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Introduction to GIS for Geologists

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Eric Grosfils

Pomona College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


This course is intended as an introduction to basic GIS skills. Targeted at an audience of geology students, it draws upon geological examples when teaching GIS techniques.

Course URL:
Resource Type: Course Information
Special Interest: GIS
Grade Level: College Lower (13-14)
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Context:

This is an introductory level elective that requires introductory geology and co-registration in any intermediate level geology core course. It meets in a single 3-hr block each week, and concludes with a multi-week, team-based research exploration of a selected topic.

Course Goals:

– Students should be able to employ GIS-grounded analytical techniques that incorporate complex geospatial data
– Students should be able to recognize common challenges encountered when locating, acquiring and inputting data into a GIS system, and be comfortable with solutions to these challenges
– Students should be able to collect GPS data in the field and input them into a GIS system
– Students should be able to address questions using basic GIS skills and 'industry-standard' software
– Critically, students should be able to self-instruct within an 'industry-standard' software package, enabling them to tackle unanticipated or new challenges as they arise and to adapt to ever-changing software configurations

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

Working in 3-hr long blocks of time, all instruction in the course is hands-on, at the computer. Students are introduced to GIS using guided materials in-class coupled with weekly assignments that require them to employ and move beyond what they have learned during class time. The nature of instructor guidance shifts gradually from "point-and-click" instruction to modes which require increasing independent learning. This section of the course concludes with a week-long practicuum exam designed to evaluate their capacity to employ existing skills and self-instruct in new areas. Post-exam, the primary focus of the course shifts to a major, multi-week project that requires considerable student effort, and shifts them into "the deep end" where finding data, getting it into GIS, and analyzing it are concerned.

Skills Goals

– using data visualization effectively as a means to communicate geological concepts
– working in groups

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

– weekly assignments permit opportunities for constant instructor feedback on effective layouts, color selection, data seletion choices/needs, etc., which helps students move from the "cluttered and busy just to be sage, the answer is in there somewhere" mode to one in which a diagram is a focused delivery of scientific (or related) information
– roughly 1/3 of the course is focused on jigsaw-style group work via the multi-week project

Attitudinal Goals

– in the first iteration of my course, this isn't a component I have focused on, though I try to help students see the applicability of GIS as a tool for enhancing their understanding of a wide array of interesting problems. "You can assess that yourself" is a constant theme of the course.

How course activities and course structure help students achieve these goals:

– as an example, when students assess tsunami travel times in the Pacific, they compare their results with an existing plot for the same event, and use this comparison as a basis for thinking about challenges in their own analysis, potentially with the existing "expert" plot, etc., helping them build realistic confidence in their own capabilities


– constant in-class interactions
– formal weekly homework assignments
– single practicuum exam (week long)
– major multi-week final project


Syllabus, Geology 111b, Spring 2010 (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB Apr21 10)

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