GEOG 482
Making Maps that Matter with GIS

Geography 482 Syllabus


GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS

Fall 2022

This syllabus is divided into several sections, as follows. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as the material covered in the Course Orientation. Together these serve the role of our course "contract."

  • Instructors
  • Course Overview
  • Required Course Materials
  • Assignments and Grading
  • Course Schedule
  • Course Policies


picture of David DiBiase

David DiBiase

picture of Adrienne Goldsberry

Adrienne Goldsberry

picture of Beth King

Beth King

picture of Amy Avery

Amy Avery

David DiBiase, Adjunct Instructor
Adrienne Goldsberry, Assistant Teaching Professor
Beth King, Associate Teaching Professor
Amy Avery, Adjunct Instructor

Teaching Assistants: Varies by term

Course Librarian: Elise Gowen

How to reach us: Please use the Canvas Inbox to send email.

Course History: This course was originally developed as an on-campus general education course called Mapping Our Changing World in 1997. It was redeveloped for online delivery a few years after that and updated over time. In 2017, David DiBiase (the original course author and instructor) completely revised and updated the course in order to provide a thorough introduction to the GIS and geospatial field. Penn State colleagues Adrienne Goldsberry and Beth King alternate with David as lead instructors.

Course Overview

GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS. Case studies, student investigations, and projects reveal the scope, impact, and character of the Geospatial Revolution.

Prerequisites: None

Despite its widespread use in thousands of organizations worldwide, GIS remains for many an obscure set of technologies and professional practices. Even practicing GIS professionals may have limited awareness of the breadth of the field and its impacts in government, industry, and non-governmental and non-profit organizations. The course uses case studies of meaningful applications of GIS to reveal key topics across the spectrum of industry sectors defined by the U.S. Department of Labor in its Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM): Positioning and Data Acquisition, Analysis and Modeling, and Software and App Development. Topics to be mastered include concepts like positioning frameworks, uncertainty, and geo-enablement, methods, and techniques including the GPS positioning, spatial modeling, and geo app development, and relevant ethical, legal, and policy issues such as locational privacy. In addition to topical objectives, the course cultivates competencies associated with lifelong learning, a cornerstone of the GTCM. Students achieve educational objectives by searching, discovering, and evaluating information from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, the World Wide Web. Those with substantial professional experience are encouraged to share their perspectives. Students develop mastery through class discussions, in which they collaboratively prepare to demonstrate individual mastery in tests. They also learn to craft case studies of their own by creating and presenting story-telling web apps using cloud-based GIS technology. They gain self-knowledge by assessing their individual competencies in relation to the GTCM. The awareness, knowledge and technical skills they gain prepare them for success in programs such as Penn State's Post-baccalaureate Certificate Program in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Master of GIS graduate degree program, and for professional growth.

Course Outcomes

After the course, students will be prepared to demonstrate:

  1. Self-knowledge of their individual strengths and weakness in relation to the foundational, academic, and industry-specific competencies specified in the U.S. Department of Labor's Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM).
  2. Familiarity with key topics that span the three industry sectors of the GTCM.
  3. Lifelong learning skills, including the ability to investigate topics independently, the ability to work in teams, and the ability to communicate effectively.
  4. The ability to use maps and geospatial technology as a story-telling medium.
  5. Readiness to use case studies to make compelling arguments on how and why GIS matters.

Relationship of the Course to Major, Option, Minor, or General Education

GEOG 482 is the required introductory course for students who pursue the Post-baccalaureate Certificate in GIS and the Master of GIS degree. (Students with substantial professional experience may be permitted to complete GEOG 864: Professionalism in Geographic Information Science and Technology to satisfy this requirement.)

Required Course Materials

Internet access: All students must have regular access to a reliable internet source to access course material and complete course assignments.

Optional textbook: GIS Fundamentals, by Paul Bolstad

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, please visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 120 Boucke Building or call 814-863-4926.

For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir.

Assignments and Grading

Students' achievement will be evaluated in relation to three criteria, weighted as follows:

Participation in collaborative research and discussion: ~31%
Performance on quizzes: ~37%
Performance on mapping projects: ~31%

In the discussions, students are expected to investigate assigned topics independently and to share findings within study groups to collaboratively construct understandings of these topics. Furthermore, students who bring substantial professional experience to the course are encouraged to share that experience with fellow students. Instructors will actively oversee and guide class investigations and discussions.

Quizzes are designed to help students hone their abilities to interpret domain-specific terminology and to differentiate the most precise and nuanced statements from flawed but seemingly reasonable alternatives. A series of self-assessment surveys are not graded, but serve to bolster students' self-knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses relative to established competency standards.

Finally, students are evaluated on the extent to which they succeed in creating web-based presentations that combine interactive maps, photographs, and text into compelling narratives about their own professional and personal journeys.

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Grading scale
A 90-100%
A- 88 -89%
B+ 86-87%
B 80-85%
B- 78-79%
C+ 76-77%
C 70-75%
C- 68-69%%
D 60-67%
F <60%

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

Final overall grades may be determined based on the relative performance of all students, and not on a fixed points basis, especially if overall percentages are too high or too low.

GEOG 482 Course Schedule

image Printable 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 10 weeks in length. Please refer to Canvas for dates.

Course Schedule
Lesson Deliverables

Introduction: Why GIS MAtters

Introduction Week Deliverables:

  • Complete Instruction lesson.
  • Upload your certificate of completion at the Academic Integrity Summary page.
  • Submit your responses to the GTCM Self-Assessment survey.
  • Sign in to your class ArcGIS Online account, make a web map showing your chosen location, and post a greeting to the class.
  • Take Introductory Quiz

Lesson 1: GIS in the Eradication of Polio in Nigeria

Lesson 1 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 1
  • Contribute posts to the Discussion assignment.
  • Take Lesson 1 quiz.
  • Complete the ArcGIS Online assignment.

Lesson 2: A Global Geodetic Reference Frame for Sustainable Development

Lesson 2 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 2
  • Contribute posts to the Discussion assignments.
  • Take Lesson 2 quiz
  • Complete self-assessment assignment

Lesson 3: Everyday Spatial Analysis

Lesson 3 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 3
  • Complete ArcGIS assignment
  • Contribute posts to the Discussion assignments.
  • Take the Lesson 3 quiz

Lesson 4: A National Water Model for Flood Prediction and Response

Lesson 4 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 4
  • Contribute posts to the Discussion assignments.
  • Take Lesson 4 quiz
  • Complete self-assessment assignment

Lesson 5: Rediscovering GIS

Lesson 5 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 5
  • Start class final project
  • Contribute posts to the Discussion assignments.
  • Take Lesson 5 quiz

Lesson 6: Building a Web GIS Business

Lesson 6 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 6
  • Contribute posts to the Discussion assignments.
  • Take Lesson 6 quiz
  • Complete self-assessment assignment

Conclusion: Will GIS Matter in the Internet of Things?

Final Deliverables:

  • Complete Conclusion lesson
  • Complete and share your Story Map as instructed in the project assignment.

Course Policies

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 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 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.

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 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).

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.

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:


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.

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.