GEOG 868
Spatial Database Management

GEOG 868 Syllabus - Fall 2023


GEOG 868 Syllabus - Fall 2023

Welcome to Spatial Database Management for Geospatial Professionals

Instructor Information

Jim Detwiler
Office: 2217 EES Building, The Pennsylvania State University,
University Park, PA 16802
Email: Please use the Canvas course email system.
Office hours: Students are welcome to contact me by Course Mail at any time. I am typically able to respond within 24 hours, usually much sooner. Although email correspondence is preferred, students may also arrange to contact me by phone.

Course Overview

GEOG 868: Spatial Database Management for Geospatial Professionals. Advanced topics in the storage, management, and retrieval of geospatial data using common proprietary and open-source relational database technologies.
Prerequisites: GEOG 484 or equivalent experience

Access to accurate data is a cornerstone on which all successful organizations are built. The data stewards who maintain an organization's information systems thus have a crucial role to play.  This course is intended for students who want to learn how to create, maintain, and retrieve data from a spatially enabled database.

The course begins by covering relational database topics that are of relevance in both geographic and non-geographic contexts (e.g., Structured Query Language and database design).  It then focuses on the special considerations involved in the management of a spatial database by demonstrating two broad approaches.  The first utilizes open-source technologies (specifically, the Postgres database management system and its spatial extension PostGIS); the second utilizes technology from a leading vendor (Esri's geodatabase).

The course is 10 weeks in length and requires a minimum of 10-12 hours of student activity each week.

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. However, 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 your assignments before the published deadlines. Some of the assignments are one week in length, while others are two.

During the term, we encourage everyone to use the class discussion forums, chat rooms, or email to help each other find relevant materials and learn about interesting applications of mashups. We can always be contacted via class email and will check our accounts daily during the week (and typically at least once each weekend). If we are traveling, we may check somewhat less frequently, but we will alert you of this beforehand.

We 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 the instructors, 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

GEOG 868 will teach students how to create a spatial database and use it to answer geographic questions.  Students will learn by using both open-source and proprietary database technologies.

At the successful completion of this course, students should be able to:

  • retrieve data from an existing database using SQL Select queries;
  • design a database schema from a set of requirements;
  • implement that design through the creation of related tables;
  • insert and update rows in a table;
  • create spatially enabled tables in Postgres/PostGIS;
  • work with PostGIS data using open-source desktop GIS software (QGIS);
  • answer questions using PostGIS spatial functions;
  • create an Esri file geodatabase;
  • model real-world entities through subtypes, domains, topology rules, and relationship classes;
  • set up and administer an enterprise (ArcSDE) geodatabase;
  • manage vector and raster data in an enterprise geodatabase;
  • understand enterprise geodatabase editing workflows;
  • discuss the suitability of an open-source or proprietary approach to various project scenarios

Required Course Materials

In order to take this course, you need to have the required course materials listed below.  All (other) materials needed for this course are presented online 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 Outreach Helpdesk. They can be reached at 1-800-252-3592 in the US, or internationally at 814-865-5403 (country code 1). You may reach them by email at (link sends email).


We'll be using a number of different software packages in this course, but the good news is that costs to you should be minimal:

  • Microsoft Access 2008 or later (available to PSU students at no cost)
  • PostgreSQL (free)
  • PostGIS (free)
  • QGIS (free)
  • ArcGIS Pro (free to PSU students)
  • ArcSDE (you'll run this software on your own server in the Amazon cloud; usage costs depend on how long your server is running, but typically range from $20-$50)


You can succeed in the course with just our online materials, but you may find the following book useful as a reference for Lessons 3-4:

  • PostGIS in Action, 2nd Edition by Regina O. Obe and Leo S. Hsu (ISBN: 9781617291395) -- This book can be ordered at  After submitting your order, you'll be able to immediately download an electronic version.  It is also available as an e-book for free through the Penn State Library.  (Just look for the "Access e-books" link on the library home page.)  Speaking of the library...

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 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 email
  • ...and much more!

