GEOG 487
Environmental Applications of GIS

GEOG 487 Syllabus

PrintPrint

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 being said, it is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Orientation. Together these serve the role of our course "contract."


Instructor Information

Ryan Baxter & Michelle Zeiders

Engagement and Communication

  • Email: To ensure a timely response, please use Piazza or Canvas to contact us. 

Course Overview

GEOG 487 is an elective course in the Master of Geographic Information Systems degree program which is offered exclusively through Penn State’s World Campus. It is also one of the optional capstone courses that leads to Penn State’s Postbaccalaureate Certificate in GIS. The course consists of projects, associated readings, quizzes, and discussions about concepts, operations and tools in geographic information systems and spatial analysis in a variety of environmental scenarios.

It provides a simulated internship experience with real-world activity-based scenarios covering such operations as data acquisition and preparation, raster calculations, surface analysis, statistical analysis, and interpolation. Students who successfully complete the course are able to use GIS tools to access, display, manipulate, edit, and analyze geographic data. Students will be exposed to a variety of GIS tools, data formats, sources of data, and environmental issues they are likely to encounter in a career involving GIS and the environment. GEOG 487 is designed specifically for adult professionals who are able to study only on a part-time basis and at a distance. The course is ten weeks in length.

What will be expected of you?

Like any upper level course, you will be challenged to move beyond the knowledge and skills that you bring to the class. You can expect to be busy; as a rough estimate, you should allow 10-12 hours per week for class assignments. Included in the 10-12 hours each week is time to complete projects and related activities. You'll be glad to know that you don't need to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete assignments before the published deadline at the end of each 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.


Course Objectives

GEOG 487: Environmental Applications of GIS builds on material covered in the prerequisites (GEOG 483: Problem Solving with GIS and GEOG 484: GIS Database Development). The course lessons are designed to build upon ideas and techniques in previous lessons and will flow in logic. The course first introduces resources to help you succeed in the class. It then covers how to obtain data, customize it for your site, input it into a GIS analysis, and then interpret and present the results. After which it provides a series of environmental case studies demonstrating a variety of analysis tools and techniques. Particular steps are only explained in detail once, and you will be expected to apply this knowledge to complete later lessons. Finally, the course culminates in a final that requires you to apply the information from the course to explore an environmental question on your own.

Students who successfully complete this course will be prepared to:

  • Describe a broad range of current environmental issues.
  • Understand how GIS can be used to address environmental questions.
  • Find answers to software questions using the Esri ArcGIS Resource Center.
  • Identify and acquire sources of publically available datasets relevant to current environmental issues.
  • Locate and interpret metadata.
  • Describe common GIS data formats; be able to display and manipulate them using GIS software.
  • Customize data and perform analysis using ArcGIS.
  • Design and conduct a work flow using spatial analyst and other GIS tools to address specific environmental questions.
  • Present results of GIS analysis in a professional format such as maps, tables, interactive websites, and videos.
  • Utilize resources other than ArcGIS Desktop such as ArcGIS.com, ArcGIS Explore Online, Google Earth, Screencast-O-Matic, and Prezi.

Required Course Materials

The following GIS software is required for this course: ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Spatial Analyst Extension.

The instructor will provide directions on how to install the most current version of ArcGIS Desktop (within our Piazza class page) during the first week of class. We will use a variety of free online software programs in this course. You will need administrative rights to your computer to complete all of the required activities.

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 are not 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 percentages assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

  • Quizzes: Graded quiz questions related to data and analysis outputs you create throughout the lesson. This gives you immediate feedback for a large portion of your lesson grade.
  • Blog Posts: You will be required to create a short blog post for most lessons. They may contain maps, tables, graphics, and interpretion of results.
  • Static & Interactive Maps: Maps included in reports must appear professional to receive credit. Examples of unacceptable features include:
    • Default legend settings (e.g., excessive decimal places, cryptic layer names, layers not displayed on your map shown in your legend),
    • Default scale bar settings (e.g., odd units such as decimal degrees, odd scale bar divisions and labels),
    • Titles that do not provide information about what the map shows (e.g., "Map 1" or "Deliverable 1")
    • Illegible text (too small, difficult to read colors)
  • Final Project: The final project includes a graphic workflow and video presentation.
  • Extra Credit: You can earn up to 15 extra credit points (awarded at the end of the course) for above average participation in course discussion forums.
    • Examples of above average discussion forum participation include:
      • Posting troubleshooting lessons learned in Piazza.
      • Describing projects similar to course lessons that you've encountered in your career.
      • Commenting on current events related to course lessons.
      • Responding to other students' questions.
      • Completing one or more of the "Try This" Activities at the end of each lesson AND posting comments/results on Piazza.

