GEOG 864: Professionalism and Ethics in Geographic Information Science and Technology

Course Overview

Prepares current and aspiring professionals to recognize, analyze and address legal and ethical issues in the GIS&T (geospatial) field. Prerequisites: Consent of instructor.

“Being professional” in the Geographic Information Science and Technology field (GIS&T, a.k.a. geospatial) means being both competent in one’s work and reflective about its legal and ethical implications. Licensed and certified GIS&T professionals are required to affirm their commitment to legal and ethical practice. Fulfilling such commitments requires the ability to recognize and analyze legal and ethical problems and to act with integrity. In this course students investigate the nature of professions generally and the characteristics of the professions that occupy the GIS&T field in particular. Students gain awareness of pertinent legal and ethical issues and hone their moral reasoning skills through methodical analyses of case studies in relation to the GIS Code of Ethics and Rules of Conduct. Assignments include readings, investigations of GIS&T professions, and methodical analyses of legal and ethical case studies.

GEOG 864 is an elective course for current and aspiring professionals enrolled in Penn State’s Postbaccalaureate Certificate Program in GIS and Master of GIS (MGIS) degree program. Both programs are offered exclusively online through Penn State’s World Campus. Like other courses in these programs, GEOG 864 is a "paced" course. "Paced" means that the course has a published start date, end date, and weekly schedule of activities and assignments. However, students are free to study at times most convenient to them; they never have to log in at a particular time or place. The course lasts ten weeks, plus an additional week for course orientation (week 0). Assignment due dates are posted in a course calendar which registered students access in the University's online course management system, ANGEL ( In addition to the course calendar, students will access digital readings and communications tools in ANGEL. Although the class never meets face to face, students will find plenty of opportunities to interact with their instructor and fellow students in ANGEL.

GEOG 864 is open to certified GIS Professionals (GIS Certification Institute, Certified Mapping Scientists and Certified Photogrammetrists (American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing), Licensed Professional Surveyors, and others with permission of the instructor. Eligible students may substitute GEOG 864 for GEOG 482: Nature of Geographic Information - the required first course in Penn State's Postbaccalaureate Certificate Program in GIS and Master of GIS (MGIS) degree programs. 

GEOG 864 fulfills the Penn State Graduate School's requirement that every MGIS student complete formal training in professional ethics during their first year of study (See

What is expected of you?

According to Penn State’s Faculty Senate, "for the average student, a total of at least forty (40) hours of work planned and arranged by the University faculty is required to gain 1 credit" ( This two-credit course is designed to engage you in approximately 80 hours of purposeful activity leading to fulfillment of the educational objectives outlined below. You should therefore expect to devote about 8 hours of effort per week to readings, writing assignments, and communications.

Course Objectives

The overall goals of GEOG 864 are to prepare students to:

  1. Define the GIS&T field in relation its constituent professions;
  2. Explain the legal and ethical issues that pertain to the GIS&T field;
  3. Demonstrate moral reasoning skills through methodical analyses of ethical case studies; and
  4. Demonstrate understanding of academic integrity policies and guidelines.

Evaluation methods

Registered students earn academic credit at Penn State by successfully completing five assignments (outlined below). Assignment instructions and evaluation criteria are published under the Lessons tab in ANGEL course management system (

  1. Complete Lesson 1: Responsible Scholarship by reading assigned references and posting a brief essay.
  2. Complete Lesson 2: The GIS&T Professions by reading assigned references, posting a brief essay, and responding to another student's post.
  3. Complete Lesson 3: Professional Ethics by reading assigned references, performing a methodical analysis of a select ethics case study, and responding to another student's post.
  4. Complete Lesson 4: Spatial Law and Policy by reading select references, posting a brief essay, and responding to another student's post.
  5. Complete Lesson 5: Hot Topics by reading select references and contributing to a class discussion that leads to a consensus recommendation.

Accommodating Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services (ODS) at 814-863-1807 (V/TTY). For further information regarding ODS, please visit the Office for Disability Services Web site at

In order to receive consideration for course accommodations, you must contact ODS and provide documentation (see the documentation guidelines at If the documentation supports the need for academic adjustments, ODS will provide a letter identifying appropriate academic adjustments. Please share this letter and discuss the adjustments with your instructor as early in the course as possible. You must contact ODS and request academic adjustment letters at the beginning of each semester.