GEOG 481: Topographic Mapping with Lidar
This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document. That being said, it is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Orientation. Together, these serve the role of our course "contract."
Karen Schuckman, CP, PLS, MGIS
Assistant Teaching Professor
Department of Geography
Pennsylvania State University
2217 Earth-Engineering Sciences Building
University Park, PA 16802-6813
- Phone: 814-325-7473
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
GEOG 481: TOPOGRAPHIC MAPPING WITH LIDAR - An introduction to the capabilities of lidar sensors and platforms, data processing systems, and derived digital data products. Students in this course will master basic skills needed to leverage commercial lidar data sources and information products in a broad range of applications, including topographic mapping, flood inundation studies, vegetation analysis, and 3D modeling of urban infrastructure.
Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) is an optical remote sensing technology that uses laser pulses to determine distance between the sensor and a surface or object. In recent years, lidar has emerged as one of most important sources of data for topographic mapping, vegetation analysis, and 3D modeling of urban infrastructure. Federal, state, and local government agencies are acquiring lidar data and derived products for use in floodplain mapping, transportation planning and design, resource and environmental management, law enforcement, and emergency response. Much of this data is freely available to the public, and new uses for the data are emerging at a rapid pace. A thorough understanding of lidar technology and its application in GIS is part of the essential body of knowledge for today’s geospatial professional.
Prerequisites: GEOG 480.
The instructor has prepared a set of readiness assessment questions, and it is highly recommended that prospective students complete this anonymous online quiz before finalizing their decision to register. There is no formal requirement to pass the quiz in order to register, but students who can answer at least 15 out of the 20 questions correctly on their first quiz attempt should have the foundation to be successful in the course. Feedback is provided for each incorrect answer.
Students who register in the course for credit will complete one orientation lesson and nine content lessons with corresponding quizzes, hands-on assignments, and online discussions. An individual final project is designed and executed by the student in an application area of their choice. Throughout the course, students confront realistic problem scenarios that incorporate such skills and concepts as definition of data needs, metadata content standards, data formats and types, analysis methods, and spatial accuracy requirements. Those who successfully complete the course will be able to define lidar project specifications in the context of an end-user GIS application.
What will be expected of you?
This course will require a minimum of 12 - 15 hours of student activity per week.
Each lesson consists of reading assignments online and in the course textbook. Mandatory reading quizzes in each lesson test your comprehension of this material. Lab instructions for each lesson are provided in PDF form for you to download and print for reference as you proceed through the hands-on exercises with data and software. Lab work is submitted in the form of a Canvas quiz. You are encouraged to ask questions and post comments at any time in the Canvas discussion forums.
You should get in the habit of checking course e-mail and discussion forums in Canvas on a daily basis. That's where students and the instructor share comments, pose questions, and suggest answers. With only occasional exceptions, the instructor will check e-mail and forums six days per week, and will respond to your questions and concerns within 24 hours.
For a more detailed look at what will be covered in each lesson, please refer to the course content that is part of this syllabus (see "Course Content"). Due dates for assignments and activities will be posted in the Calendar in Canvas.
GEOG 481 cultivates students’ knowledge of the capabilities and limitations of lidar instruments and processing systems. The course also introduces fundamental concepts of accuracy assessment and appropriate use of lidar-derived data products. It helps students master basic skills needed to leverage these data sources and information products in the context of application domains, such as topographic mapping, floodplain mapping, forestry, urban and regional planning, transportation systems design, and emergency response.
Students who excel in this course are able to:
- summarize the basic operational characteristics of lidar instruments and platforms used for topographic mapping and geospatial applications;
- describe the basic principles of calibrating, georeferencing, and processing of lidar data;
- describe quantitative and qualitative methods used in industry standards for quality assurance and accuracy assessment of lidar-derived data products;
- critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of various lidar platforms and instruments for a broad range of application scenarios;
- apply acquired knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve a real-world problem with appropriate lidar data processing and analysis methods.
Required Course Materials
There is one required textbook for this course.