Note that all deliverables are due by 11:59 PM "in the Time Zone where you live" on the lesson's assigned due date. See the course calendar in Canvas for specific lesson due dates.

There are also a variety of ungraded activities designed to assist you in fully understanding the concepts introduced in each lesson. These are as follows:

  • Example Answers: Screen shots of intermediate datasets produced in the step-by-step activities. These allow you to check if you have the correct answer before proceeding to the next step. These examples appear in orange boxes with a stop sign.
  • Critical Thinking Questions: Questions to make you stop and think about why we are doing a particular task. These questions appear in green boxes with a light bulb icon.
  • Try This Activities: Voluntary ungraded activities suggested by the instructor to help you practice lesson concepts. These activities appear in purple boxes with "Try This" text.
  • Tips and Tricks: related to the tools and concepts covered in the lessons. These appear in blue boxes with an information icon.
  • Discussion Forums: Everyone has something they can contribute to the class. Some students have many years of professional experience in environmental and related industries, some have advanced technical skills, and others are just starting their careers. Please use the forums to exchange information and help each other with difficult concepts. Share!

Letter grades will be based on the percentages below.

Note: You must complete ALL required assignments to earn a passing grade in the course.

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.

Late Grading Policy

  • Effective as of 12:00 AM (Midnight), in the time zome where you live, on the day the lesson's due date.
  • Up to 1 week late - Minus 10% of total possible lesson points per day past the due date.
  • Over 1 week late - Only possible to earn points 20% of possible lesson points.

If you are not able to meet a particular deadline, make sure to contact the instructor to request an extension before the due date. No-penalty extensions will be granted on a case-by-case basis.


GEOG 487 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Course length: 10 weeks
Total Possible Points: 1,000 points

Orientation Activities: Ungraded

Lessons 1-8: 100 points each (80% of course points), 1 week each.

Final Project: 200 points (20% of course points), 2 weeks.

Orientation
Date: Week 0
Objectives: At the successful completion of the Course Orientation, students should be able to:
  • Navigate between this course text, the Canvas course management system, and Piazza
  • Articulate your expectations about how and what you will learn in your online course
  • Understand how and what instructors expect you to learn in your online course
  • Locate key information about the course, including assignments, due dates, technical information, places to get help, and course policies
  • Understand course policies, including academic integrity
  • Communicate with instructors and fellow students
Readings:

Orientation Materials

Assignments:
  1. Activate your Piazza account
  2. Introduce yourself
  3. Complete the Initial Course Survey
  4. Confirm your software version matches those listed in the Syllabus
  5. Complete the Orientation Quiz

Lesson 1: Resources for Environmental GIS Professionals Other Lessons should be similar
Date: Week 1
Objectives: At the successful completion of Lesson 1, you will:
  • Use the Esri Resource Center to find answers to questions related to GIS concepts and specific tools.
  • Create maps in Google Earth and ArcGIS Online.
  • Explore Prezi, Screencast-O-Matic, and other tools to communicate complex information graphically.
Readings: Lesson Materials
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 1 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 1 Quiz
  3. Piazza Blog Post
  4. Peer Review (optional)

Lesson 2: Find and Share Environmental Data
Date: Week 2
Objectives: At the successful completion of Lesson 2, you will:
  • Locate publicly available GIS datasets for environmental projects.
  • Choose which format(s) are best suited for your project.
  • Explore opportunities and limitations of datasets by reviewing metadata.
  • Share data and maps using ArcGIS.com.
Videos:
  • What is ArcGIS.com
  • ArcGIS Online Overview
  • Use Maps Published by Esri
  • Create a Map
  • Share Maps and Apps with Your Organization
  • Create an App from a Map
  • Introduction to the National Map
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 2 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 2 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 2 Quiz
  4. Piazza Blog Post
  5. Peer Review (optional)

