GEOG 497
3D Modeling and Virtual Reality

Undergrad Syllabus


Syllabus: Undergrad Course 

GEOG 497: 3D Modeling and Virtual Reality
Spring 2022

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


Instructor: Mahda M. Bagher, PhD

Office: Remote
Department of Geography, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University

  • E-mail: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Inbox in Canvas).
  • Office Hours: Fridays 12:00 PM-2: 00 PM and by appointment via Zoom

NOTE: I will read and respond to e-mail and discussion forums Frequently.

Class Support Services

Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Overview

Description: 3D Modeling and VR for the Geospatial Sciences is an introductory-level science course that introduces students to emerging topics at the interface of concepts and tools that capture/sense environmental information (e.g., LiDAR) and concepts/tools that allow for immersive access to geospatial information (e.g., HTC Vive). The course offers a high-level perspective on the major challenges and opportunities facing the development of current 3D technologies, differences between classic modeling and procedural rule-based modeling, the development of VR technologies, the role of game engines in the geospatial sciences. Topics that will be covered include an introduction to the 3D Modeling and 3D sensing technologies, 360 degree cameras, VR apps and tools, workflows how to integrate environmental information into VR environments, an introduction to procedural rule modeling, hands-on experience in creating 3D models of Penn State Campus, the creation of a virtual Penn State Campus, accessing and exploring a virtual campus in Unity (game engine), and the export of flyovers to platforms such as YouTube 360.

Prerequisites and concurrent courses: None.

Course Objectives

When students successfully complete this course, they will be prepared to:

  • Understand and apply the concepts of 3D modeling and VR, they will be in a position to distinguish concepts such as virtual, mixed, and augmented reality.
  • Explain and implement workflows to created 3D content from existing and historic and future environments.
  • Use a variety of software solutions for 3D model creation such as SketchUp, CityEngine (theoretical), Unity.
  • Understand the emerging possibilities of environmentally sensed information.
  • Create 3D models and make them accessible in an interactive way through the use of game engines. Evaluate scenarios for the future of food considering resilience in the context of climate change, human population growth and socio-economic, and cultural factors.


On average, most students spend 12-15 hours per week working on course assignments. Your workload may be more or less depending on your study habits.

I have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. The Internet may still be a novel learning environment for you, but in one sense it is no different from a traditional college class: 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.

Specific learning objectives for each lesson and project are detailed within each lesson. The class schedule is published under the Calendar tab in Canvas (the course management system used for this course).

Required Course Materials

Required textbooks: None

Recommended textbooks:

There are numerous books relevant to the course content. Resources are added throughout the course allowing students to follow up on specific topics.

Required materials: 

 D-scope Pro Google Cardboard Kit with Straps may be purchased online

Online lesson content

All other 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 (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact the World Campus Helpdesk.

Assessment: Assignments, Quizzes, and Exams

This course relies on a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

  • Practical assignments - Assignments are required for each module that require students to demonstrate their understanding of topics and processes presented in each module.
  • Reflective writing assignments - These writing assignments ask students to reflect on various aspects of the topics and technologies presented in the course.
  • Participation - Class participation is important. Students will be expected to join the discussions on topics related to the course.

Citation and Reference Style
I personally prefer APA as a citation style but as long as you are complete and consistent you may choose any style.

It is important that your work is submitted in the proper format to the appropriate Canvas Assignment or Discussion Forum and by the designated due date. I strongly advise that you not wait until the last minute to complete these assignments—give yourself time to ask questions, think things over, and chat with others. You will learn more, do better...and be happier!

Due dates for all assignments are posted on the mini-syllabus and course calendar in Canvas.


Breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.
Assignments Percent of Grade
Practical assignments 60%
Reflective writing assignments 30%
Participation 10%
Total 100%

I will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your grades. You can see your grades in the Grades page of Canvas. Overall course grades will be determined as follows. Percentages refer to the proportion of all possible points earned.

Letter Grade and Corresponding Percentage
Letter Grade Percentages
A 93 - 100 %
A- 90 - 92.9 %
B+ 87 - 89.9 %
B 83 - 86.9 %
B- 80 - 82.9%
C+ 77 - 79.9 %
C 70 - 76.9 %
D 60 - 69.9 %
F < 60 %

Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

I am not planning to curve grades.

Late Policy

I do not accept any "late work." In exceptional circumstances, you should contact me. The earlier you contact me to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Generally, late assignments will be assessed a penalty of at least 25% and will not be accepted more than one week after the original due date.

GEOG 497 Course Schedule

imagePrintable Schedule

Below you will find a summary of the primary learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. This course is 15 weeks in length, including an orientation. See our Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.

Weekly schedule: Lessons open on Mondays. The close date might vary depending on the course difficulty. Initial discussions posts are due on Saturday, with all discussion comments due by Tuesday. All other assignments are due on Sundays. I expect you to participate in the online discussion forums as they count toward your participation grade.

