online occasionally on the weekends, but please don't count on it! If you have a question regarding a writing assignment due at 11:55 any evening, the instructor must receive your question via Canvas e-mail no later than noon, Eastern Time, on that day. Queries sent after noon, Eastern Time, on the date an assignment is due may not be responded to, so please don't procrastinate!


It is very tempting to speak around classified topics in the course of either research of topics or class discussions. Please avoid at all costs discussions that fall into this category. While there are numerous stories online about capabilities and technologies used by various government agencies, posting of this information violates government policy and US Federal Statute. Just because it is posted on a public website, either in the US or on a foreign website, does not make it unclassified. Unauthorized disclosure of classified documents in any medium, including the press, does not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification. Accordingly, no cleared person (government, military, or contractor) should access this or other related articles through unclassified government systems. Opening or downloading classified documents on unclassified government IT systems constitutes a security violation and may result in the need for those systems to be sanitized by appropriate authorities. There are numerous fascinating topics we can speak to in general without crossing this threshold.

Course Overview

Description: Concepts of relationships between data, cyber, and GEOINT.
Prerequisites: Acceptance into the Geospatial Intelligence Program or by approval.

What is GEOG 479?

This course teaches students the fundamentals of cyberspace, including why cyber geography is important, how data and observables are used, what products are produced for decision making, and a look at emerging forces of change in the field. The course will be taught over 10 weeks, and activities will include both individual and team work.

This course will teach students the following concepts:

  • the impacts of increased flow of information across the world and the risks associated with that increase
  • the role and use of Geospatial Intelligence in the cyber domain ranging from cyberwarfare to cyberterrorism, disaster response, and humanitarian relief
  • the degree and impact of Internet censorship in various parts of the world and how it is commonly measured

What will be expected of you?

This course requires a minimum of 8-12 hours of student activity each week, depending on the speed at which you work. Included in the 8-12 hours each week is time to complete projects and related activities. Some weeks, you may spend less time than that, so keep this in mind in the tougher weeks (when you'll be making up the difference!). 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 discussion forums regularly. That's where students and the instructors share comments, pose questions, and suggest answers. I strongly encourage you to get in the habit of logging in to the course website every day to check in on the class. With only occasional exceptions, I check message boards six (and usually seven) days a week. You can be sure that I will read, but not necessarily respond to, every single message. If I anticipate not logging in for more than a day, I will let you know and also clearly state when you can next expect to hear from me.

My colleagues and I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. 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 me as well as with your fellow students.

Course Goals and Outcomes

At the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • apply the fundamentals and principles of cyber geography and classify the spatial aspects of information;
  • interpret/uncover cyber events using the relationship to location on the earth where the start, end, and content of the interactions provide meaning;
  • compare expectations and rights of individuals and governments related to the use of geolocation technologies, data, and privacy from various perspectives;
  • describe ways to model and visualize the increase of information resources;
  • discuss ways the Intelligence Community collects and analyzes cyber information;
  • demonstrate the application of geospatial intelligence to cyberspace operations;
  • evaluate potential technology paths to mitigate Intelligence blind spots;
  • anticipate the impact of the Information Communications Technology explosion on the continent of Africa;
  • perform social media network analysis using application software to create analytic products.

Required Course Materials

Required Textbooks

This course requires the following textbook.

Hansen, Derek L., Shneiderman, Ben, and Smith Mark A., "Analyzing Social Media Networks with NodeXL", Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Copyright 2020 Second edition, Paperback, ISBN 978-0-12-817756-3.

The book is available on sites such as Amazon.

Required Software

Some version of Excel, 2007 or later is required. The software used in the course is compatible with these versions only. Versions of Excel prior to 2007 are not compatible at this time.

NodeXL Pro is available for download at a cost of $49 for a one year license. You can download NodeXL through the Social Media Research Foundation website.

All other materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access all materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

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, contact the Office of Student Care and Advocacy, 120 Boucke Building, 863-4926. For additional needs related to socioeconomic status please visit Project Cahir.