Lesson 3: Wetland Restoration and Invasive Species Part I
Date: Week 3
Objectives: At the successful completion of Lesson 3, you will:
  • Load online data services within ArcGIS Desktop.
  • Download raw GIS files and customize them for a specific project.
  • Explore the pros and cons of publicly available data.
  • View and interpret time-series aerial photos.
Readings: USGS Fact Sheets:
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 3 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 3 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 3 Quiz

Lesson 4: Wetland Restoration and Invasive Species Part II
Date: Week 4
Objectives: At the successful completion of Lesson 4, you will:
  • Explore and interpret results from GIS operations.
  • Use ArcMap tools to visually compare multiple datasets (e.g., time series data).
  • Use ArcMap tools to statistically compare multiple datasets.
Readings:
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 4 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 4 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 4 Quiz
  4. Piazza Blog Post
  5. Peer Review (optional)

Lesson 5: Forests, Carbon Credits and Climate Change
Date: Week 5
Objectives: At the successful completion of Lesson 5, you will:
  • Create shapefiles from tabular GPS data.
  • Interpolate point data to raster grids.
  • Customize the Spatial Analyst environment settings.
Readings:
  • "What is the ArcGIS Spatial Analyst Extension?"
  • "An Overview of the Spatial Analyst Toolbox"
  • "The Analysis Environment of Spatial Analyst"
  • "Setting Geoprocessing Environments"
  • "An Overview of the Interpolation Toolset"
  • "How IDW Works"
  • "An Overview of the Zonal Tools"
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 5 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 5 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 5 Quiz

Lesson 6: Land Use Change
Date: Week 6
Objectives: At the successful completion of Lesson 6, you will:
  • Reclassify grid data using Spatial Analyst.
  • Tabulate areas using Spatial Analyst.
  • Calculate change over time using tabular data.
Readings:
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 6 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 6 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 6 Quiz

Lesson 7: Tropical Forest Fragmentation
Date: Week 7
Objectives:

At the successful completion of Lesson 7, you will:

  • Convert vector data to raster data using Spatial Analyst.
  • Create raster regions using Spatial Analyst.
  • Calculate thickness, area, and perimeter of raster regions.
  • Share analysis results created in ArcGIS Desktop using ArcGIS Online.
Readings and Videos:
  • WRI's Forest Team - Part I
  • Description of the Lobeke National Park - "Great Ape Hunting and Trade in Lobeke, Cameroon (link is external)" pages 29-31.
  • "Converting Features to Raster Data"
  • "An Overview of the From Raster Toolset"
  • "An Overview of the To Raster toolset"
  • "Mosaic To New Raster (Data Management) "
  • "How Raster Calculator works"
  • "Histograms"
  • "Zonal Histogram (Spatial Analyst)"
  • "Region Group (Spatial Analyst)"
  • "How Zonal Geometry works"
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 7 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 7 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 7 Quiz
  4. Piazza Blog Post
  5. Peer Review (optional)

Lesson 8: Groundwater Vulnerability Modeling
Date: Week 8
Objectives:

At the successful completion of Lesson 8, you will:

  • Calculate slope from Digital Elevation Models.
  • Create weighted overlays of mulitple grids using the Raster Calculator.
  • Identify suitable locations based on multiple input criteria using Spatial Analyst.
Readings:
  • "How Slope works"
  • "What is Map Algebra?"
  • "Overview of the Rules for Map Algebra"
  • "An Overview of the Map Algebra Operators"
  • "Working with Operators in Map Algebra" (pay attention to the "Operator Precedence" section)
  • "Extract by Attributes (Spatial Analyst)"
Assignments:
  1. Lesson 8 Step-by-Step Activity
  2. Lesson 8 Advanced Activity
  3. Lesson 8 Quiz

Final Project: Lead a GIS Team
Date: Weeks 9-10
Objectives:

At the successful completion of the Final Project, you will:

  • Apply concepts and tools from previous lessons.
  • Design a Visual GIS Work Plan.
  • Consider your target audience and their requirements.
  • Persuade a client to hire you and your GIS team.
Readings:
Assignments:
  • Visual GIS Work Plan
  • Video Presentation
  • Piazza Blog Post
  • Peer Review (required)


Course Policies

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.

Equations

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.

Attendance

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.


Disclaimer

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.