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. Grades will be based on points assigned to each of several components of the course, as follows:

  • 8 Individual Projects - 50% of course grade:
    Each lesson concludes with a hands-on project to be completed individually by the student. See the Course Schedule for project due dates. Project deliverables, which sometimes include write-ups of lessons learned, are submitted through Canvas.
  • 8 Lesson Quizzes - 20% of course grade:
    A quiz will be held at the end of each lesson to test the student's comprehension of class materials and other reading as required.  Students are welcome to refer to any available resources, including, but not limited to, the class materials when completing quizzes.  The only condition is that the research must be done without the aid of someone else.  
  • Review Quiz - 10% of course grade:
    A 20-question review quiz at the end of the course will cover all of the course material.
  • Final Project - 20% of course grade:
    A final project will be submitted in the last week of the course.

Both the lesson quizzes and review quiz are "open book," meaning you can use any resource available at your disposal to figure out the answer except asking other individuals. I recommend that you keep any web pages you open during the quiz in entirely separate browser windows (not tabs) to avoid accidentally closing the quiz.

Depending on the class size, I may be assisted by graders who will help evaluate the projects and provide feedback to you. Letter grades will be based on the following percentages:


Course grades are awarded on the following basis :

Letter grades and numerical values

Assignment due dates and late work

Most activity deliverables are due on Wednesday evenings in your local time zone (refer to the Calendar tab in Canvas for the exact schedule). 

Late projects are automatically marked down 10 points, with 10 more points deducted for each week that passes beyond the due date (e.g., two weeks beyond the due date receives a 20 point deduction, three weeks a 30 point deduction), up to a maximum of 30 points.

GEOG 868 Course Schedule

image Printable Schedule

Below, you will find a summary of the learning activities for this course and the associated time frames. We will use the Canvas Calendar to post assignments, due dates, etc. Please refer to that information in order to keep on top of things! Specific details for each project can be found in each lesson. If the need arises and changes to this syllabus are required, all students will be notified in advance.

Orientation Week
Date Week 0
Topics Getting Started
Readings Orientation Material
Assignments  Set up Canvas communications, introduce yourself
Lesson 1: Retrieving Data from a Relational Database
Date Week 1
Topics  SQL: Queries and Subqueries, Joining Tables, Aggregating Data
Readings  Lesson 1
Assignments  Project 1
Lesson 2: Relational Database Concepts and Theory
Date Week 2
Topics  RDBMS, Design Concepts, Managing Data in Tables
Readings  Lesson 2
Assignments  Project 2
Lesson 3: Building a Postgres/PostGIS Database
Date Week 3
Topics  PostGIS and QGIS
Readings  Lesson 3
Assignments  Project 3
Lesson 4: Working with PostGIS Spatial Functions
Date Week 4
Topics  Postgres/PostGIS Topics: Management Functions, Geometry, Spatial Functions
Readings  Lesson 4
Assignments  Project 4
Lesson 5: Working with Esri's Desktop Geodatabases
Date Week 5
Topics  Esri's Desktop Geodatabases: Domains, Subtypes, Topology, Relationship Classes
Readings  Lesson 5
Assignments  Project 5
Lesson 6: Enterprise Geodatabase Administration
Date Week 6
Topics  Enterprise Geodatabase introduction, ArcSDE
Readings  Lesson 6
Assignments  Project 6
Lesson 7: Data Management in an Enterprise Geodatabase
Date Week 7
Topics  Data Management in an Enterprise Geodatabase: Vector and Raster
Readings  Lesson 7
Assignments  Project 7
Lesson 8: Editing and Versioning in an Enterprise Geodatabase
Date Week 8
Topics  Versioned Editing in an Enterprise Geodatabase
Readings  Lesson 8
Assignments Project 8
Final Project
Date: Weeks 9-10
Topics  Bring together aspects of previous lessons
Assignments Complete the final project for the class

Course Policies

Withdrawals and Refunds

Students who officially withdraw from the class may be entitled to a prorated refund of tuition. For more information, see Refund Policy under World Campus Student Policies.

Use of Trade Names

Where trade names are used, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the World Campus, Outreach and Cooperative Extension, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, or The Pennsylvania State University is implied.

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.