GEOG 489
GIS Application Development

GEOG 489 Syllabus


This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document or by clicking on any of the links below to “jump” to a specific section. That being 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."


Andrew Murdoch

2217 Earth and Engineering Sciences
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802

Once the course starts, please use the course e-mail system in Canvas

Engagement and Communication

Phone: My phone number will be provided in the course welcome letter to registered students.

Availability: Students are welcome to contact me by e-mail any time; I usually am able to respond within 24 hours. Although e-mail correspondence is preferred, students may also contact me by telephone from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, or on weekends between 12 p.m. and 9 p.m., U.S. Eastern Time. I have a "day job," so I can't respond during working hours, but I'll get back to you as quickly as I can.

Course Overview: GEOG 489 - GIS Application Development 

Geography 489 is an elective course for students in the Penn State Master of GIS degree program. The course consists of readings, quizzes, projects, and discussions about beginner and advanced GIS programming concepts and techniques. Visual Studio, C# and the .NET framework is used as the development platform for all of the course activities. Students also learn the Software Development Life Cycle methodology prior to developing a custom GIS solution (preferably related to their work) for their term project.

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

The course is 10 weeks in length (plus a required "Orientation Week" preceding the start of the course). There is a total of five lessons, which vary in length from one to three weeks in length. (Additional information about topics to be covered and time frames can be found under the "Course Schedule" section of this syllabus.)

As with other MGIS courses, you will want to check out the course message boards regularly. That's where students and instructors share comments, pose questions, and suggest answers. I strongly encourage you to get in the habit of logging in to the course website every day to check in on the class. With only occasional exceptions, I usually check message boards six days a week. You can be sure that I will read, but not necessarily respond to, every single message.

What will be expected of you?

Lessons should require 8-12 hours of work per week, depending on the speed at which you work. Included in the 8 hours to complete a lesson is time to complete projects and related activities. You'll be glad to know that you don't have to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete each project and a quiz before the published deadline at the end of the week.

My colleagues and I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is ultimately up to you. You will succeed if you are diligent about keeping up with the class schedule and if you take advantage of opportunities to communicate with me as well as with your fellow students.

For a more detailed look at what will be covered in each lesson, as well as due dates for our assignments and activities, please refer to the semester-specific course schedule that is part of this syllabus (see "Course Schedule" below).

Course Objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will be prepared to:

  • Effectively customize ArcGIS Desktop software using needed tools including:
    • Visual Studio IDE 
    • C# .NET programming language
    • Esri ArcObjects SDK
  • Create moderately complex ArcGIS Desktop custom Add-Ins to automate and streamline GIS workflow processes
  • Plan, design and implement a software development project using early phases of the Software Development Life Cycle

Required Course Materials

In order to take this course, you need to have the required course materials and an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). 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 online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk.

In addition, you will need the following software:

  • Visual Studio 2015 Community (free edition)

  • ArcGIS Desktop 10.4.1

  • ArcObjects SDK (Software Development Kit) for ArcGIS Desktop 10.4.1 

Detailed software installation instructions are provided in the Orientation pages for the course.

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


There is an optional text for the course, "Beginning ArcGIS for Desktop Development using .NET", by Pouria Amirian (2013). The text is available online from the Penn State Library at this link. You can also purchase your own copy at this link.

This text was written in 2013 and refers to ArcGIS version 10.1 using the C# variant of the .NET language, but the concepts will be very useful. You don't need this text to succeed in the class, but it might be a helpful resource for you.

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 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:

  • Four graded lesson quizzes;
  • Four graded programming assignments;
  • Term project involving development of a work-related application or an application that meets the requirements laid out in an instructor-provided scenario.

Quiz average accounts for 25% of the final course grade; the four programming activities account for 50%; and the term project accounts for 25%. Final letter grades are assigned by the percentage of possible points earned in quizzes, projects, and the term project.

