Cutting Edge > Courses > GIS and Remote Sensing > Activities > Introduction to Basic GIS Skills
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This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see

This page first made public: Aug 17, 2010

Introduction to Basic GIS Skills

Chad Heinzel, University of Northern Iowa


Develops basic GIS skills, directs students to other shapefiles (on-campus and off), sets the stage for adding additional class/campus data later in the semester.


Type and level of course
Entry level geology course (majors and non-majors)

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment
None, some basic computer skills are expected...
(some students do struggle with the great number of options provided by ArcGIS 9.x.

Software required for this assignment/activity:
ArcGIS 9.2

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
1 hour and 50 minutes


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
Students should be able to...

  1. Develop an understanding of the different components needed within a Map
  2. Download data from a shared drive and/or obtain pertinent shapefiles from external Iowa DNR servers

This activity attempts to prepare students for gathering their own data later on in the semester.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity
The basic goal of this activity is to get the students to start combining multiple sources of data, within a GIS, then begin looking for patterns/trend with their developing maps.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
This activity supports activities later on in the semester that seek to provide practice...

Description of the activity/assignment

This is a very basic activity that prepares students to obtain shapefiles that may help them interpret Iowa's bedrock development, Quaternary history, and relationships between humans and their environment.

Determining whether students have met the goals

1st student peer review each others maps and then I use both their maps and comments on each others to lead a discussion on what makes a good map and how we will use GIS throughout the semester.
More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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