GEOG 865
Cloud and Server GIS

GEOG 865 Syllabus


Welcome to Cloud and Server GIS, Summer 2024

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You must read the entire document and the material covered in the course Orientation. Together these serve the role of our course "contract."

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


Ryan Baxter

Associate Teaching Professor
215 Walker Building
Department of Geography
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802

NOTE: Please use the course email system in Canvas. I check email and the course forums at least once per weekday and once on weekends unless you are notified otherwise.

Course Overview

Theory and practice of cloud and server geographic information systems (GIS).

Geography 865 is an elective course in the Penn State Professional Masters in Geographic Information Systems. This course teaches students to use cloud and server GIS resources to solve problems for which geospatial data is an integral element. We will evaluate and implement systems using three cloud service models (infrastructure services, platform services, and software services). The course will contain both worked exercises and critical reading and writing for infrastructure, platform, and software service models.

The course will teach you to set up cloud services for creating maps, cloud services for managing spatial data, and cloud services for processing spatial data. This course will challenge you to exercise the critical thinking and technical skills needed to evaluate and develop successful cloud GIS projects. Assignments focus on helping students improve their ability to write about and execute cloud GIS projects. A final activity involves creating a working cloud and server GIS project.

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 projects and related activities. You'll be glad to know that you don't have to show up for class at a certain time! All you need to do is complete assignments before the published deadlines each week.

During the term, I encourage everyone to use the class message boards, chat rooms, or email to help each other find relevant materials, learn about interesting GIS designs/implementations, and exchange ideas about your proposals. I can always be contacted via class e-mail 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

You will learn to evaluate cloud computing resources and use Esri and open-source web GIS technologies.

Cloud computing objectives, based on the NIST definition of cloud computing:

  • Be able to evaluate cloud computing technologies in terms of their essential characteristics
    • Network access
    • On-demand self-service
    • Resource pooling
    • Elasticity
    • Measured Service
  • Be able to evaluate cloud computing technologies in terms of their service models
    • Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS)
    • Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS)
    • Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Cloud GIS Skills

  • Scalable web mapping using the Esri ArcGIS Server platform
  • Web mapping using Mapbox
  • Web mapping using Carto
  • Web mapping using ArcGIS Online

Required Course Materials

We will use a variety of free online readings in this course. There is also a textbook that is available online at no cost: The Cloud at Your Service. This is an excellent book that can help augment your contributions to our weekly discussions on cloud computing topics.

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

Several lessons in this course utilize Amazon Web Services (AWS). Students are required to create regular accounts at AWS and pay any costs directly. These charges should be on the order of $50 for the semester, depending on usage. 

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 220 Boucke Building or call 814-863-2020.

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 percentages assigned to each of 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. Class participation makes up 20% of your grade.
  • Weekly Assignments: Each week, you will have an assignment involving cloud and server GIS. In addition, there is a short quiz to test your knowledge after the ArcGIS Server lessons. Weekly assignments make up 60% of your grade.
  • Term Project: The term project for this course involves making a cloud and server GIS application of your own devising. The term project is worth 20% of your course grade.

Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:

Letter Grade Percentage
A 100-93%
A- 92.9-90%
B+ 89.9-87%
B 86.9-83%
B- 82.9-80%
C+ 79.9-77%
C 76.9-70%
D 69.9-60%
F <60%
X Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned by the student.

GEOG 865 Course Schedule

imageGeog 865 Printable Schedule

Course length: 10 weeks

Below, you will find a summary of the lesson objectives for this course and the associated time frames. Assignment information will be located on the Canvas course management system - so you will need to check there for the full set of details and deliverables. An orientation week precedes the official start of the course. Each lesson is one week long and opens on Wednesday.

Week Lesson Title Assignments and Activities
Week 0 Lesson 0: Orientation
  • Complete the steps outlined in our Canvas orientation. (Required!)
Week 1 Lesson 1: Introduction to Cloud and Server GIS
  • Set up your Amazon account.
  • Create an Amazon instance from an Amazon Machine Image. Start, stop, and log in to that instance.
  • Use Google Fusion tables to create a map.
Week 2 Lesson 2: ArcGIS Server up and running on Amazon EC2
  • Understand cloud computing architectures in an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model.
  • Set up an ArcGIS EC2 instance.
  • Understand the methods of moving data to the cloud.
  • Create a simple map service on that instance accessible via the Internet.
Week 3 Lesson 3: Cloud-based databases and web editing with ArcGIS Server
  • Create a feature service.
  • Create an application for editing your feature service using Web App Builder.
  • Understand GIS databases and web editing.
  • Understand how to set up your ArcGIS Server for web and feature services.
  • Understand how to design a web map to support editing.
Week 4 Lesson 4: ArcGIS Server performance and rasterized map tiles
  • Understand how to design a map for tiling.
  • Create and maintain a rasterized map tile cache.
  • Create a substantive application using your knowledge of ArcGIS for Server.
Week 5 Lesson 5: Map design and vector tile services using Mapbox
  • List some advantages and disadvantages of the software as a service (SaaS) cloud computing model for GIS.
  • Give examples of SaaS providers for GIS and mapping.
  • Use services offered by the company Mapbox for basemap design and thematic mapping.
  • Embed maps from Mapbox on a web page.
  • Explain the advantages and disadvantages of vector tiles and their differences from the rasterized tiles you created with ArcGIS Server.
Week 6 Lesson 6: Thematic mapping services with CARTO
  • Understand CARTO software and how it enables thematic mapping.
  • Analyze spatial data patterns using CARTO aggregation tools.
  • Visualize complex data in CARTO using time-series animations.
  • Understand how to upload datasets to CARTO.
Week 7 Lesson 7: Web maps and data as services using ArcGIS Online
  • Understand the role of ArcGIS Online.
  • Create an application for sharing maps using ArcGIS Online.
  • Upload data to ArcGIS Online and access it as a web service.
Week 8 Lesson 8: GIS as a service using ArcGIS Online
  • Understand how spatial analysis tools can be exposed through software as a service (SaaS).
  • Use analysis tools in ArcGIS Online to solve geographic problems.
Week 9 Lesson 9: GIS on your own cloud using Portal for ArcGIS
  • Describe how organizations could deploy software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions on their own internal clouds.
  • Understand the relationship between publicly available ArcGIS Online organizational pages and internal deployments using Portal for ArcGIS.
  • Perform some administrative tasks on your Server and Portal installations.
Week 10 Lesson 10: Term Project
  • Complete a comprehensive project addressing a real challenge or problem using cloud and server GIS technologies.
  • Share findings from the project using visual and written communication.

Course Policies

Late Assignments

"Late" is defined as anything turned in after the date and time specified in the Course Calendar on the course website. Unless you have previously arranged an exception with the instructor, any assignment turned in past its due date will automatically be assessed a 10% deduction; an additional 10% will be assessed for each subsequent week the assignment is missing.

Make-up Exam Policy

There are no exams in this course.

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.


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

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. 

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.

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. 

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.