EMSC 100
Freshman Seminar in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences

About this Material


The past decade has seen an explosion of new mechanisms for understanding and using location information in widely-accessible technologies. This Geospatial Revolution has resulted in the development of consumer GPS tools, interactive web maps, and location-aware mobile devices. These radical advances are making it possible for people from all walks of life to use, collect, and understand spatial information like never before.

This course brings together core concepts in cartography, geographic information systems, and spatial thinking with real-world examples to provide the fundamentals necessary to engage with Geography beyond the surface-level. We will explore what makes spatial information special, how spatial data is created, how spatial analysis is conducted, and how to design maps so that they’re effective at telling the stories we wish to share. To gain experience using this knowledge, we will work with the latest mapping and analysis software to explore geographic problems.

This class has been taught three times on Coursera in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format. More than 100,000 learners from around the world have enrolled in the class over three offerings since 2013. This site provides the primary content of the course as Open Educational Resources for anyone to use for self-study, adapt for their own teaching, or otherwise re-use under a Creative Commons License.


This course content is provided as-is. It's a free resource that you may use and re-use under a Creative Commons License. We cannot provide service or support for anyone who uses it, sorry.

Course Overview

Lesson One: The Geospatial Revolution; highlighting the massive changes in geospatial and mapping technology in recent years and their impact on people from all walks of life.

Lesson Two: Spatial is special; an exploration of spatial thinking and geographic thought to provide the context necessary to understand the underpinnings of the Geospatial Revolution.

Lesson Three: Spatial data; how spatial data is created, what makes it different from other types of information, and how it is managed using new technologies.

Lesson Four: Spatial analysis; basic techniques for solving geographic problems that take spatial relationships into account.

Lesson Five: Cartographic design; fundamentals necessary to design great maps to tell compelling stories about geographic patterns.

Recommended Background

No background is required; all are welcome. If you're already a Geospatial Guru, then you might find this class a bit basic, in which case I hope you'll consider taking the online courses that we offer at Penn State.

Suggested Readings

No readings aside from the course content are required, but students are encouraged to explore the Nature of Geographic Information and the Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge.

Course Format

The class consists of short lecture videos, which are 5-10 minutes in length, as well as written and graphical content to cover key geospatial concepts and competencies. Each lesson features a hands-on lab assignment using ArcGIS Online using their free public account option (no downloads or purchases required).


  • What resources will I need for this class?
  • For this course, all you need is an Internet connection and the time to watch lectures, read course content, complete lab assignments, and discuss your lab work with your peers. You do not need to buy or download any software.
  • What will I learn if I take this class?
  • You’ll learn how to make maps and analyze geographic problems using the latest tools, and you’ll know what makes a good map. You’ll also learn why spatial makes things special, and you’ll understand how Geography permeates nearly everything we do.
  • What future learning opportunities will this class prepare me for?
  • Students who successfully complete this class will be prepared to continue their education in more advanced GIS and Mapping classes.
  • What if I need help with this course content or its assignments?
  • This class content is provided as-is. Unfortunately, I'm not able to provide individual support for its use and re-use. More than 100,000 students have taken this class since 2013 on Coursera, so most of the kinks have been worked out, but I can't guarantee that its elements won't go stale, that the labs will still work, etc...
  • I really need to ask you a question - how can I do that?
  • If you really need to send me an email, please send it to maps@psu.edu so that I can keep my inbox semi-reasonable. I will do my best to answer questions there whenever I can.
  • Will this class be taught again as a MOOC on Coursera (or elsewhere)?
  • Coursera is radically changing how it does courses and I am working on converting the Maps MOOC to adapt to their new model. Teaching a MOOC is a voluntary portion of my job (and most others who teach MOOCs), so it's important to understand that what my day job expects from me vs. what people want me to do for free are often incompatible with one another. I hope to relaunch it soon!
  • What's the backstory on how this course was developed? What metrics can you share about how many people passed the class?
  • Several research articles on aspects of the Maps MOOC are available at my Google Scholar and ResearchGate profiles.
  • Where are the quizzes and exams?
  • I haven't included those here, as I'd like to reserve the ability to use those assessments in future runs of the MOOC and other classes I may teach.