GEOG 597i
Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

GEOG 597i Course Syllabus: Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

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. It is essential that you read the entire document as well as material covered in the Course Orientation. Together, these serve as our course "contract."


Dr. George A. Van Otten: Senior Lecturer, Geospatial Intelligence Program, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is the lead instructor for GEOG 597i. 

  • Cell phone: (520) 236-2654. 
  • Course e-mail: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Communicate tab in the LMS).
  • Personal e-mail:
  • Availability: I check e-mail daily and am available for a live chat on an appointment basis.

Dr. Dennis J. Bellafiore: Senior Lecturer, Geospatial Intelligence Program, John A. Dutton e-Education Institute, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is the supporting instructor for GEOG 597i.

  • Skype phone: djbellafiore
  • Office phone: (717) 826-0606 (The country code for the United States is 1.).
  • Course e-mail: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Communicate tab in the LMS).
  • Personal e-mail:
  • FAX: (814) 863-1564 (The country code for the United States is 1. Please send the Fax to my attention. Please note that a Fax is sent to the State College Campus, and then forwarded to me as an e-mail. If possible, send a scanned copy to me via Canvas e-mail for faster turnaround.).
  • Availability: Please call or e-mail me to schedule a time that is convenient for you.

E-mail: Please contact your instructors through the course e-mail system in CANVAS. Always send correspondence to All Course Faculty to ensure that any course assistants also receive the note.

Course Overview

Description: Overview of the Essence of the Discipline of Geography
Prerequisites: Acceptance into the Geospatial Intelligence Program or by approval.

What is GEOG 597i?

This course focuses on the fundamentals of the discipline of geography including its history, transcendent theme, general theory, and practical applications of the tools of spatial analysis. The course is 10 weeks in duration.

What will be expected of you?

This course requires a minimum of 8-12 hours of student activity each week (depending on the speed at which you work). Some weeks may require less time and some may require more. 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.

Please check the course communication linkages regularly. I strongly encourage you to log in to the course website every day. Normally, I check message boards and e-mail at least once every day, usually seven days a week. If I anticipate not logging in for more than a day, I will let you know and also clearly state when you can next expect to hear from me.

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.

Course Goals and Outcomes

At the end of this course, you will be able to:   

  • describe the transcendent unifying theme of the discipline of geography;
  • describe the history and evolution of the discipline of geography;
  • describe the integrative nature of the discipline of geography;
  • describe the applied utility of the discipline of geography;
  • apply basic fundamentals and principles of spatial analysis; and
  • describe the ways in which models are useful in the analysis and synthesis of spatial realities

Required Course Materials

In order to successfully complete this course, you must have the required course materials and an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources).

Required Textbooks

This course requires the following textbook:

Abler, Ron; Adams, John S.; and Gould, Peter; Spatial Organization: The Geographer's View of the World, Prentice Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey (1971) 

The book will be provided in the form of a PDF if you are registered for the course. Otherwise, the book is available on sites such as Amazon.

Required Software

All materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in the LMS. In order to access these materials, you must 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 ITS Help Desk.

Assistance with textbooks

Penn State honors and values the socioeconomic diversity of our students. If you require assistance with the costs of textbooks for this course, please contact your academic advisor. For additional needs, related to socioeconomic status, please visit Project Cahir or visit the Office of Student Care and Advocacy at 222 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.

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 register with the Libraries, and to learn more about their services, see the Library Information for Off-Campus Users.

Assignments and Grading

  • Number of Lessons: 9
  • Eight Assignments = 56% (56/100 possible points)of the total grade (7% or 7 points possible for each assignment)
  • Peer Critiques: You must critique the submissions of at least one of your classmates for each assignment. These critiques are due the Friday after each assignment is due (check the course calendar). 
  • Final Examination = 24% (24/100 possible points)
  • Class Participation = 20% (20/100 possible points). Everyone starts with 20 class participation points. Those who turn in assignments on time, fully participate in discussions, and submit thoughtful and useful peer critiques will receive the full 20 points available. Late assignments (unexcused), missing assignments, and weak or missing peer reviews will result in a deduction of points (depending on the length of time involved between a due date and the actual submission of an assignment). Weak or missing peer critiques will also result in a reduction of participation points.  
  • Total points possible = 100 (100%).