Renslow, Michael, ed. 2012. Airborne Topographic Lidar Manual. Bethesda, MD. American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. ISBN 1-57083-097-5.
The required textbook for this course, Manual of Airborne Topographic Lidar, can be purchased from Amazon (Links to an external site.) in Hardcover (prime eligible) and Kindle Edition. (Links to an external site.)
ASPRS members receive a discount when purchasing directly from the ASPRS Bookstore (Links to an external site.). Add the book to your cart, navigate to the cart page, then enter your ASPRS login credentials to see the discounted pricing.
Supplemental References (No Purchase Necessary)
Additional readings may be provided electronically through the course management system and Penn State library services. These readings may include, but are not limited to, the following sources. These are also useful references for final project development.
Campbell, J.B. 2007. Introduction to Remote Sensing. 4th edition. The Guilford Press. ISBN 978-1606230749.
Congalton, R. and K. Green. 2009. Assessing the Accuracy of Remotely Sensed Data. 2nd edition. CRC Press. ISBN 978-1-4200-5512-2.
Jensen, J.R. 2007. Remote Sensing of the Environment: An Earth Resource Perspective. 2nd edition. Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0131889507.
Maune, D. F., ed. 2007. Digital Elevation Model Technologies and Applications: The DEM Users Manual. 2nd edition. Bethesda, MD. American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. ISBN 1-57083-082-7.
McGlone, J. C., ed. 2004. Manual of Photogrammetry. 5th edition. Bethesda, Md.: American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. ISBN 1-57083-071-1.
Shan, J. and C. Toth, ed. 2008. Topographic Laser Ranging and Scanning, Principles and Processing. Boca Raton, FL. Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 9781420051421.
Wolf, P., B. Dewitt, B. Wilkerson. 2014. Elements of Photogrammetry, 4th edition. Boston. McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0071761123.
Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.
Be sure to read the Technical Requirements section at the end of the syllabus for minimum system requirements.
NOTE: You need administrative rights on your computer in order to properly install the course software.
All software listed below is provided at no cost to the enrolled student, but a specific process must be followed to obtain these licenses. Instructions for downloading and installing the software are given in the lab activity for Lesson 0. You will be given ample time to obtain, install, and test the software before using it in a hands-on course activity.
- ArcGIS Desktop, Esri
All students in the Online Geospatial Program receive a student license of ArcGIS Desktop valid for one year. Licenses will be issued during the first week of class for those students who do not already have one. Students with existing licenses may be asked to upgrade to a newer service pack or version. Instructions for downloading, installing, and updating the ArcGIS software are provided in Lesson 0 - Orientation. All references to ArcGIS in the course refer to ArcGIS Desktop.
- QCoherent, LP360 (an ArcGIS extension)
- 7-Zip (or similar)
You will need a file utility capable of unzipping .zip and .tar.gz files. 7-Zip can be downloaded for free.
- Screen Capture Utility
Students are free to use any screen capture software of their choosing. Examples are SnagIt (link is external) (paid), Jing (link is external) (free), CaptureWizPro (link is external) (paid) or the Windows Snipping Tool (link is external). The software should allow capturing selected portions and single windows on the desktop.
Supplemental Software Tutorials
Registered students have access to the Esri Virtual Campus courses free-of-charge. These courses are available for students who wish to review or enhance their ArcGIS skills in preparation for or during the course. Several Virtual Campus courses will be assigned as part of the weekly lab activities; the instructor will provide access codes. Visit the Penn State Esri Virtual Campus Subscription page to request access codes for any other Virtual Campus courses that are of interest.
Free tutorials for other commercial software used in this course are available directly from vendor websites.
