GEOG 583
Geospatial System Analysis and Design

GEOG 583 Syllabus Summer 2024

GEOG 583 Syllabus (Summer 2024): Geospatial Analysis and Design

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


This course is taught by a rotating group of faculty. LionPath, and the early communication in the course, will let you know who your professor is this semester. 

Ryan Baxter, Associate Teaching Professor

Todd Bacastow, Teaching Professor

Brandi Gaertner, Assistant Teaching Professor

Amy Griffin, Senior Lecturer

Amy C Burnicki, Associate Teaching Professor

Panagiotis Giannakis, Assistant Teaching Professor

Marcela Suarez, Assistant Teaching Professor

Harrison Cole, Postdoctoral Scholar

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

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

  • Design a GISystem that solves a spatial problem using the main stages of GIS Design.
  • Write a proposal describing a GISystem Design
  • Justify the development, implementation, and evaluation focused on solving a GIS problem
  • Discuss a variety of new and emerging technology trends that relate to GISs
  • Apply and discuss the different stages of GIS design

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 15% of your grade. It is expected that you make contributions to the discussion sometime during the week of a particular discussion.
  • 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 85% of your course grade. The deliverables are:
    • Topic Idea and Literature Search
    • Needs Assessment and User Analysis
    • Concept Selection
    • Wireframe Design
    • System Architecture
    • Data Storage
    • Evaluation
    • UML Design
    • Video Presentation
    • Final 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. Please refer to the syllabus or the course calendar for specific assignment due dates. 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

Design Basics

Technology Trend: Frameworks for Design

Learning Objectives

Compare two approaches to database design and/or create a mashup of two designs

Identify a topic idea for designing and developing a geodatabase design that responds to a design or analysis need

Conduct a literature search and find 10 articles relevant to your project proposal topic

Apply common database design approaches to your design structure and workflow

Discuss the application of emotional and/or agile for database design

Readings See Course Text

Lesson 1 Discussion

Term Project: Topic Idea and Literature Search

Lesson 2: Needs Assessment
Date Week 2

Needs Assessment

Scenario-Based Design & Personas

Technology Trend: Anthropology of Design

Learning Objectives

Discuss the advantages of scenario-based design and persona mapping and/or create a mash-up of how they can be used together to identify and respond to a design or analysis need

Explain the problem, the solution, and the user analysis for your database design and project proposal

Discuss the application of anthropological methods for design impacting future GIS interfaces

Readings See Course Text
Assignments Technology Trend Discussion

Term Project: Needs Assessment and User Analysis
Lesson 3: Analyzing Available Solutions
Date Week 3


Mockup Development

Technology Trend: Augmented Reality

Learning Objectives

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

Describe the different concepts considered for the database design and the concepts selected for the final database structure

Explain the concept you select for your geospatial design project including the specific features and design elements

Readings See Course Text

Term Project: Concept Selection

Lesson 4: Developing Designs
Date Week 4

Analyzing Available Solutions

Technology Trend - Volunteered Geographic Information

Learning Objectives

Use Balsamiq or a similar tool to create a prototype design of their web or mobile interface that will go into their final project proposal

Explain the process the user will take when navigating your proposed database design

Discuss how you could envision using or incorporating VGI in the design of GISystems

Readings See Course Text

Term Project: Wireframe Design

Lesson 5: Software Architectures
Date Week 5

Software Architectures

Technology Trend - Cloud, Edge, and Fog Computing

Learning Objectives

Explain the system architecture of your proposed GISystem design including the architecture, overall design, component integration, and highlighted novel features

Discuss the 8 core requirements of a Software Architect

Evaluate the important components of the conceptual reference architecture

Discuss the impact and implications of cloud computing on geospatial system development, development, and society

Readings See Course Text

Technology Trend Discussion

Term Project: System Architecture

Lesson 6: Open Source Geospatial Software
Date Week 6

Open Source vs. Proprietary Options

Open Data Standards

Technology Trend - Open Core

Learning Objectives

Compare the advantages/disadvantages of open source versus proprietary software options

Discuss how you would implement open source software in a workflow you carry out regularly