This course includes 9 lessons and a final exam. In order to meet course objectives, students must read lectures, complete the in-text quizzes, and complete all assignments and peer critiques.


Letter grades will be based on the following percentages (percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points):

Letter Grades and Percentages
Grade Percent
A 92.5 - 100%
A- 89.5 - 92.4%
B+ 86.5 – 89.4%
B 82.5 – 86.4%
B- 79.5 – 82.4%
C+ 76.5 – 79.4%
C 69.5 – 76.4%
D 60.0 – 69.4%
F < 60.0%


There are assignments and Peer Critiques (Reviews) required for each lesson. 

 Before beginning lectures, review the week's materials and assignments.

Lesson Assignments with Possible Points
Lesson Assignment

Possible Points

1 Read Scenario; Develop Presentation 7
2 Read Scenario; Develop Briefing 7
3 Read Scenario; Develop Testable Hypothesis 7
4 Examine Map; Develop Hierarchy of Central Places 7
5 Read Scenario;  Answer the Question 7
6 Find and Use Map of Eastern USA; Write Analysis 7
7 Examine Maps; Write Essay 7
8 Read Scenario; Use Maps; Apply Model; Calculate Friction of Distance  7

Course Schedule

Lesson One: Weeks One and Two

Requirements Lesson 1: Assignment Details
To Do Read all of the Lesson 1 Material.
To Read Ambler, Adams and Gould, Chapters 1-3; pp. 1-89.
Assignments  Answer Quiz Questions in the Text; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critique.

Lesson Two: Week Three

Requirements Lesson 2: Assignment Details
To Do Read all the Lesson 2 Material.
To Read Ambler, Adams, Gould, Chapter 11; pp. 389-455.
Assignments Answer in-text Quiz Questions; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critiques.

Lesson Three: Week Four

Requirements Lesson 3: Assignment Details
To Do Read all the Lesson 3 Material.
To Read Abler, Adams and Gould, Chapters 4-7; pp. 111-234.
Assignment Answer in-text Quiz Questions; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critiques.

Lesson Four: Week Five

Requirements Lesson 4: Assignment Details
To Do Review all the Lesson 4 Material.
To Read Abler, Adams and Gould, Chapter 10; pp. 354-384.
Assignment Complete in-text Questions; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critiques.

Lesson Five: Week Six

Requirements Lesson 5: Assignment Details
To Do Read and familiarize yourself with all the Lesson 5 materials.

Ambler, Adams and Gould, Chapter 10; pp. 340-353.

Assignment Answer in-text Quiz Questions; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critiques.

Lesson Six: Week Seven

Requirements Lesson 6: Assignment Details
To Do Read and familiarize yourself with all the Lesson 6 Materials.


Ambler, Adams, and Gould, Chapter 12; pp. 455-489.


Answer in-text Quiz Questions; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critique.

Lesson Seven: Week Eight

Requirements Lesson 7: Assignment Details
To Do Familiarize yourself with all the Lesson 7 Materials.

Ambler, Adams and Gould, Chapter 9; pp. 236-339.

Assignment Answer in-text Questions; Submit Assignment; Submit Peer Critique.

Lesson Eight:  Week Nine

Requirements Lesson 8: Assignment Details
To Do Read and familiarize yourself with all the Lesson 8 Materials.

Ambler, Adams and Gould, Chapter 8; pp. 236-297.

Assignment Answer in-text Quiz Questions; Submit Assignment ; Submit Peer Critique.

Lesson Nine: Week Ten

Requirements Lesson 9: Assignment Details
To Do Read and familiarize yourself with all the Lesson 9 materials.
Read Ambler, Adams and Gould, Chapter 13-15; pp. 491-577.
Assignment Complete and submit Final Exam.

Course Policies

Late Policy

I will excuse late assignments if the following apply: (1) it is prearranged with the instructor; (2) it is documented emergency; or (3) documented illness (see PARTICIPATION AND ATTENDANCE SECTION below). The submission will receive no points unless these conditions are met. If you have a problem, please get in touch with me ASAP.

Citation and Reference Style

Academic Integrity and Citation Style Guide

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 (for World Campus students) or Penn State's IT Help Portal (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 the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional 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 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 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 well-being.  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 to you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.