GEOG 484
GIS Database Development

GEOG 484 Syllabus


Welcome to GIS Database Development, Summer 2024

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document. That said, 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."


Michelle Zeiders: Fall 1, Spring 1, and Summer

Michelle Zeiders

Michelle Zeiders

2217 EES Building Dutton e-Education Institute
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802

Email: Please use the email system within Canvas so that your emails don't get caught up in any spam filters. I check email regularly and will do my best to respond to questions within 24 hours.  I check email at least once per day during the week and on one of the weekend days (unless I notify you otherwise). 

Office hours: By appointment.


Students are welcome to contact me via the course email at any time; I usually am able to respond within 24 hours, typically much sooner. Although course mail correspondence is preferred, telephone/zoom conferences can be scheduled during the weekday.

Grading Assistant

Cassandra Schmick

Cassandra Schmick

2217 EES Building
Dutton e-Education Institute
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802

Email: Please use the course email system (see the Inbox in Canvas)
Office Hours: Students are welcome to contact me by email at any time. I can usually respond within 24 hours.

Course Overview

GEOG 484 - GIS Database Development. This is the third in a series of four courses that leads to the Certificate of Achievement in Geographic Information Systems. The course consists of activities, projects, readings and discussions concerned with how GIS software can be used to integrate geographic data compiled from various sources. Students who successfully complete the course are able to specify and perform the tasks involved in creating a digital geographic database, including georeferencing scanned base maps, digitizing vector features, entering attribute data, and compiling metadata. Geography 484 requires use of Esri's ArcGIS software. Prerequisite: GEOG 483 or equivalent experience

Much of your time spent doing GIS work is getting the data into the system. And, even though it may turn out to be tedious, it is a critical investment in time; you certainly cannot perform GIS analysis without the spatial data being available to the software. So the fundamental knowledge and skills concerning data entry and database creation presented in this course are necessary for the effective and proper use of GIS technology. The goal of Geography 484: GIS Database Development is to help you begin to develop that knowledge and those skills.

What will be expected of you?

Geography 484 is a paced course, meaning that there are established start and end dates for each lesson as well as for the course as a whole. The course is 10 weeks in length (plus an Orientation Week preceding the start of the course). Use of the course website is required. The course is divided into 10 lessons and is scheduled for the completion of one lesson per week. The first six lessons each contain a project, readings, and a quiz. The remaining four weeks comprise a final project. You will work independently on the first six projects and then collaborate with other students on the final project. The final project takes the place of an examination and gives you the opportunity to put into practice what you learn in the early weeks of the course.

Geography 484 is project-based. Projects involve using ArcGIS Pro as a tool for data entry and data manipulation. Hence, you will learn about GIS concepts by using GIS software. We have tried to limit your time investment to about eight to twelve hours per week. Your workload may be more or less depending on your prior experience with computing in general, and with GIS in particular.

Learning about GIS online is not unlike taking any traditional college course, and so the following adage applies: how much and how well you learn is up to you. Success in this course will be impacted by how well you keep up with the class schedule, and by how well you communicate with the course instructor and with your fellow students. You should take time to check the course discussion forums regularly. The discussions are where students and instructors share comments, pose questions, and suggest solutions. I strongly encourage you to get in the habit of logging in to the course every day to check in on the class. Though not every posting requires a response from me, you can be sure that I will read every single message.

The Course Objectives list, the Assignments description and the Course Schedule, found below, will give you a bit more detail regarding the nature of the course content. Also, note that you will need the most recent version of the ArcGIS software.

Course Objectives

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

  • carry out steps necessary to georeference an image to match a projected layer and georeference an image using explicit XY coordinates (e.g., collected by a GPS unit);
  • employ various techniques to create vector data, raster data, and attribute data. Techniques include digitizing, vectorization, and geodatabase behavior constructs;
  • apply techniques and best practices to prevent, find, and correct errors in spatial and attribute data;
  • demonstrate an understanding of the basics of Structured Query Language (SQL);
  • design and implement a relational database based on basic design tenets, familiarity with the attribute data, and premeditating queries that will be posed.

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 Canvas. In order to access the course, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password. 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 email at

You will need the following software:

ArcGIS software: For this course, you will need to have a current version of Esri's ArcGIS Pro software installed on your personal computer. If you do not already own or have access to the ArcGIS Pro software, you may acquire from us your own educational license at no cost to you. See our program's FAQ or the Penn State GIS Users Group software page for complete ordering instructions. If you have questions regarding the software, please contact the instructor. Currently the software-based portions of Geography 484 are written for version 2.8x of the software. We expect you all to have access to at least that version.

Important note: ArcGIS Pro 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.


Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, plaese contact your aceademic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student and Avdocacy at 220 Boucke Building or call (814) 863-2020.

Using the Library

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

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 email;
  • ...and much more!

To register with the Libraries, and to learn more about their services, 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:

  • Homework: ArcGIS Pro Software Status - 1% of course grade.
    See the eponymous section of the Course Orientation for steps to prove that your ArcGIS Pro software is installed and up to date.
  • Homework: 6 Lessons and Associated Quizzes - 70% of course grade.
    The project component of each lesson involves some aspect of GIS. Projects are designed to be moderately challenging. The key to success is to stay on schedule and follow directions closely. All lessons are revealed at least two weeks before homework is due. The first 6 lessons are individual assignments (i.e., not collaborative).
  • Homework: Final Project - 29% of course grade.
    A final project will be submitted in stages over the seventh through the tenth weeks of the course. This will be completed in teams of approximately three individuals, or individually. You will find this project to be the most challenging component of the course. The most effective way to ensure success on the final project is to complete preceding projects and quizzes. The final project consists of three intermediate deliverables and a final report that all require collaboration among assigned team members.

