GEOG 583
Geospatial System Analysis and Design

GEOG 583 Syllabus


GEOG 583 Syllabus: Geospatial Analysis and Design (Spring 2022)

This syllabus is divided into several sections. 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."

  • Instructors
  • Course Overview
  • Required Course Materials
  • Assignments and Grading
  • Course Schedule
  • Course Policies


Todd Bacastow, Teaching Professor of Geography

Brandi Gaertner, Assistant Teaching Professor of Spatial Data Science

Panagiotis Giannakis

Marcela Suarez

John A. Dutton e-Education Institute
2217 Earth and Engineering Sciences
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, Penn State
University Park, PA 16802

  • Email: Please use the Canvas Inbox to send messages to the instructor
  • Office Hours: By appointment

NOTE: The instructor will read and respond to course messages and discussion forum posts at least once per day during the week (Monday through Sunday), though typically much more often than that.

Course Overview

Geography 583 is a required course in the Penn State Master of Geographic Information Systems degree program. GEOG 484 is the prerequisite. This course surveys a range of contemporary systems analysis and design methods through case studies, collaborative work, and critical reading/writing. Key topics in this course outline the broad range of current GIS's, how they are designed and evaluated, and how emerging technologies may impact their design and implementation in the near future.

This course will challenge you to exercise the analytical and writing skills needed to develop successful project reports and proposals. Assignments focus on helping students improve their ability to discuss, write, and critique technical and research articles on the design of geographic information systems. A semester-long project involves writing a design proposal or system requirements document for the development of a real or hypothetical geographic information system.

What will be expected of you?

As in any graduate-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.

During the term, I encourage everyone to use the class discussion tools to help each other find relevant materials, learn about interesting GISdesigns/implementations, and exchange ideas about your proposals. I can always be contacted via class email and will check my account daily during the week (and typically at least once each weekend). If I am traveling, I may check somewhat less frequently, but I will alert you of this beforehand.

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").

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, you will be able to produce effective project reports and proposals to support GIS design, implementation, and evaluation. Specifically, learning objectives are divided into three sub-categories:

GIS Analysis & Design

Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • understand the stages of GIS Design;
  • determine which specific GIS capabilities are needed based on user requirements and which technologies can support those capabilities;
  • explain the tradeoffs associated with different system architecture choices;
  • prepare a plan that describes a GIS design, including ideas for evaluating the end product;
  • assess the potential of new, evolving technologies to meet GIS-related needs.

Report and Proposal Writing

Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • develop a report, design plan, or project proposal that identifies or responds to a GIS design and analysis challenge;
  • identify and explain possible matches between your organization’s needs or capabilities and relevant new GIS technologies;
  • write an effective statement of goals or purpose for your report or proposal that makes its content and motivation clear;
  • structure a report or proposal in a logical manner that can be understood easily by reviewers;
  • when writing your report and depending on which option you select you should generate a convincing case for:
  1. your organization’s need (or expertise to meet a need),
  2. your organization’s ability to carry out the proposed work,
  3. your understanding of prior work and relevant literature,
  4. what the implications are of your findings.

Critical Reading

Upon successful completion of the course, you will be able to:

  • evaluate professional literature critically (thus be able to systematically identify strengths and weaknesses in an author’s arguments, innovative ideas, connections to previous work);
  • provide constructive feedback on work written by others;
  • provide fair, objective reviews of work written by others.

Required Course Materials

There are no required books to purchase, and there is no required software. All readings and software tools will be provided to you directly by the instructor during the term at no additional cost.

All 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. If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk.

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 timely submission of assignments with percentages assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

  • Class participation: Individual participation via online discussions. Students will be encouraged to post questions and answer each other's questions during online discussions. Class participation makes up 40% of your grade. It is expected that you make the contribution to the discussion sometime in the week of a particular discussion.
  • Writing & Research Assignments: There are three short writing assignments in addition to the term project. These assignments make up 15% of your grade.
  • Term Project: The term project for this course involves multiple components that you'll create to develop a professional report or proposal. The term project is worth 45% of your course grade. The deliverables are:
    • Project Proposal - indicating which project option you choose and describing in general terms what you will cover
    • Peer Review of Project Proposal
    • First Draft of Term Project
    • Revised Final Term Project
    • Video Summary of Term Project
Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentages
Letter Grade Percentage Range
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 Assignment Policy

"Late" is defined as anything turned in after the date and time specified in the Course Calendar in 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.

Make-up Exam Policy

There are no exams in this course.

GEOG 583 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Course length: 10 weeks

Below you will find a brief summary of the lesson objectives for this course and the associated time frames. Assignment information will be located on each lesson's checklist - so you will need to check there for the full set of details and deliverables. Sometimes the details for each lesson can change, and it's possible that the syllabus may not be updated as quickly as the lesson checklists, so always check specific lesson checklists for the latest details. This course is 10 weeks in length, with an orientation week preceding the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on Wednesday.