Using the Library

Just like on-campus students, as a Penn State student, you have a wealth of library resources available to you!

As a registered user of Penn State Libraries, you can...

  • 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 see the Library Information for Off-Campus Users.

Assignments and Grading

  • Lessons: 7
  • Assignments: 10
  • Papers: 2
  • Labs: 3

The course has 7 lessons. There is no final exam. In each of the lessons, to reach course objectives, students will read lectures, and do homework assignments. There are two papers due during the course and a final presentation due in the last week based on the final assignment.

The readings are critical to successfully complete this course. The instructor will provide a brief outline at the beginning of each lesson to help the student discover key concepts and make the reading more proactive.


Letter grades will be based on the following percentages (percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student):

Letter Grades and Percentages
Grade Percent
A 92.5 - 100%
A- 89.5 - 92.4%
B+ 86.5 – 89.4%
B 82.5 – 86.4%
B- 79.5 – 82.4%
C+ 76.5 – 79.4%
C 69.5 – 76.4%
D 60.0 – 69.4%
F < 60.0%


There will be assignments to complete in each lesson. The assignments will be "turned-in" via a dropbox in Canvas.

It is recommended that the first thing a student does before beginning lesson readings is to review the week's materials and assignments.

Lesson Assignment Number Description Points
Course Assignments
1 1 Observation of Correlations between NGO datasets. 75
1 2

Post your answer to the question that is the subject of the debate.

Watch the debate in its entirety and then post your answer again. We will discuss the results afterward. Watching and voting pre and post are the deliverables.

1 3 Download and install NodeXL. 50
2 4 Reflection Paper 1. 100
3 5 Recorded Futures Analysis (From Gallery). 50
3 6 Graded Discussion on Barnett's Premises. 50
4 7 Graded Discussion Questions - short answers. 75
4 8 Reflection Paper 2. 100
5 9 Simple Analysis of Static Secondary Data Sources collected by NGOs. 150
6 10 Do a Google search on a topic of interest to you in GeoPolitics currently trending in the news. Decide on appropriate Hashtags and then collect data that is trending currently. Since the information contained in Twitter is dynamic in nature, the resulting views acquired are going to be very diverse. Using NodeXL, collect data on a set of hashtags and present your analysis in a short paper with graphics included. The analysis should be 500 words, plus or minus 10%. I will not mark down exceeding the target value but I will mark down for being too short. A final presentation will be required to complete this. 150


10 Presentation and labs

25 and


Total Points 1000

GEOG 479 Course Schedule

image Printable Schedule

As the schedule may change, please be sure to check it often! If you have a question about when something is due, ask your instructors! NOTE: If at any time you cannot get a reading, e-mail an instructor immediately, and we can send a pdf. We prefer to link to the readings, but links change all the time!

Lesson 1: Introduction - Why this course is interesting and important
Date: Week 1-2
  • Geospatial Intelligence and Cyberspace
  • Censorship of the Internet from the 1990s to the present
  • Internet policies and practices
  • Chapter 1 in "Analyzing Social Media Networks with Node XL"
  • "The Lessons of Cyber Conflict History So Far"
  • "Geographies of Global Internet Censorship"
  1. Assignment 1 - Observation of Correlations between NGO datasets
  2. Assignment 2 - Post your answer to the question that is the subject of the debate.
  3. Watch the debate in its entirety and then post your answer again. We will discuss the results afterward. Watching and voting pre and post are the deliverables.
  4. Assignment 3 - Download and install NodeXL.

Lesson 2: Fundamentals and Principles in Cyber-Based Geoint
Date: Week 3
  • Fundamentals and principles
  • Geography of Geospatial Intelligence and Cyberspace
  • Geospatial Governance in China
  • Geospatial Intelligence and Cyberspace
  • Chapter 2 in "Analyzing Social Media Networks with Node XL"
  • "Tobler's First Law and Spatial Analysis"
  • Chapter 9 of "Access Contested" China and Global Internet Governance
  • "Overview: Searching for guidance in Chinese Cyberspace"
  1. Assignment 4 - Reflection Paper 1.

