GIS course final project

Barbara and David Tewksbury, Hamilton College


Final independent GIS analysis designed and carried out by the student; once the analysis is complete, each student develops an assignment or activity based on the project for another college-level course.


Type and level of course
Entry level GIS course for geoscience students.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment
Easily adapted to any skill set.

Software required for this assignment/activity:
We use 10.5, but the assignment could be easily adapted for any software package.

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
This two-part project occupies the final three weeks of a semester-long course.


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
N/A, although students are encouraged to teach themselves new techniques as needed.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity
How to create an effective GIS assignment/activity.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Application of what a student has learned to figure out how to solve a new problem, including finding data, choosing appropriate analyses, and evaluating the accuracy and validity of results.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students design and carry out an independent GIS analysis and develop an assignment/activity based on the analysis.

Each student must choose a geological question to answer that the techniques of cartography and spatial analysis can be used to tackle. The project must involve analysis to answer a question - although making an attractive and informational map layout is part of the final product, simply making a map or set of maps for this project is not acceptable. Although the techniques students use in their projects are typically the ones that they have learned in the course, a student can't simply repeat one of the exercises that we did in class in a new area or with a new set of data. Students must find and prep their own data, prepare a work flow chart for the analysis, and prepare a final poster that includes not only a high quality map with all of the required cartographic components but also text boxes and additional elements that explain the problem, the analysis, and the validity and limitations of the analysis. We print out large format versions of the posters, which are posted in a poster session to which the community is invited.

The poster session runs for about an hour and a half, and 1/3 of the students stand at their posters for the first 25 minutes. The remaining 2/3 of the class divides into small groups and circulates among the posters where the students are standing. Each student standing at a poster has a chance to speak for 5 minutes, and then groups rotate. Once each student standing at a poster has presented to all of the small groups, the next 1/3 of the class stand at their posters, and the remainder of the class divides into small groups, spending 5 minutes at each poster. The remaining 1/3 of the class presents in the last half hour. In this way, each student hears the details of every other student's work.

This is a great way to make a poster session actually effective, and not just a time for students to wander around. It also makes an effective poster session for a class – if you don't do something like this, either everyone is standing at a poster, and no one is the audience, or everyone wanders around, and no one hears an explanation.

Once the project is completed, each student develops an activity (including the handouts and instruction sheets) for a classroom/lab activity based on the analysis either for another GIS course or for a geo course that integrates GIS. A student must have at least two other students in the class review and critique the activity, and a student must indicate how he/she revised the activity to meet the criticisms.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are graded on the basis of the quality of the proposed independent project, the sophistication and completeness of the workflow chart, the ability to find and prep good data and to conduct the analyses independently, the quality of the poster and the cartographic completeness of the central map, the quality of the oral explanation during the poster session, and the quality of the assignment/activity.
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GIS course final project -- Discussion  

Application of what a student has learned to figure out how to solve a new problem, including finding data, choosing appropriate analyses, and evaluating the accuracy and validity of results.


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