GEOG 483
Problem-Solving with GIS

GEOG 483 Syllabus


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 specific sections. That 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."


Beth King 

  • Email: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Inbox tab in Canvas)
  • Availability: Students are welcome to contact me by e-mail anytime; I am usually able to respond within 24 hours.

Course Overview

Geography 483 consists of tutorials, readings, projects, and discussions concerned with the ways in which geographic information systems facilitate data analysis and communication to address common geographic problems. Students who successfully complete the course are able to use GIS software to analyze both vector and raster data using a variety of techniques, including spatial and attribute queries, map overlay, and buffering. Students also gain experience in designing and producing effective maps. Geography 483 requires use of ESRI's ArcGIS (ArcInfo) and Spatial Analyst software. Prerequisites: GEOG 482.

This section is being offered to students around the globe through Penn State's World Campus. It is a "paced" course, which means that there is an established start and end date and that you will interact with other students throughout the course. The course materials consist of ArcGIS and Spatial Analyst software and a required course Web site that contains the on-line lessons and communications tools, such as message boards and an e-mail system.

The course is 10 weeks in length (plus a required "Orientation Week" preceding the start of the course), at a rate of 1 lesson per week. The first seven lessons contain a project, readings, and a quiz. Lessons 8 will be a peer review assignment and Lesson 9, and 10 will consist of a final project that addresses a real-world analytical scenario using vector and raster GIS. (Additional information about these requirements can be found under the "Assignments" section of this syllabus.)

You'll also want 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.

What will be expected of you?

Each lesson should take about 12 hours to complete, depending on the speed at which you work. Included in the 12 hours to complete a lesson 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.

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.

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," below).

Course Objectives

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

Lesson One: Decision Support with a GIS

  • Map GIS data using a coordinate system appropriate for its end use.
  • Symbolize geographic features.
  • Perform spatial and attribute queries.

Lesson Two: Summarizing and Displaying Property Damage from Tornadoes

  • Extract coordinate system information from metadata.
  • Define a relational database in basic terms.
  • Distinguish between feature attribute tables and external attribute tables.
  • Describe table cardinality and its importance in making associations between tables.
  • Perform tabular joins and relates using key fields.
  • Perform mass table updates using SQL.
  • Update feature geometry values (area, perimeter, length).
  • Create thematic maps.

Lesson Three: Locating Tornado Relief Sites

  • Perform spatial analysis using buffer zones.
  • Use geoprocessing operations (dissolve, merge, clip, intersect, union) to produce new datasets.
  • Overlay various map layers for optimal feature display.

Lesson Four: Geocoding Addresses of Customers Who Performed Home Radon Tests

  • Describe address geocoding and provide examples of its use.
  • Locate addresses on a map using geocoding tools.

Lesson Five: Designing a Thematic Map Presentation

  • Apply the concepts of visual hierarchy and color theory to compose a presentation-quality map.
  • Label map features and use labeling variables (type size, weight, and font) effectively.

Lesson Six: Creating a Layout for a Final Map Presentation

  • Add map elements (scale bar, north arrow, title, insets, etc.) to create presentation-quality maps.
  • Discuss map presentation media and methods.

Lesson Seven: Introduction to Raster GIS Analysis

  • Describe the difference between discrete and continuous data.
  • Convert between vector and raster data formats.
  • Create hillshade and aspect layers from elevation data..
  • Perform distance calculations.
  • Reclassify continuous surface grids into discrete categories.
  • Perform map algebra calculations.

Lesson Eight and Nine (Final Project): Identifying Priority Conservation Areas in Centre County

  • Create workflows demonstrating skills learned in the course with outlined steps, procedures and data necessary for a GIS project.

Lesson Ten: Peer Review Project

  • Create a presentation quality map.
  • Critique the design, layout, symbology, etc. of a peer's map.

Required Course Materials

In order to take this course, you need to have the required course materials listed below.  All (other) materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the on-line course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk. They can be reached at 1-800-252-3592 in the US or internationally at 814-865-5403 (country code 1). You may reach them by e-mail at (link sends e-mail).