Project Evaluation criteria include:

  • Quality: 40%
    Quality criteria will be posted in the Deliverables section of each project.
  • Completeness: 40%
    All required elements should be present. Project reports should be properly linked to your Penn State personal home page.
  • Timeliness: 10%
    Project reports must be published in your Penn State Web space by the assigned due date. Contact the instructor if you need extra time. Most activity deliverables are due on Tuesdays, one week from the start of the assignment (refer to the course calendar for the exact schedule). Please make every effort to submit your deliverables on time.
  • Creativity: 10%
    Adequate fulfillment of all the requirements for an assignment merits a score of 90 out of 100 percent. Ten percent (or a fraction thereof) has been reserved and will be awarded for projects with content that exceeds that which is outlined in these instructions. Examples of such work include, but are not limited to: providing particularly good, lengthy description and explanation in the maps' captions; posing a few good questions concerning project content; or experimenting with the software and demonstrating new skills or operations. This criterion is particularly important in this course as it differentiates portfolios that are otherwise very similar.

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Letter Grades and Percentages
Letter Grade Percentages
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 489 Course Schedule

image Printable Schedule

Course length: 10 weeks

Below, you will find a summary of the learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. Specific details for each project can be found in each lesson. Key due dates can be found in the course Calendar (see tab above). Lessons are revealed sequentially to keep everyone on roughly the same schedule and increase the chances that you and your fellow students will benefit from Canvas discussion forums and chat rooms.

Assignments and Activities
Week Lesson Assignments and Activities
Week 0 Lesson 0: Orientation Complete the steps outlined in our site orientation. (Required!) (Click on the Orientation link to begin the orientation.)
Weeks 1-2 Lesson 1: Basics of ArcGIS Customization
  • Complete Project 1.
  • Reflect on what you learned and/or what you found confusing in a short report.
  • Zip the Esri Add-In file, Visual Studio project files with source code and report.
  • Upload the zipped files to the Project 1 drop box in Canvas.
  • Take the Lesson 1 quiz.
Weeks 3-4 Lesson 2: Intro to Programming ArcObjects
  • Complete Project 2.
  • Reflect on what you learned and/or what you found confusing in a short report.
  • Zip your Esri Add-In file, Visual Studio project files with source code and report.
  • Upload the zipped files to the Project 2 drop box in Canvas.
  • Take the Lesson 2 quiz.
Weeks 5-6 Lesson 3: Working with Maps and Layers
  • Complete Project 3.
  • Reflect on what you learned and/or what you found confusing in a short report.
  • Zip your Boston data loader Esri Add-In file, Visual Studio project files with source code and report.
  • Upload the zipped files to the Project 3 drop box in Canvas.
  • Take the Lesson 3 quiz.
Weeks 7-8 Lesson 4: Working with Tables and Performing Queries
  • Complete Project 4.
  • Reflect on what you learned and/or what you found confusing in a short report.
  • Zip your Jen and Barry's Esri Add-In file, Visual Studio project files with source code and your report.
  • Upload the zipped files to the Project 4 drop box in Canvas.
  • Take the quiz for Lesson 4.
  • Submit your term project proposal for a project that requires application of knowledge gained earlier in the course and/or that delves into an advanced ArcObjects topic. Submit analysis and product description documents.
Weeks 9-10

Final Project of the student's choosing

  • Submit a term project prototype.
  • Complete your approved project.
  • Reflect on what you learned and/or what you found confusing in a short report.
  • Zip all Visual Studio project files and your report.
  • Upload the zipped files to the Final Project drop box in Canvas.

Course Policies

Late Assignments

"Late" is defined as anything turned in after the date and time specified in the Course Calendar on Canvas. A flat penalty of 10% per assignment will be assessed. For example, if you do not turn in a 10 point writing assignment on time, 1 point will be deducted when you turn in that assignment.

Citation and Reference Style

Academic Integrity and Citation Style Guide here. 

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 Outreach Helpdesk (for World Campus students) or the ITS Help 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 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 Report Bias.

Military Personnel

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

Inclement Weather

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

Connect Online with Caution

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

Deferred Grades

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


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

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

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

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

For additional information, see:

Mandated Reporting Statement

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

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


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