GEOG 587
Conservation GIS

GEOG 587 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 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."


Joeseph (Joe) Bishop, Ph.D.

Joseph (Joe) Bishop, Ph.D.

John A. Dutton e-Education Institute
2217 Earth & Engineering Sciences Building
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802


Cell: 814-876-3857

Skype: joe.bishop23


Most weeks I will be actively, though not constantly, online; Monday – Thursday (1:30 – 3:30 PM EST) and for a similar time block on Sunday afternoons (~ 3-5 PM). I will do my best to turn around your questions within 24 hours from the time submitted. After the first couple of weeks, I will check to see if these times are effective. I frequently travel for the other parts of my job and I will let you know when I will be on the road and you may expect delays in response times. Please let me know how these times are working for you; I will be happy to make different arrangements when appropriate. If you would like to speak to me directly, we can set an appointment time via email that meets our collective schedules. If you prefer, I also use "Skype" for some communications. I will schedule 2-3 calls with each student during the term to further facilitate good communication.

Course Overview

GEOG 587: CONSERVATION GIS. Conservation GIS applies geospatial problem solving to ecological research and resource management issues to enhance conservation planning.

Prerequisites - GEOG 487 or equivalent.

Conservation GIS strives to address the multiple factors influencing the conservation planning process by applying appropriate geospatial techniques. Conservation planning requires interdisciplinary approaches that blend spatial and temporal information on physical, biological, and socio-economic factors as a basis to establish current conditions, monitor change, and predict possible futures. Practitioners work in support of resource management agencies, non-profit conservation organizations, and environmental consulting companies and address projects encompassing local to global ecological scales. They combine geospatial capability with core concepts from conservation biology, landscape ecology, biodiversity monitoring, environmental impact analysis, watershed assessment, and wildlife management to address specific planning challenges.

GEOG 587 provides students the opportunity to expand on the GIS concepts introduced in GEOG 487: "Environmental Applications of GIS" while incorporating a problem-solving approach. This course emphasizes the unique nature of each conservation problem and the multiple pathways that may result depending upon the geospatial techniques that are applied. Problem understanding is emphasized as a prerequisite to the application of the full range of possible geospatial techniques that could be used to unravel complex conservation challenges. Map making, a common thread when working with GIS is only the beginning in this course. Your ability to use the written word to describe the decision process that you used to address each problem will dictate your success in this course.

What will be expected of you?

Like 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 readings, projects, and related activities. You will be glad to know that you don't need to show up for a class at a certain time! All you need to do is interact with your fellow classmates and complete assignments before the published deadline at the end of each lesson.

As mentioned above, your writing and more specifically, technical writing, about how geospatial techniques are applied to conservation planning and problem-solving comprises the majority of your course activities.

During the term, I encourage everyone to use the class message boards and e-mail to help each other find relevant materials and learn about interesting applications of Conservation GIS. Working together as a class is strongly encouraged.

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 and your fellow classmates. Discussions are an important part of this course, it is here that we learn from each other by sharing our experience and "Spatial" ideas.

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

Students who successfully complete this course will be prepared to:

  • define and describe Conservation GIS and the interdisciplinary process of identifying conservation targets,
  • differentiate the scales (site, local, regional, to international) at which Conservation GIS is applied,
  • identify possible errors encountered when combining disparate spatial and temporal data sources,
  • compare the variety of projects and their goals involved in the application of Conservation GIS worldwide,
  • apply geospatial techniques to team-based conservation problem solving, and
  • implement geospatial methods to address different, frequently conflicting goals faced in conservation planning.

Required Course Materials

To take this course, you need to have the required course materials listed below. All (other) materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. To access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the on-line course resources).  If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the Outreach Helpdesk. They can be reached at 1-800-252-3592 in the US or internationally at 814-865-5403 (country code 001). You may reach them by e-mail at (link sends e-mail).

Currently, there are no required textbooks for this course. For each lesson, you will be directed to a set of required readings that are on library reserve.

A number of software packages will be used for hands-on activities throughout the course. Please refer to the Program Technical Requirements to verify that your computer meets the minimum specifications.

ESRI software (#1 below) will be sent to all registered students by the GIS Program office before the course begins. There are additional software packages required for the course. All are provided at no cost to the enrolled student but a specific process must be followed to obtain these licenses.  Detailed instructions will be given in the course material.  Be sure to install and/or test your ESRI software (1 and 2 below) during this orientation week.  You will need it throughout this course.

  1. ESRI, ArcGIS Student Edition: For complete ordering information, see the GIS Program FAQ.
  2. ESRI, Spatial Analyst Extension for ArcGIS
  3. The discussion about additional software packages, including download and installation instructions, when necessary, will be provided in later lessons. These might include:
  • Corridor Design
  • etc.

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 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 about their services, see the Library Information for Off-site Users.