NOTE: See the CANVAS Calendar tab for a full semester calendar of events.

Lesson 1: Introduction and Overview of 3D Modeling and Virtual Reality

Date: Week 1
  • Overview
  • Distinguishing VR, AR, and MR Systems
  • VR Systems
  • 3D Modeling and VR in the Geospatial Sciences
  • Applications of 3D Modeling
  • Important VR Concepts
  • Examples
  • Discussion: Reflection (VR Concepts)
  • Discussion: Application of 3D Modeling
  • Assignment: Product Review
  • Assignment: 3D/VR Project Review

Lesson 2: 3D Modeling and VR Workflows

Date: Week 2
  • Overview
  • Pre-requisite: The Level of Detail
  • Workflows for 3D Model Construction - Overview
  • Manual Static 3D Modeling
  • Data-Driven Modeling
  • Procedural Modeling
  • 3D and VR Application Building Workflows
  • Photogrammetry
  • Assignment: Article and Review

Lesson 3: Hands-on Modeling using SketchUp

Date: Week 3
  • Overview
  • Start Modeling
  • Installing SketchUp
  • SketchUp: Essential Training
  • SketchUp: Essential Concepts Summary
  • Optimization and Rendering
  • Lesson 3 Content
  • Discussion: Reflection (Modeling)
  • Assignment: SketchUp Essential Concepts

Lesson 3: Hands on Modeling using SketchUp Continued

Date: Week 4

  • Create a Building
  • SketchUp and Sketchfab
  • Lesson 3 Content

  • Assignment: Optimization
  • Assignment: 3D Model

Lesson 4: Introduction to Procedural Modeling

Date: Week 5
  • Overview
  • The Concept of Procedural Modeling
  • Introduction to CityEngine and its CGA Shape Grammar
  • Introduction to Procedural Modeling for UP Campus
  • Discussion: Models
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 5: Intro to ArcGIS Pro and 3D Modeling ArcGIS Pro

Date: Week 6
  • Overview
  • Create a Map of University Park Campus
  • Symbolize Layers and Edit Features
  • Explore Raster Data
  • Lesson 5 Content
  • Discussion: Reflection (3D Modeling)
  • Assignment: ArcGIS Pro
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 5: Intro to ArcGIS Pro and 3D Modeling ArcGIS Pro, continued

Date: Week 7
  • Explore 3D Data
  • Display a Scene with more Realistic Details
  • Lesson 5 Content
  • Assignment: 3D Campus
    • Realistic facades
    • Schematic facades

Lesson 6: 3D Spatial Analysis

Date: Week 8
  • Overview
  • Flood Analysis
  • Sun Shadow Volume Analysis
  • Share Your Results on Google Earth
  • Lesson 6 Content

  • Assignment: 3D Spatial Analysis

Lesson 6: 3D Spatial Analysis, continued

Date: Week 9

  • Share Your Results on Google Earth
  • Lesson 6 Content
  • Discussion: Reflection (Spatial Modeling in 2D and 3D)
  • Assignment: Google Earth
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 7: Unity I

Date: Week 10
  • Overview
  • The Unity3D Game Engine
  • Downloading and Installing Unity
  • Unity Interface and Basic Unity Concepts
  • Getting More Familiar with the Editor
  • Walkthrough: Using Unity to Build a Stand-Alone Windows Application
  • First Game in Unity: Roll-the-ball

  • Lesson 7 Content
  • Assignment: Unity 3D/VR Application Review
  • Assignment: Create the walkthrough of the Old Main

Lesson 7: Unity I, continued

Date: Week 11

  • First Game in Unity: Roll-the-ball

  • Lesson 7 Content

  • Assignment: Build a Simple "Roll-the-Ball" Game

Lesson 8: Unity II

Date: Week 12
  • 3D Applications in Unity
  • Walkthrough: From SketchUp Model to Unity
  • Animations and State Change in Unity
  • Walkthrough: Creating a Camera Animation
  • Lesson 8 Content

  • Assignment: Windows Stand-alone Application

Lesson 8: Unity II, continued

Date: Week 13

  • Unity-based VR Applications for Mobile Devices
  • Walkthrough: Creating a 360° Movie for Google Cardboard
  • Lesson 8 Content
  • Discussion: Stand-alone App and 360o Video
  • Assignment: 360Video
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 9: Unity III

Date: Week 14
  • The City Builder Game
  • Setting up the City Builder from Scratch
  • Common Mechanics Used in VR Development
  • Interaction in VR
  • Lesson 9 Content
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 10: Outlook

Date: Week 15
  • Two Current Projects
  • Historic Campus
  • LiDAR Volcano Visualization

  • Assignment: Article Reflection
  • Assignment: Future of Geospatial Sciences Reflection Paper

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.

Course Policies