GIS for Geoscientists

Barbara and David Tewksbury

Hamilton College
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate


Introduction to basic concepts in computer-based GIS emphasizing hands-on practice in portraying and analyzing spatially referenced data sets to produce a variety of types of digital products and to solve geologic problems. Practice using data from multiple sources, including data downloaded from online sources, field-collected data, and published map data. Emphasis on mastery of basic skills and techniques using ESRI ArcGIS software. 2019 course version.

Course URL:
Course Size:

less than 15 (limited by size of GIS lab)

Course Context:

This is an upper division course for geoscience majors. Students enrolling in this course must have had a previous course in geoscience that addresses GIS.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to:
  • demonstrate proficiency and independence in a suite of GIS skills and use those skills for analysis and problem-solving in a variety of fields.
  • download, prepare, and trouble-shoot data for analysis using a wide variety of data sources, not just work with prepared data that are given to them.
  • develop accurate work flow charts to plan GIS analyses and apply what they have learned to different but related problems.
Students will also develop a personal GIS portfolio and resource collection that will be useful to them in the future as they encounter problems that can be tackled using GIS either in future courses or in a job.

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

Assignments are progressive and build on skills and increase in independence in problem solving. The course is project-based with minimal lecture, and projects focus on problem-solving and analysis, rather than simply on GIS techniques. Assignments incorporate goals-related skills (e.g., data download and prep, work flow charts, independence in problem solving and analysis) and students are assessed on whether they are successful in tasks that demonstrate these abilities. NOTE: I am currently updating all downloads for the 2019 version of the course.

Links are provided below to all course activities:

  • Download Tewksbury course syllabus 2019 (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.6MB Jan9 20)
  • GIS refresher 2019 that students are required to complete before the first day of class.
  • GIS portfolio 2019, a semester-long assignment to produce a GIS resource portfolio useful for the future
  • Exercise 1 2019: Introduction to spatial data – mapping the classroom with paper and pencil
  • Exercise 2 2019: Introduction to coordinate systems and projections. This page also includes a set of Coordinate System Challenges (Zip Archive 2.3MB Jan10 20) that can be assigned over the course of the semester.
  • Exercise 3 2019: Reclassifying the New York State geologic map.
  • Exercise 4 2019: Map excellence and communication - description and download appear on the Exercise 3 page listed above.
  • Exercise 5 2019: Choropleth maps.
  • Exercise 6 2019: The human impact of sea level change
  • Exercise 7 2017: LiDAR data and analysis of the Oso, Washington landslide
  • Exercise 8 2017: Nevada mines analysis - choosing water sampling sites to test for possible water contamination.
  • Exercise 9 2017: Basics of remote sensing and sources of satellite imagery
  • Exercise 10 2017: Plate boundaries in the Woodlark Basin region.
  • Final independent project 2017: designing and carrying out an independent GIS analysis plus developing an activity or assignment for use in a GIS course or in another geo course
  • Old LiDAR exercise: Hamilton College LiDAR data and mapping the water table beneath campus in ArcScene. Although we don't use this any more, I've left it here as a potentially useful one to adapt.
  • Old remote sensing exercise: Combining satellite imagery, geologic map, and DEM data to frame possible research questions. Although we don't use this any more, I've left it here as a potentially useful one to adapt.


Students are assessed on the quality of their GIS work in each project, on the results of their analyses, on their ability to propose and carry out an independent investigation, and on the quality and future usefulness of their GIS portfolios.


GIS syllabus fall 2019.docx (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.6MB Jan9 20)