Lesson 3: Data and Observables
Date: Week 4
  • Growth of the technology environment
  • Growth of information
  • Expectations of the Intelligence community
  • Current understanding of IP Geolocation technologies
  • Privacy implications
  • Chapter 3 in "Analyzing Social Media Networks with Node XL"
  • "The Mesh of Civilizations and International Email Flows"
  1. Assignment 5 - Recorded Futures Analysis (From Gallery).
  2. Assignment 6 - Graded Discussion on Barnett's Premises.

Lesson 4: (Some of) What We Do with Data
Date: Week 5-6
  • Growth of the ICT Infrastructure
  • Case Study - The Arab Spring
  • Case Study - The Lord's Resistance Army
  • Chapters 4-6 in "Analyzing Social Media Networks with Node XL"
  • "The Hackers of Damascus"
  • "Social Media, Political Change, and Human Rights"
  1. Assignment  - Graded Discussion Questions - short answers
  2. Assignment  - Reflection Paper 2

Lesson 5: Analytic Products We Produce
Date: Weeks 7
  • Case Study - Extending the Arab Spring Analysis for sub-Saharan Africa
  • Geospatial analysis for Angola

  • "The Rise of Big Data: How It's Changing the Way We Think About the World"
  • "Harvesting Geospatial Knowledge from Social Metadata"
  • "The Digital Disruption"

  • "Multiple Geographies of the Arab Internet"
  • "Geographies of Global Internet Censorship"
  1. - Complete a simple Analysis of Static Secondary Data Sources collected by NGOs.

Lesson 6: Other Tools and Techniques - NodeXL
Date: Weeks 8-9
  • Prediction of future events

Week 8:

  • Chapters 8-10 in "Analyzing Social Media Networks with Node XL"
  • "Mapping Networks of Terrorist Cells"

Week 8:

  • "Identifying Influential Twitter Users in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution"

Week 9:

  • "Mobile Communication and Sociopolitical Change in the Arab World"<
  • "Detecting-Emergent-Conflicts-through-Web-Mining-and-Visualization"

  Assignment  2 parts

  1. Do a Google search on a topic of interest to you in GeoPolitics currently trending in the news. Decide on appropriate Hashtags and then collect data that is trending currently. Since the information contained in Twitter is dynamic in nature, the resulting views acquired are going to be very diverse. Using NodeXL, collect data on a set of hashtags and present your analysis in a short paper with graphics included. The analysis should be 500 words, plus or minus 10%. I will not mark down exceeding the target value, but I will mark down for being too short. A final presentation will be required to complete this.
  2. Presentation

Lesson 7: Futures
Date: Week 10
  • Envisioning the Future
  • CyberCity
  • The Power of Information Access
  • Control of Information in the Future
  • "Spanner: Google's Globally-Distributed Database"
  • "Visualization of social media: seeing a mirage or a message?"
  • "Critical Infrastructure, Interdependencies, and Resilience" pp 22- 29
  • "Stuxnet: What Has Changed?"
  • "Dragons, Tigers, Pearls and Yellowcake: Four Stuxnet Targeting Scenarios"
  1. Final Presentations due for submission


If you have a question regarding an activity due at 11:55 one evening, I must receive your question via Canvas e-mail no later than noon, Eastern Time, on that day. Queries sent after noon, Eastern Time, on the day an assignment is due may not be responded to, so please don't procrastinate!

Course Policies

Late Policy

Late homework is accepted under the following circumstances: (1) if prearranged with the instructor; (2) if the result of a documented emergency; or (3) if documented illness (see Participation and Attendance section below). The exam will be a zero unless these conditions are met. Other excuses are not valid.

Citation and Reference Style

Academic Integrity and Citation Style Guide

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 HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (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 will 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 Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines for Undergraduates. 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

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