GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS

Course Syllabus


picture of David DiBiase

David DiBiase

picture of Adrienne Goldsberry

Adrienne Goldsberry

picture of Beth King

Beth King

Course Overview

GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS. Case studies, student investigations, and projects reveal the scope, impact, and character of the Geospatial Revolution. Prerequisites: None.

Despite its widespread use in thousands of organizations worldwide, GIS remains for many an obscure set of technologies and professional practices. Even practicing GIS professionals may have limited awareness of the breadth of the field and its impacts in government, industry, and non-governmental and non-profit organizations. The course uses case studies of meaningful applications of GIS to reveal key topics across the spectrum of industry sectors defined by the U.S. Department of Labor in its Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM): Positioning and Data Acquisition, Analysis and Modeling, and Software and App Development. Topics to be mastered include concepts like positioning frameworks, uncertainty, and geo-enablement, methods and techniques including the GPS positioning, spatial modeling, and geo app development, and relevant ethical, legal, and policy issues such as locational privacy. In addition to topical objectives, the course cultivates competencies associated with lifelong learning, a cornerstone of the GTCM. Students achieve educational objectives by searching, discovering, and evaluating information from a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, the World Wide Web. Those with substantial professional experience are encouraged to share their perspectives. Students develop mastery through class discussions in which they collaboratively prepare to demonstrate individual mastery in tests. They also learn to craft case studies of their own by creating and presenting story-telling web apps using cloud-based GIS technology. They gain self-knowledge by assessing their individual competencies in relation to the GTCM. The awareness, knowledge and technical skills they gain prepare them for success in programs such as Penn State’s Postbaccalaureate Certificate Program in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Master of GIS graduate degree program, and for professional growth.

Course Outcomes

After the course, students will be prepared to demonstrate:

  1. Self-knowledge of their individual strengths and weakness in relation to the foundational, academic, and industry-specific competencies specified in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Geospatial Technology Competency Model (GTCM).
  2. Familiarity with key topics that span the three industry sectors of the GTCM.
  3. Lifelong learning skills, including the ability to investigate topics independently, the ability to work in teams, and the ability to communicate effectively.
  4. The ability to use maps and geospatial technology as a story-telling medium.
  5. Readiness to use case studies to make compelling arguments how and why GIS matters.

Relationship of the Course to Major, Option, Minor, or General Education

GEOG 482 is the required introductory course for students who pursue the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in GIS and the Master of GIS degree. (Students with substantial professional experience may be permitted to complete GEOG 864: Professionalism in Geographic Information Science and Technology to satisfy this requirement.)

Evaluation methods

Students’ achievement is evaluated in relation to three criteria, weighted as follows:

Participation in collaborative research: ~30%
Performance on quizzes: ~40%
Performance on projects: ~30%

A key method for evaluating student achievement is the quality and quantity of their contributions to class discussions. Students are expected to investigate assigned topics independently and to share findings within study groups to collaboratively construct understandings of these topics. Furthermore, students who bring substantial professional experience to the course are encouraged to share that experience with fellow students. Contributing to, and studying the class discussions is how students prepare for quizzes.

Quizzes are designed to help students hone their abilities to interpret domain-specific terminology and to differentiate the most precise and nuanced statements from flawed but seemingly reasonable alternatives. A series of self-assessment surveys are not graded, but serve to bolster students' self-knowledge of their strengths and weakness relative to established competency standards.

Finally, students are evaluated on the extent to which they succeed in creating web-based presentations that combine interactive maps, photographs, and text into compelling narratives about their own professional and personal journeys.

Course Policies

Withdrawals and Refunds

Students who officially withdraw from the class may be entitled to a pro-rated 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 our Technology Requirements" page. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the World Campus HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable broadband 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 wireless hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure website, 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 one of the following browsers: Firefox (any version), Safari (versions 5.1 or 6.0), Chrome (0.3 or later), or Internet Explorer with the MathPlayer PlugIn. If you use any other browser, there will be pages containing equations that do not render properly. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the Wolrd Campus 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 the Penn State World Campus 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 Academic Integrity guidelines 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 "Plagiarism Tutorial 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 for the 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.

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 Student Disability Resources (SDR) website provides contact information for every Penn State campus: Contacts for Disability Resources at all Penn State Campuses. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources (SDR) 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 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.

Mental Health Services

Whether you study on campus or online, mental health services are available to help you maintain your academic success. Penn State provides resources to address concerns including anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, and stress; and provides mental health advocates who can help you. If you are a resident student, resources can be found at Counseling and Psychological Services. If you are a World Campus student, please Student Resources for further information. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis situation, please call your local emergency service.

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.

Inclement Weather

In the case of weather-related delays 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 weather delays. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

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, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to your instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. It is up to your instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If for any reason, the course work for the deferred grade is not completed 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 assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days. It is your responsibility to complete the work on time, which may require you 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. The instructor's ability to accommodate you is dependent on the earliest possible notification. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


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 with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.