Natural Resources Information Systems

W. L. Mills and A. Y. Davis

Purdue University
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


Current trends in natural resources management such as ecosystem and landscape management in addition to traditional stand and forest data result in large data sets. Natural resources managers must be able to create, store, manage and query these large data sets. This course provides the basic knowledge enabling you, as natural resource professionals, to create and manage databases and to interact with management information specialists in large scale distributed database systems. Both spatial (geographic information systems) and non-spatial (aspatial) data systems will be covered. The perspective is that of a natural resource professional using data to create information that helps improve the efficiency and quality of resource management.

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


Course Context:

Ths is a sophomore level course that is mandatory for students majoring in Forestry and Natural Resources at Purdue University. Students from other majors may take the course as it has no prerequisites. The 80 or so students attend 50 minute lecture once a week and a three hour lab once a week (students are broken down in three groups). The first hour of the lab, they have to work through group exercises on paper that serve to introduce some of the more difficulty concepts of the lab. There are no field trips other than two campus tours. The students are responsible for a project of their own at the end of the semester.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to
1. Define basic spatial data concepts (GIS),
2. Create and use spatial and textual databases,
3. Define basic database management concepts (DBMS), and
4. To use ArcGIS software to analyze and recommend possible solutions to natural resource problems.

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

The lectures address goals 1 and 3. The labs address goals 2 and 4.

Skills Goals

1) increasing computer literacy
2) encourage independent research (in groups but with minimal supervision)

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

Emphasis is placed at the beginning on file naming protocol and filing structure as well as creating a back up plan for files from the class.
Students are also asked to compile a GIS lab manual using tools from each lab for use in subsequent labs as well as subsequent courses for which this class is a prerequisite (in particular the capstone class for majors).
The last few labs are based on a research project students proposed (and which has to be approved by the instructor). This part of the class is much more independent. Students are then asked to create posters and present their work the last lab day.

Attitudinal Goals

developing students' sense of stewardship of the Earth

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

the labs are usually case studies about natural resource management. This goal is not really assessed formally.


Assessments are done through 2 in class tests, 2 lab tests and (nearly) weekly lab reports. The lab reports are usually of increased difficulty throughout one lab, with a synthesis section at the end which seeks to have students apply skills learned in the current as well as previous labs. The labs try to center around a problem, usually a fictitious case study) which the students have to resolve using GIS.


Natural Resources Information Systems Syllabus (Microsoft Word 127kB May27 10)

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