Data used in this course will be available for download through the course Web site. If you experience any difficulty downloading these items, please contact me immediately so we can work together to resolve the problem. The Course Orientation includes an item that will help you to confirm that you are able to download the course data.)

In addition, you will need the following software:

  • ArcInfo 10.5.x and ArcGIS Spatial Analyst
    For this course, you will need to have an up-to-date, educational license of ESRI's ArcGIS software (and its Spatial Analyst extension) installed on your personal computer. If you don't already own ArcGIS Advanced (ArcInfo version 10.5.x), you may acquire your own educational license at no cost to you. The ArcInfo 10.5.x and Extensions (Spatial Analyst, 3D Analyst, Geostatistical Analyst) Student Edition. No data or technical support are provided. See our program's FAQ for complete ordering instructions.

If you have questions regarding the software purchase, please contact the instructor.

Important note: ArcGIS 10.5.x is a commercial software package that is restricted to personal use by the student. It is unlawful for anyone to use this software package without the appropriate commercial license from ESRI Inc. to generate personal or corporate profit or revenue.

Using the Library

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-site Users.

Assignments and Grading

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include the following, and grades will be based on points assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

7 Weekly Quizzes

- 14% of your grade
At the end of each of Lessons 1 through 7, you will take a quiz designed to assess your knowledge of the material covered in each lesson. There are a total of 30 questions and each question is worth approximately four or five points - a total of 140/1000 points.

6 Class Projects + 1 Peer Review

- 63% of your grade (635/1000 points)
Lesson 1 = 60 points
Lesson 2 = 100 points
Lesson 3 = 100 points
Lesson 4 = 100 points
Lesson 5/6 = 150 points
Lesson 7 = 100 points
Lesson 10 = 25 points

Each lesson contains a graded project for you to complete. Each project involves some aspect of GIS. Projects are designed to be moderately challenging. The key to success is to stay on schedule, follow directions, and ask questions and participate in discussions on the message boards. All projects are due within one week of the scheduled beginning of each new project. All of the projects are individual assignments.

1 Final Project

- 23% of your grade (225/1000 points)
Lesson 8/9 = 225 points

A final project will be completed during the last three weeks of the course. The project spans three weeks and addresses a real-world analytical scenario using vector and raster GIS. The final project is an individual assignment.

Total Points

140 + 635 + 225 = 1000

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Grading scale
A 90-100%
A- 87.5-89.9%
B+ 85-87.4%
B 80-84.9%
B- 77.5-79.9%
C+ 75-77.4%
C 70-74.9%
D 60-69.9%
F <60%
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

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

GEOG 483 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, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on a Wednesday.

Course Schedule
Week Lesson Deliverables
Week 0

Orientation Week

Orientation Week Objectives:

  • Please introduce yourself in the Discussion Forum

Week 1

Lesson 1: Decision Support with GIS

Lesson 1 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 1
  • Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 1 Drop Box. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the final cities; (2) a screen capture or exported map of the results of the Try This! section.
  • Take the Lesson 1 quiz

Week 2

Lesson 2: Manipulating and Summarizing Attribute Data

Lesson 2 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 2
  • Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 2 Drop Box. Use screen captures or exported maps to summarize property damage for the 17 counties affected by the May 3, 1999 tornadoes in central Oklahoma. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the Property damaged map; (2) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the Property destroyed (in numbers) map; (3) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the Property destroyed (in dollars) map; (4) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the Housing unit density map; (5) a screen capture or exported map of the results of the Try This! section. Be sure to include the legend for each map (that map's portion of the Table of Contents). Please provide a brief description of each map.
  • Take the Lesson 2 quiz