Assignments and Grading
Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include:
- 7 online quizzes (70 points total, 16% of grade)
- 10 hands-on laboratory activities (205 points total, 48% of grade)
- 3 discussion/survey activities (15 points total, 3% of grade)
- 6 final project building activities (145 points total, 33% of grade)
The final grading scale is shown below.
|A||93% and above||395 points and above|
|A-||90% - 92.9%||382 - 394 points|
|B+||87% - 89.9%||369 - 381 points|
|B||83% - 86.9%||352 - 368 points|
|B-||80% - 82.9%||340 - 351 points|
|C+||77% - 79.9%||327 - 339 points|
|C||70% - 76.9%||297 - 326 points|
|D||60.0 - 69.9%||255 - 296 points|
|F||59.9% and below||254 points and below|
Class participation will be considered in grading for those whose final course grade is close to the next letter grade. To view your progress throughout the semester, click on Grades in Canvas. In order to qualify for use of any extra credit points in calculation of the final grade, the student must submit ALL lesson quizzes, hands-on activities, discussions, and final project deliverables. Exceptions to the extra credit policy may be granted by the instructor on a case-by-case basis in special circumstances.
Due dates for assignments will be announced in class. Discussions and labs must be turned in by the due date to receive full credit. After the due date, 1 point per day will be deducted from discussion scores, 5 points per day from quiz scores, and 5 points per day from lab scores. Exceptions to this rule for special circumstances must be approved prior to the due date, IN WRITING, by the instructor or TA. Late assignments will still count as "turned in" for application of extra credit at the end of the semester.
To view your grades during the semester you need to do the following:
- Log into Canvas.
- Access the space for this class.
- Click on Grades.
Citation and Reference Style
Minimum technical requirements for the MGIS program apply to this course. They can be found on the Online Geospatial Education Technical Requirements web page.
Mac users will need either Parallels, Bootcamp, or VMWare to run ArcGIS and other software required for the remote sensing courses. Please refer instructions provided by Esri (link is external) when installing ArcGIS on an Apple computer.
The following bullets apply to all courses in the remote sensing curriculum:
- This is a very computer-intensive course. The minimum technical requirements linked above really are the minimum. If you do not have a computer that meets these and the following specifications, you will have trouble completing the course.
- You must have a reliable, robust high-speed Internet connection on a daily basis. The course requires you to watch streaming video as well as downloading files that may be as large as 1 GB. It is not possible to e-mail or send course materials on DVD. You cannot download entire lessons once a week to work offline.
- Mobile computing platforms are not suitable for this course.
- You will need an administrator-level password for for your computer to be able to install the software required for this course.
- The course software is very memory intensive. RAM has a significant impact on performance and speed. While the program technical specs call for at least 4 GB of RAM, 8 GB are recommended when working with the large data files typically encountered in remote sensing work.
- Your computer should have at least 20 GB of free disk space for course related materials and data.
- An external hard drive or flash drive can be used for supplemental storage. Be sure to back up your coursework frequently, regardless of what type of disk storage you use.
- An SSD (solid-state) hard drive will support faster processing than an HDD drive. If you are buying a hard drive or computer specifically for this course, check this specification. SSD may be slightly more expensive, but better performance will save you a lot of time overall when doing the lab activities.
- A second monitor is not required, but if you have one available, you will find it very helpful.
We recommend using Mozilla Firefox as your browser. Problems encountered within Canvas are almost always related to the choice of browser, so before you contact Canvas Technical Support, make sure you have tried using Firefox. Please use the links below to test some of your basic browser settings:
Need general technical assistance?
If you need assistance with Canvas at any point during the course, please contact the World Campus Help Desk .
Need course-specific remote sensing technical assistance?
If you need technical assistance with course-specific remote sensing, image processing or GIS software at any point during the course, please contact the instructor.
This course must be viewed using one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. 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).
Penn State E-mail Accounts
All official communications from the Penn State World Campus 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.
This course follows Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines. 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.
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.
In case of weather-related delays 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 weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.
Reporting Bias-Motivated Incidents
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
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.
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:
- Penn State Affirmative Action Nondiscrimination Statement
- Policy AD 85 Sexual and/or Gender-Based Harassment and Misconduct, Title IX
- Policy AD91 Discrimination and Harassment, and Related Inappropriate Conduct
- Penn State Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Penn State Values
- Penn State Principles
- All In at Penn State: A Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion
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.