GEOG 489
Advanced Python Programming for GIS

Instructor Information


Summer 2023 (May - July) - James O'Brien

Fall 2, 2023 (Sept. - Dec.) - Jan Oliver Wallgrün

At other times - Jim Detwiler

Instructor for Summer 2023 (May-July)

James O'Brien

Email: Please use the course email system (it ensures your emails don't get caught up in any spam filters). I check email regularly and will do my best to respond to questions at least once per weekday and once on weekends unless I notify you otherwise. If Canvas is down, please try

Office hours: By appointment.

James O'Brien
James O'Brien

I'm very excited to be teaching this updated GEOG 489 - Advanced Python class! I've been teaching GEOG 485 since 2007 (right back when VBA was the scripting language of choice), a number of terms of GEOG 865, our Cloud and Server GIS class as well as Geog 585 and 863 our Online GIS / Web Mapping classes.

I got involved in GIS in 1993 but via a slightly different path perhaps to most people. A year earlier I'd been introduced to GIS at a university promotional event where it was described as "Computing and Environmental Studies." Intrigued at how the two could be combined, I went along, listened, liked what I heard, and selected GIS as my undergraduate degree.

That degree, combining GIS with a solid background in Computing Science, led to me being employed as a computer programmer, hardware technician, cartographer, and a few other things along the way. I obtained a Ph.D. at Penn State (01-04) and followed that up with a year in Australia doing financial management before returning to Penn State for a one-year Post Doc working on the final year of the Human Environment Regional Observatory project. With that project completed, I moved to Kingston University in London, UK as a Senior Lecturer in GIS and then as a Principal Lecturer teaching ArcGIS customization, spatial databases, GIS & Hazards, Mobile GIS and Geoweb Development (which used ArcGIS Server), Project Management and a few other things. After four and a half years doing that, I was enticed back to Australia to join the Risk Frontiers research centre which was then at Macquarie University and is now an employee-owned R&D company - where I work as part of a team using GIS (and a range of other tools) to model the spatial distribution of natural hazards (and their associated losses) like fire, flood, earthquake, and cyclone (hurricane) for insurance companies and government agencies. As the Chief Geospatial Scientist, I spend a lot of my days designing and building spatial tools for analysis, particularly using Python but also a range of other languages. I'm based in Sydney, Australia but don't let the 12(ish) hour time difference to the East Coast of the U.S. concern you; I'm usually getting up when the majority of you will be starting work on the class :)

Meet James O'Brien, instructor of GEOG 489 (0:53 seconds).

Click here for a transcript of the meet the instructor video.

G'day, everyone. My name's James O'Brien and I come to you from my small farm here in Australia on the outskirts of the capital, Canberra. I came to GIS about 20 years ago via a computing science background. I worked in IT for a few years and then I completed a PhD in geography at Penn State in 2004. I've been teaching programming classes in the program pretty much ever since and my current day job is the chief geospatial scientist of an Australian natural hazards risk modeling company. In my spare time, I race cars, I race bikes, and I'm a member of our local volunteer emergency firefighting and other emergency response organizations. I look forward to seeing you all in class!

Credit: James O'Brien © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Instructor for Fall-2 2023 (Oct. - Dec.)

Jan Oliver Wallgrün

Welcome to GEOG 489: Advanced Python Programming for GIS

Email: Please use the course email system (it ensures your emails don't get caught up in any spam filters). I check email regularly and will do my best to respond to questions at least once per weekday and once on weekends unless I notify you otherwise. If Canvas is down you can try

Office hours: By appointment.

I have been working as a researcher and instructor at the Penn State Geography department, but some years ago moved back to Germany where I am originally from. I am a computer scientist by training, with my master and Ph.D. both being in Informatics. However, I have been working in the areas of GIS and GIScience for more than a decade now. In my residential courses at Penn State, I have been teaching introductory courses to GIS and GIScience, geospatial data management and spatial databases, and object-oriented programming for GIScience. I am still conducting research in collaboration with the Penn State focusing on problems of spatial and spatio-temporal modeling and reasoning, as well as the interpretation and processing of human descriptions of spatial knowledge such as natural language descriptions or sketch maps. I am also interested in algorithmic problems of spatial data integration, matching, and query processing as a basis to build "intelligent" spatial retrieval and assistance systems. My most recent work also involves the application of immersive technologies (virtual and augmented reality) for spatial data analysis and GIScience education.

