GEOG 484
GIS Database Development

GEOG 484 Syllabus


Welcome to GIS Database Development, Summer 2019

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 a specific section. 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."


Michelle Zeiders is the lead instructor of GEOG 484 during this term.

Grading assistants Cassandra Schmick, Dave Jabas and Mike Askew will be helping Michelle.

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, and it is a required course for the Master of GIS. 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 comparable experience

There is an old GIS saw that goes: Eighty to 90 percent of the 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 lessons comprise a final project. You will work independently on the first six projects and then collaborate with other students on the final project. (If necessary you may exercise the option to work alone 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 for Desktop 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 over the Internet is not unlike taking any traditional college course, and so the following axiom 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 forums 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 website every day to check in on the class. With only occasional exceptions, I check discussion forums seven days a week. 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:

  • describe the primary methods of capturing spatial features from a paper map.
  • use tracing tools to create new point, line, or polygon features in a GIS database.
  • make proper snapping settings to avoid common digitizing errors like undershoots and overshoots.
  • describe topology and provide examples of topological relationships.
  • integrate XY coordinate data stored in a text file.
  • recognize various types of digitizing errors (undershoots, overshoots, polygon overlap, etc.).
  • correct digitizing errors and poorly digitized features.
  • merge and edgematch data covering adjacent areas.
  • explain the concepts behind transforming an image from pixel coordinates to geographic coordinates.
  • describe rubber sheeting and how it differs from georeferencing.
  • georeference an image to match a layer projected in the desired coordinate system.
  • georeference an image using explicit XY coordinates (e.g., collected by a GPS unit).
  • explain how RMS error reflects the spatial accuracy of a georeferenced image.
  • list the stages of database design.
  • define database terms like field, record, primary key, lookup table, etc.
  • provide examples of possible table relationships (one-to-one, one-to-many, many-to-many).
  • describe the elements of a well-designed table.
  • explain in basic terms how SQL is used to bring together information in a relational database.
  • implement a database design and define tables and fields to maximize database integrity.
  • acquire existing GIS data from an online clearinghouse.
  • use the Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata (CSDGM) as a reference when creating metadata.
  • extract the critical elements from a metadata document.
  • explain why projected datasets have both projected coordinate system parameters and geographic coordinate system parameters.
  • define the coordinate system used by a dataset when that information is incorrect or missing.
  • re-project a dataset from one coordinate system to another.
  • explain and perform spatial joins.
  • calculate summary statistics for geographic areas.
  • create various types of thematic maps to convey geographic patterns effectively.
  • describe how different classification methods can be used to generate different map patterns.
  • define the term “normalization.”
  • analyze a geographic problem and develop a workflow to solve the problem.

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

You will need the following software:

ArcGIS software
For this course, you will need to have a current version of the Advanced (ArcInfo) version of Esri's ArcGIS for Desktop software installed on your personal computer. If you do not already own or have access to the ArcGIS for Desktop (Advanced) software, you may acquire from us your own educational license at no cost to you. See our program's FAQ 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 10.4.x of the software. We expect you all to have access to that version.

Important note: The ArcGIS software 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

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

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

  • search for journal articles (many are even immediately available in full-text)
  • request articles that aren't available in full-text and have them delivered electronically
  • borrow books and other materials and have them delivered to your doorstep
  • access materials that your instructor has put on Electronic Reserve
  • talk to reference librarians in real time using chat, phone, and e-mail
  • ...and much more!

To 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 Software Status - 1% of course grade.
    See the eponymous section of the Course Orientation for steps to prove that your ArcGIS for Desktop software is up to date.
  • Homework: 6 Lessons and Associated Quizzes - 75% 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 - 24% 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 four 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 two weeks 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.

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, technicalinformation, 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 a document containing: (1) screen captures of the three data frames after registering the images; (2) the calculation you made, in Part II Section B Step 5, of "a reasonable RMS Error;" (3) a short discussion explaining whether the RMS Error you ended up with in each case does or does not have any diagnostic value; and (4) a discussion of what might limit your ability to arrive at a low RMS error when georeferencing raster image data
  • take the Lesson 1quiz
Week 2 Lesson 2: Data Input: Basics of DigitizingData Correction and Integration
  • complete Lesson 2
  • submit to the Lesson 2 Assignment in Canvas the Lesson 2 geodatabase (Lesson2.mdb)
  • take the Lesson 2 quiz
  • post your comments on the benefits and limitations of on-screen digitizing, as you see them, to the Lesson 2 discussion forum for Digitizing Comparison Deliverable
Week 3 Lesson 3: Data Correction and Integration
  • complete Lesson 3
  • submit to the Lesson 3 Assignment in Canvas the "Copy of Lesson2.mdb" geodatabase, and a list of corrected data entry errors
  • take the Lesson 3 quiz
Week 4 Lesson 4: Design/Build GIS (week 1)
  • complete Lesson 4
  • submit to the Lesson 4 Assignment in Canvas your finished and zipped Lesson 4 geodatabase as well as a document that: (1) summarizes your proposed design (your tables with specifications for all fields). Include table name(s), field names, field types, length, table keys, etc.; (2) explains/justifies (a) the Data Type and Length values you specified. (b) why you did or did not choose to allow NULL values, and (c) why you did or did not specify a Default value; (3) explains how you adhered to each of these tenets put forth for good database table design: (a) Minimize disk storage space, (b) Lessen the effort required of the summer intern to enter the data, (c) Decrease the chance of data entry mistakes, and (d) Allow for easy and efficient querying within ArcMap
  • take the quiz for Lesson 4
Week 5 Lesson 5: Design/Build GIS (week2)
  • Complete Lesson 5
  • Submit homework deliverables. (These are being redefined as of this editing. You will find the details in the Lesson 5 write-up.)
  • Post a paragraph to the Lesson 5 GIS data on the Internet discussion forum discussing an advantage and a disadvantage of having ever increasing amounts of GIS data available on the Internet
  • take the Lesson 5 quiz
Week 6 Lesson 6: Design/Build GIS (week 3)
  • complete Lesson 6
  • submit to the Lesson 6 Assignment in Canvas each of the maps and the Pct_Voters table generated in Part III. Use the maps to answer the three questions posed in the Background section of Lesson 4. Create a document containing your maps, the table and your answers and then Upload and Submit to the Lesson 6 Assignment
  • take the Lesson 6 quiz
Weeks 7 - 10 Lesson 7-10: 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

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.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the Dutton Institute 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 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.

Academic Integrity

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. 

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.

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.

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

Military Personnel

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

Connect Online with Caution

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

Deferred Grades

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


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

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

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

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

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

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

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


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

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).