GEOG 497
3D Modeling and Virtual Reality



Syllabus: Graduate 

GEOG 497: 3D Modeling and Virtual Reality
Spring 2021

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: Pejman Sajjadi, PhD

Instructor: Pejman Sajjadi, PhD

Office: 210A Walker Bldg. University Park, PA
College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University

  • Phone: 814-865-2324 (email works best!)
  • E-mail: Please use the course e-mail system (see the Inbox in Canvas).
  • Office Hours: Wednesdays 2:00-4: 00 PM and by appointment via Zoom

NOTE: I will read and respond to e-mail and discussion forums at least once per day.

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 10 weeks in length, including an orientation. Each lesson is one week long. See our Calendar in Canvas for specific lesson time frames and assignment due dates.

Weekly schedule: Lessons open on Wednesday and close on Tuesday. Initial discussions posts are due on Saturday, with all discussion comments due by Tuesday. All other assignments are due on Tuesday. 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
  • Create a Building
  • SketchUp and Sketchfab
  • Lesson 3 Content
  • Discussion: Reflection (Modeling)
  • Assignment: SketchUp Essential Concepts
  • Assignment: Optimization
  • Assignment: 3D Model

Lesson 4: Introduction to Procedural Modeling

Date: Week 4
  • 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 5
  • Overview
  • Create a Map of University Park Campus
  • Symbolize Layers and Edit Features
  • Explore Raster Data
  • Explore 3D Data
  • Display a Scene with more Realistic Details
  • Lesson 5 Content
  • Discussion: Reflection (3D Modeling)
  • Assignment: ArcGIS Pro
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 6: 3D Spatial Analysis

Date: Week 6
  • Overview
  • Flood Analysis
  • Sun Shadow Volume Analysis
  • Share Your Results on Google Earth
  • Lesson 6 Content
  • Discussion: Reflection (Spatial Modeling in 2D and 3D)
  • Assignment: Google Earth 1
  • Assignment: Google Earth 2
  • Assignment: Reflection Paper

Lesson 7: Unity I

Date: Week 7
  • 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: Build a Simple "Roll-the-Ball" Game

Lesson 8: Unity II

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

Lesson 9: Unity III

Date: Week 9
  • 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 10
  • 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 (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.

Course Policies


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.