Click here for a transcript of the meet the instructor video.

Jan Oliver Wallgrün: Hello, my name is Jan Oliver Wallgrun. And I know that name tends to be a bit difficult to pronounce, or non-Germans so I also simply go by the name Joe. My way into the realms of spatial data and spatial algorithms started in the late 1990s when I, as a master and then PhD student in informatics, worked on building some rather weird-looking autonomous mobile robots that used lidar data and cameras to learn to navigate. And that was basically using methods that these days we find in robot vacuum cleaners or self-driving cars, for example. I quickly became interested in applying these methods for merging and matching data to geographic data. And then, over time, I turned into what I would call myself today, namely a geoscience researcher and teacher working at the interface between spatial algorithms and human spatial cognition, and more recently also the application of immersive technologies.

I always enjoyed teaching and working with students, but I quickly realized that teaching in our online program is a particularly rewarding experience simply because of how motivated and eager to learn our students are. And well, frankly, there's nothing more motivating and rewarding for me than when students, after the class, write to me and tell me they were able to immediately apply what they learned in their job or for their research. So, when I had to leave Penn State and returned to Germany, well, I basically did everything I could to remain an instructor in the program. And fortunately, that worked out rather well. I'm now here living next to Hamburg, and that is six hours ahead of U.S. East Coast time. So that means when students in the U.S. get up in the morning, I typically already had a couple of hours to go through e-mails and forum posts and answer any questions. All right, thank you for your interest. And if you have any questions about any of my courses, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Credit: Jan Oliver Wallgrün © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Instructor at other times

Jim Detwiler

Jim Detwiler photo
Jim Detwiler

2217 EES Building
The Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA 16802

Phone: (814) 865-2932 (The country code for the United States is 1)
Email: jed124 (at)
Twitter: @DetwilerPSU

AVAILABILITY: Students are welcome to contact me by email any time; I am usually able to respond within 24 hours. If you are a student registered for the course, please use the Canvas email system for course-related correspondence, as I prefer to keep those messages separate from my other email. I am also happy to speak to students over the phone, though it is best to set up an appointment for a phone call.

Welcome to the course!

Hi, I'm Jim Detwiler, your instructor for the next ten weeks. I've been teaching in the Geography Department's online GIS program since 2000. Back then, we had just a one-year, non-credit certificate program with few electives. Today, we offer a Master of GIS degree with numerous electives and several certificates that enable students to focus on application areas of interest to them. I serve as the faculty lead for the Geospatial Programming and Web Map Development Certificate Program. I'm very proud to be associated with these programs, both in terms of the faculty involved and the adult professionals who enroll in them.

I currently teach and maintain the content of GEOG 863: Web Application Development and GEOG 868: Spatial Database Management. I also teach and make minor contributions to GEOG 485: GIS Programming and Automation and GEOG 489: Advanced Python Programming. And I sometimes teach courses on these topics for undergraduates in residence.

My experience with GIS includes working on population-related research projects at Penn State's Population Research Institute, on E911 and cadastral projects at the Chester County (PA) Bureau of Land Records, and on climate-related projects at the University of Delaware. I think this broad experience helps me to relate to my students who use the technology in a wide array of contexts.

Rather than further rehash information that I've made available on other pages, I'll just point you to my work portfolio if you'd like to read more about me. I look forward to getting to know you over the next ten weeks and helping you to learn the course material.

Best of luck in the course!

Click here for a transcript of the meet the instructor video.

JIM DETWILER: Hi. I'm Jim Detwiler, a member of Penn State's Online Geospatial Program Faculty. I teach three courses in our program, GIS Programming and Automation, Web Application Development, and Spatial Database Management. I really enjoy teaching in this program because of the consistently high quality of the students that we work with and the working professional population we serve. The main purpose of this video is to give you an opportunity to learn something about one of the people behind the courses that you take.

So let me tell you a little bit about myself. I live just a few miles up the road from State College here, where Penn State's main campus is located, with my beautiful wife and our son. You might be wondering about this building behind me. This is Pegula Ice Arena, where my son and I spend a lot of our free time. He plays youth hockey here and has the misfortune of having me as one of his coaches. And I also get to play here in the world-famous NHL, the Nittany Hockey League. So anyway, thanks for watching. I hope you'll be able to enroll in one of my courses. And if you have any questions about those courses, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Credit: Jim Detwiler © Penn State is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0