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning are described below. Grades will be based on percentages assigned to several components of the course as follows:

  • Class participation: Individual participation via online discussion forums. Students will be encouraged to post questions and answer each other's questions on the online forums. Each lesson will have two discussions (one discussion per week). The first week of each lesson will have an instructor-prompted response to a reading or other content from the course. The discussion for the second week of the lesson will range from being student-led to current issues in the field or course. This course will use this rubric for grading discussions. (20%)
  • Mini-papers: Three mini-papers (+/- 1800 words) to follow three of the four core lessons. &Students will be asked to expand upon or further explore an aspect or issue for of the lessons including 2-4 mapped images. Topics will be selected that demonstrate an understanding of each project's conservation objectives and supporting analyses, not simply the application of GIS software. (30% - 10% for each of 3 papers)
  • Mini-paper Critiques: Students will also be asked to critique two mini-papers submitted by classmates following specific review guidelines. (10% - 5% for each of 2 critiques)
  • Term Project: The term project for this course involves multiple components that you'll create to develop a professional report or proposal. The deliverables and their weighting are:
    • Project Proposal will include project outline, introduction, questions or objectives, and proposed methods (10%).
    • Final Term Project includes project abstract, revised introduction, objectives, final methods, results, conclusions, and discussion including "lessons learned" (25%).
    • Term Project Presentation (5%).
    This course will use this writing rubric for the Mini-papers and Term Project Paper.

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Grading Scales
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 587 Course Schedule

image Printable 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 two weeks long and opens on Wednesday.

Lesson 0: Orientation
Date: Week 0
  • become familiar with the course and its requirements
  • use the learning environments for the course
  • introduce yourself to your classmates
Readings: Read the orientation materials
  • Complete the steps outlined in our site orientation. Required!
Lesson 1: Local Scale Conservation – "Setting & Protecting Conservation Targets"
Date: Weeks 1-2
  • define Conservation GIS
  • report on the history of Conservation GIS and its connection to other disciplines
  • contrast Conservation GIS with other GIS applications and recognize the overlaps
  • describe the breadth of geospatial techniques that can be applied to conservation planning
  • explain geospatial data and analyses for conservation planning to non-geospatial professionals
  • work collaboratively with non-geospatial professionals to set conservation goals and plan their implementation
  • describe differences between land use and land cover data
  • compare methods of interpretation and sources of errors of land use vs. land cover data
  • describe methods of identifying conservation targets/priorities
  • identify non-point and point source threats/impacts to conservation targets
  • incorporate continuous surface data with site-specific point data into analyses
  • analyze socio-economic data to address population sensitive priorities and impacts
  • reclassify data layers to specifically address conservation targets and zone for their protection
Lesson 2: Local to Regional Conservation – "Habitat Suitability and Preserve Design"
Date: Weeks 3-4
  • further explore methods of identifying conservation targets/priorities
  • reclassify land cover data to isolate specific habitat types
  • tabulate road and stream density
  • enhance land cover data to separate core vs. edge habitats
  • identify and map habitat fragmentation
  • prepare raster and vector data types to be combined and analyzed together
  • prepare data that isolates areas of human impact
  • evaluate field data collected for landscape analysis
  • assess scale issues associated with combining specific data with less precise data layers
  • integrate areas of competing land use interests
  • evaluate data to identify areas to protect conservation targets
Lesson 3: Regional Conservation Priorities
Date: Weeks 5-6
  • describe differences among/between ecologically/physiographically-based mapping (e.g., ecoregions, physiographic provinces, and hydrologic units)
  • illustrate their hierarchical structure and the relevant scales for their use
  • track application of these ecological and physiographic delineations to finer scaled studies
  • contrast the benefits and limitations of regional scale planning
  • explore methods of matching scale with analyses
  • prepare/collect data to assess environmental conditions and vulnerability to change
  • perform multi-temporal change detection with land cover data
  • interpret the basics of landscape metrics and their use
  • compare methods for combining socio-economic data with natural resource data
  • incorporate currently protected lands and understand their effect on nearby conservation targets
  • evaluate alternate methods to identify and group similar areas
Lesson 4: International Conservation Planning – "National Reserve Design"
Date: Weeks 7-8
  • apply methods of identifying conservation targets in an international setting
  • include current research
  • address conflicting interests (e.g., biodiversity & ecotourism vs. road building & logging)
  • perform proximity or "nearest neighbor" analysis
  • perform connectivity and least-cost-path analysis
  • identify habitat bottlenecks
  • identify multi-varying use zones
Lesson 5: Final Project
Date: Weeks 9-10
  • demonstrate understanding of Conservation GIS by selecting an appropriate project to complete and identifying the conservation targets
  • select appropriate geospatial data and techniques to address conservation targets
  • analyze and map results to assist with planning and interpret maps and results to zone protection and predict success

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 before it is graded.

Citation and Reference Style

Academic Integrity and Citation Style Guide

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 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.


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 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 Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Academic Integrity Guidelines. 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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 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.