Discuss how open core software will affect GISystems in the near future

Explain how open core or proprietary software and data can be integrated in the GISystem Design in the Term Project

Readings See Course Text

Term Project: Data Storage

Lesson 7: Evaluating GISystems
Date Week 7

An Overview of Programming Languages

Selecting a Programming Language

Technology Trend - Eye Tracking

Learning Objectives

Explain a method to evaluate your GISystem Design in the term project proposal

Write an economic analysis for your GISystem Design in the term project

Describe the future work necessary following the evaluation of the GISystem Design

Describe how eye tracking can be used to evaluate GISystems and the unique capabilities the method offers to GIS

Discuss the limitations, assessment metrics, and situations where interaction logs may be useful for evaluating a GISystem

Readings See Course Text

Term Project: Evaluation

Lesson 8: Programming Languages
Date Week 8

Understanding Spatial Databases

Spatial Datasets

Technology Trend - Software Modelling from UML to Kanban

Learning Objectives

Describe and justify a programming choice to implement in a GIS mapping project

Create and describe a UML to illustrate the process of your GISystem design

Present your term project proposal and collaborate with peers to provide useful comments, suggestions, or questions about the presentations

Readings See Course Text

Term Project: UML Design

Term Project: Peer Review Discussion

Lesson 9: Data & Databases
Date Week 9
Topics Why (and How) do we Evaluate Systems?

Technology Trend - Making Sense of Massive Sensor Data
Learning Objectives

Apply your spatial database and dataset knowledge to evaluate the data storage section of your Term Project.

Discuss how new massive data and sensor networks will affect GIS Design;

Create a presentation of your Term Project and share it with your peers

Readings See Course Text

Technology Trend Discussion

Term Project: Presentation

Lesson 10: Mini-Conference
Date Week 10
Topics Term Project Discussion
Learning Objectives

Complete your final term project report

Participate in a mini-conference with your classmates by sharing your presentations

Review and comment on the contributions of your classmates

Readings None Required

Mini-Conference Discussion

Term Project: Final Draft

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

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. 

According to Penn State policy  G-9: Academic Integrity, an academic integrity violation is “an intentional, unintentional, or attempted violation of course or assessment policies to gain an academic advantage or to advantage or disadvantage another student academically.” Unless your instructor tells you otherwise, you must complete all course work entirely on your own, using only sources that have been permitted by your instructor, and you may not assist other students with papers, quizzes, exams, or other assessments. If your instructor allows you to use ideas, images, or word phrases created by another person (e.g., from Course Hero or Chegg) or by generative technology, such as ChatGPT, you must identify their source. You may not submit false or fabricated information, use the same academic work for credit in multiple courses, or share instructional content. Students with questions about academic integrity should ask their instructor before submitting work.

Students facing allegations of academic misconduct may not drop/withdraw from the affected course unless they are cleared of wrongdoing (see G-9: Academic Integrity). Attempted drops will be prevented or reversed, and students will be expected to complete coursework and meet course deadlines. Students who are found responsible for academic integrity violations face academic outcomes, that can be severe, and put themselves at jeopardy for other outcomes which may include ineligibility for the Dean's List, pass/fail elections, and grade forgiveness. Students may also face consequences from their home/major program and/or The Schreyer Honors College.

Please also see Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Procedures, which this course adopts. 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 Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides the contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources website.

To receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation. See Student Disability Resources: Applying for Services. 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 campus 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 in fostering 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 with 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 IT Service Desk.

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.

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.

In EMS, inclusivity is one of our core values. We prioritize fostering a diverse and equitable community where each member knows they belong here and is inspired to succeed. We encourage everyone in our EMS community to be actively engaged in fostering this ideal, and all members of this class should contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and interact with civility. Our commitment to inclusivity aligns with Penn State’s values and policies. 

To learn more, visit EMS Educational Equity.  Here, you will find information about the EMS ALLWE initiative, the Rainbow EMS Network, Anti-Racism, active ally-ship, bystander intervention, and more. The site also has resources for where to turn if you need assistance and links to University references.  Also, contact your EMS department’s Associate Head for DEI for more information about department initiatives. 


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. Changes to the syllabus shall be given to you in written (paper or electronic) form.