Depending on your previous experience and comfort level with computing, you will find the lessons to be moderately to highly challenging. The key to success is to stay on schedule, pay attention to the grading criteria, and take time to write at a professional level. You will have approximately one week to work on each of the homework assignments that accompany the first 6 lessons and the last five weeks of the course to work on the Final Project.

Letter Grades Based on Percentages
Letter Grade Percentage
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.

Assignment due dates and late work

Most activity deliverables are due on Wednesday evenings in your local time zone (refer to the Calendar tab in Canvas for the exact schedule). 

Late assignments are automatically marked down 10 percent, with 10 percent more deducted for each week that passes beyond the due date (e.g., two weeks beyond the due date receives a 20 percent deduction, three weeks a 30 percent deduction), up to a maximum of 30 percent .

GEOG 484 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. The 'weeks' of the course are from Wednesday through the following Tuesday. There is one homework assignment due each week.

Course Schedule
Week Lesson Assignments and Activities
Week 0 Course Orientation & Proving your ArcGIS Software is Up-to-date
  • understand the expectations we have of you as a student in GEOG 484
  • locate key information about the course, including assignments, due dates, technical information, places to get help, and course policies
  • understand the rules and regulations regarding Academic Integrity and plagiarism at Penn State
  • understand how to communicate in this course environment
  • prove that your ArcGIS software is up-to-date
Week 1 Lesson 1: Georeferencing Raster Images
  • complete Lesson 1
  • submit to the Lesson 1 Assignment in Canvas 
  • take the Lesson 1quiz
Week 2 Lesson 2: Data Input
  • complete Lesson 2
  • submit homework to the Lesson 2 Assignment in Canvas
  • take the Lesson 2 quiz
Week 3 Lesson 3: Data Checks & Corrections
  • complete Lesson 3
  • submit homework deliverables to the Lesson 3 Assignment in Canvas
  • take the Lesson 3 quiz
Week 4 Lesson 4: Appending, Edgematching and Metadata
  • complete Lesson 4
  • submit homework deliverables to the Lesson 4 Assignment in Canvas
  • take the quiz for Lesson 4
Week 5 Lesson 5: Geospatial Database Design (Week 1) - Database Design
  • Complete Lesson 5
  • submit homework deliverables to the Lesson 5 Assignment in Canvas
  • take the Lesson 5 quiz
Week 6 Lesson 6: Geospatial Database Design (Week 2) - Modelbuilder
  • complete Lesson 6
  • submit homework deliverables to the Lesson 6 Assignment in Canvas
  • take the Lesson 6 quiz
Weeks 7 - 10 Lesson 7-10: Collaborative Final Project: Reconstructing 1920 Charlottesville, Virginia Due Week 7, Part 1: Submit the following (as directed in the lesson)
  • a document containing answers to the Questions listed in the Part 1 Instructions of the Final Project Lesson write-up
  • geodatabase you have designed and created in preparation for the digitizing portion of the project
Due Week 8, Part 2: Submit the following (as directed in the lesson)
  • detailed work flow outlining georeferencing steps
  • a composite list of data entry error prevention methods and techniques
Due Week 9 and 10, Part 3: Submit the following (as directed in the lesson)
  • a compiled geodatabase containing the digitized and attributed features of interest for the maps assigned to your group
  • Shapefile versions, in Geographic coordinates (lon-lat), of your compiled Feature Classes
  • a final report document outlining unforeseen challenges to your database design, methods of data integrity checking and correction employed and thematic maps. (See the Final Project Lesson write-up for a listing of the expected content of your report.)
  • metadata documents

Class Support Services

Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Policies

Withdrawals and Refunds

Students who officially withdraw from the class may be entitled to a pro-rated refund of tuition. For more information, see Refund Policy under World Campus Student Policies.

Use of Trade Names

Where trade names are used, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the World Campus, Outreach and Cooperative Extension, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, or The Pennsylvania State University is implied.

Communication Guidelines

I am a firm believer in academic freedom and freedom of speech. Nonetheless, I want to encourage conversation and dialogue (within our formal assignments as well as in your various discussions with classmates) that are based on a framework of mutual respect and a desire for a continued and deeper understanding of the issues at hand and also the multiple perspectives represented.

Healthy debate and exploration are encouraged in your discussion posts. At the same time, you must support your well-thought-out claims and analyses with accurate and appropriate references. I will dock points when the rules of decorum are disregarded.  Keep these guidelines for class interactions in mind as you interact with classmates and your instructor.

Guidelines for Class Interactions

  1. Our primary commitment is to learn from each other. We will listen to each other and not talk at each other. We acknowledge differences among us in backgrounds, skills, interests, and values. We realize that it is these very differences that will increase our awareness and understanding through this process.
  2. We will not demean, devalue, or “put down” people for their experiences, lack of understanding, or differences in interpretation.
  3. We will be courteous. Include everyone in the discussion and refrain from private conversations within class discussions.
  4. We will trust that people are always doing the best they can.
  5. If we wish to challenge something that has been said, we will challenge the idea or the practice referred to, not the individual sharing this idea or practice.
  6. If you have much to say, try to hold back a bit; if you are hesitant to speak, look for opportunities to contribute to the discussion.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the IT Service Desk (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site, which means that your connection is encrypted. We do, however, link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

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

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

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

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

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If, for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.

Student Code of Conduct

Detailed information about the Student Code of Conduct, expected student behavior, student rights, and the judicial process is available at the Office of Student Conduct (link is external).