Week 3

Lesson 3: Analyzing Spatial Data in a GIS

Lesson 3 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 3
  • Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 3 Drop Box. Summarize the results of your analysis. At a minimum you should provide a short discussion of what you determined from the provided data, in addition to the images. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the Overlay map of your Counties feature class, the Relief Priority Zones thematic display and your Candidate Relief Sites features; (2) a screen capture of the attribute table for Candidate Relief Sites (be sure to include all the records); (3) a screen capture or exported map of the results of the Try This! Section; (4) a statement on the limitations of this analysis for "real-world" emergency planning and relief. In particular, what assumption about population density is made that could result in a misrepresentation of priority tornado relief zones? Also, what data layers might you want to include to augment the current data, and how would these layers improve the results of this type of analysis.
  • Take the Lesson 3 quiz

Week 4

Lesson 4: Address Geocoding

Lesson 4 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 4
  • Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 4 Drop Box. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing all of the geocoded addresses, the single address from Part IV, and the roads and radon potential layers; (2) a screen capture or exported map of the results of the Try This! Section; (3) Post a paragraph discussing another use of address geocoding to the Lesson 4 Discussion Forum under Modules in Canvas.
  • Take the Lesson 4 quiz

Week 5

Lesson 5: Layouts (Week 1)

Lesson 5 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 5
  • You will NOT need to create a Project 5 deliverable. Instead, you will include a screen capture of the final customized layout (from Lesson 6) in your Project 6 deliverable.
  • Take the Lesson 5 quiz

Week 6

Lesson 6: Layouts (Week 2)

Lesson 6 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 6
  • Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 6 Drop Box. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) Discuss what you discovered in this lesson. Talk about the choices you made for your maps. For example: Did you tailor the maps to the specified audience? Were there any trade-offs? (2) a screen capture or exported map of your data frame showing the final customized layout; (3) a screen capture or exported map of the results of the Try This! section (this should be a separate customized layout).
  • Take the Lesson 6 quiz

Week 7

Lesson 7: Introduction to Raster GIS Analysis

Lesson 7 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 7
  • Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 7 Drop Box. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) a minimum of three screen captures or exported maps of your data frame showing some important intermediate steps in your process to create the final results. (Note: it is not necessary to capture every single step.) Be sure to add informative captions/descriptions to each of your figures; (2) a *layout* of your final results; (3) a screen capture or exported map of the results of the Try This! Section (this should be a separate customized layout); (4) a statement about how this analysis might be improved with higher resolution data..
  • Take the Lesson 7 quiz
  • Take the Lesson 7 bonus quiz (optional)

Weeks 8 and 9

Lesson 8 and 9 (Final Project): Identifying Priority Conservation Areas

Lesson 8 and 9 (Final Project) Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 8 and 9
  • Week 8: Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 8 Workflow Drop Box. Your deliverable should include your proposed workflow Name the file YourLastName_WorkFlow. 
  • Week 9: Upload and Submit your work to the Lesson 9 Drop Box. Your deliverable should include the following items in this order: (1) a series of screen captures illustrating the major steps involved in this analysis; (2) a screen capture or exported map of a *layout* showing a hillshade of the Elevation grid layer with the candidate reserve areas as an overlay; (3) A brief report outlining the methods used in your analysis..
  • Take the Final Project bonus quiz (optional)


Lesson 10: Peer Review

Lesson 10 Deliverables:

  • Complete Lesson 10 Peer Review Post.

Course Policies

"Creativity" Points

At Penn State the course grade "A" (which corresponds to at least 90 percent of possible points in this course) denotes "exceptional achievement." In this course, project reports that fulfill minimum requirements (as specified on assignment Deliverables page) earn 90 percent of possible points for each assignment. Up to 10 percent additional points are awarded for report elements that exceed minimum requirements.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on our "Program Technical Requirements" page. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable broadband 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 wireless hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure website, 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 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 Outreach 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.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the guidelines 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 "Plagiarism Tutorial for Students."

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: Contacts for Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) 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 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.

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 and Psychological 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

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 the Report Bias webpage.

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.

Inclement Weather

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.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information with others whom you do not know.

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If, for any reason, the course work 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 and 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.