GIS for Geologists

Brian Hynek

University of Colorado
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


A first (and probably only) GIS course geared at upper-level geology and environmental science majors, using ArcGIS 9.3.

Course URL:
Resource Type: Course Information
Special Interest: GIS
Grade Level: College Upper (15-16)
Course Size:


Course Context:

This is an upper-level geology and environmental science 2-credit hour elective for undergraduates. We focus on GIS utilization for real-world science problems. The content is some labs modified from ESRI, some from previous instructors of the course, and some that I developed myself.

Course Goals:

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

1) complete novel GIS analyis and assess geologic hazards in unfamiliar areas.

2) draft geologic maps and complete comparative and statistical analyses.

3) complete independent GIS-based research projects on the topic of their choice, utilizing GIS techniques learned in class.

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

The first 2/3 of the course are spent completing mainly "cookbook" lab exercises with loads of online data to teach standard GIS techniques. The latter 1/3 consists of an independent research project, crafted and carried out by the student to tackle a real-world and timely problem that can be aided by GIS analysis. Students construct a professional meeting-style poster presentation for their peers and faculty in the department and present their results to this broad audience by discussing the motivation for the project, the GIS analyses completed, the results, and discussion of their findings. This is highly successful and students take ownership of their work and apply what they've learned.

Skills Goals

As noted above, students present posters discussing their independent research projects to a broader audience. They must effectively communicate what they did, why they did it and what the results show.

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

A rubric is constructed for the poster presentations that includes complexity of GIS operations completed, appropriate interpretation of results, poster layout, and a brief oral presentation to their peers.

Attitudinal Goals

During this course, the students will:

1) determine what appropriate measurements/analyses must be completed to make headway on a significant issue. It gives students an appreciation of science in action and what scientific research is all about.

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

The independent project is meant to be a synthesis of GIS techniques. One-on-one instruction during the project helps assess student attitudes and their progress on attitudinal goals.


During the "cookbook" portion of the course, labs are graded and returned with significant feedback. They learn how to make formal lab reports to present their results. Posters and presentations provide a means to assess their learning.


Hynek GIS for Geologists syllabus (Microsoft Word 42kB May27 10)

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