Lesson 1: Design Basics
Date Week 1
Topics Design Basics

Technology Trend: Frameworks for Design
Learning Objectives Describe the need for careful Geospatial System Analysis & Design

Explore the technology trend of Design Frameworks and discuss how they relate to GIS Design

Become familiar with the term project assignment for this class

Discuss System Design Principles and relate those ideas to GIS
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion
Lesson 2: Needs Assessment
Date Week 2
Topics Needs Assessment

Scenario-Based Design & Personas

Technology Trend: Anthropology of Design
Learning Objectives Explain the role of needs assessment and common methods for identifying needs in relation to GIS Design

Explore the recent technology trend of Anthropological Design and discuss how they relate to GIS Design

Develop and Describe a design idea for the term project assignment

Discuss the diverse array of Needs Assessment techniques and relate those methods to GIS
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion

Write Term Project Idea
Lesson 3: Developing Designs
Date Week 3
Topics Prototyping

Mockup Development

Technology Trend: Volunteered Geographic Information
Learning Objectives Explain and demonstrate the use of common methods and tools for prototyping a GIS

Discuss the costs and benefits of available prototyping methods

Develop a static prototype and discuss your prototypes with your classmates

Explore the technology trend of volunteered geographic information and discuss how it relates to GIS Design

Conduct literature review necessary for the term project assignment
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion

Prototyping Assignment

Background Research for Term Project
Lesson 4: Analyzing Available Solutions
Date Week 4
Topics Analyzing Available Solutions

Technology Trend - Augmented Reality
Learning Objectives Evaluate and compare available technical solutions to make choices for GIS Design

Research vendor-provided solutions and critique their options

Explore the technology trend of Augmented Reality and discuss how it relates to GIS Design

Develop a detailed report outline for the term project
Readings See Course Text

Technology Trend Discussion

Video Demonstration Discussion

White Paper Discussion

Annotated Outline for Term Project

Lesson 5: Software Architectures
Date Week 5
Topics Software Architectures

Technology Trend - Edge Computing
Learning Objectives Identify and describe common software architectures and their relation to Geospatial System Design

Explore the technology trend of Edge Computing and discuss how it relates to GIS Software Architecture

Provide feedback on two of your classmates' final project proposals through peer assessment
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion

Peer review of Term Project Outlines

Make Progress on First Draft of Term Project
Lesson 6: Open Source Geospatial Software
Date Week 6
Topics Open Source vs. Proprietary Options

Open Data Standards

Technology Trend - Open Core
Learning Objectives Explain and compare the options when it comes to choosing between open source and commercial geospatial software

Identify common open source geospatial software frameworks and packages

Explore the recent technology trend of an Open Core business model and discuss how it relates to GIS Design

Complete the first draft of the term project

Discuss Open Source technology related to GIS Design
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion
Lesson 7: Programming Languages
Date Week 7
Topics An Overview of Programming Languages

Selecting a Programming Language

Technology Trend - Software Modeling from UML to Kanban
Learning Objectives Identify and explain the usage of major programming and scripting languages related to GIS

Develop a rationale for choosing a particular programming language for a Geospatial analysis problem

Revise your final project report

Explore the technology trends associated with software modeling approaches and relate them to geospatial system design
Readings See Course Text

Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion

Complete First Draft of Term Project

Lesson 8: Data and Databases
Date Week 8
Topics Understanding Spatial Databases

Spatial Datasets

Technology Trend - Sensor Networks
Learning Objectives Identify and describe differences between common data types used in GIS Design

Explore the technology trend of Massive Data in Sensor Networks and discuss how they relate to GIS Design

Identify and describe differences between common databases used in GIS Design

Continue progress on the final draft of your term project
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion

Datasets Discussion (optional)

Continue progress on Term Project
Lesson 9: Evaluating GIS
Date Week 9
Topics Why (and How) do we Evaluate Systems?

Technology Trend - Eye-Tracking
Learning Objectives Identify and explain the common methods and tools associated with user evaluation in the context of a GIS

Explore the technology trend of eye-tracking and discuss how it relates to GIS Design

Discuss available tools and techniques for evaluating a GIS

Continue making progress toward completion of the term project
Readings See Course Text
Assignments Reading Discussion

Technology Trend Discussion

Research Discussion

Create and submit the Mini-Conference Video

Continue Progress on Term Project
Lesson 10: Term Project
Date Week 10
Topics Term Project Presentation & Discussion
Learning Objectives Complete your final term project report

Present your final report results in a mini-conference with your classmates

Review and discuss the final report contributions of your classmates
Readings None Required
Assignments Participate in Mini-Conference discussion

Submit Term Project

Course Policies

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 camps 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 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.

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 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.

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.

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:


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.

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.