GIS for Geoscientists I

Chris Harding

Iowa State University
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs


GIS for Geoscientists I is an introduction to GIS operations and analyses of vector data in a geoscience context and will prepare students for more advanced GIS courses (such as its follow-up course, GIS for Geoscientists II, which deals with raster data). We will use ESRI's ArcGIS 9 Desktop software application. This hands-on course will be taught at a senior undergraduate (400) level; students taking the course at the graduate (500) level will also work on additional exercises and projects.

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


Course Context:

Upper-division and graduate level introductory course to Geographic Information Systems aimed primarily at students with a geoscience background. Typically, students come from geology, environmental sciences and agronomy. The course is an elective in these departments, however, it counts as a foundation GIS course for a GIS certificate. The course has two 50 min lectures and a two hour lab each week, a class project is only required for the graduate level.
Textbook: Mastering ArcGIS, by Maribeth H. Price

Course Goals:

Students should be able to:
- Develop an understanding of typical GIS operations as part of GIS project management.
- Understand the architecture of ESRI's ArcGIS program, its historical development and its main data types.
- Classify and visualize vector data (points, lines, polygons), raster data and table data within different layers using colors, symbols and labels.
- Use the most common coordinate systems (geographic and projected) and understand the different distortions inherent in map projections.
- Import simple text files and manipulate non-spatial data tables, perform simple statistics and create relationships across tables (join/relate).
- Use the Structured Query Language (SQL) to find data with certain attributes and select data based on location and spatial relationships to other data.
- Create new compound data based on common spatial relations ships (spatial join)
- Use map overlay processing to locate areas fitting multiple spatial criteria and perform data clipping and buffering.
- Create maps that effectively present spatial data.
- Be able to interactively edit (digitize) the shape of vector data and manipulate its underlying attributes.
- (for graduate students) Create a compelling poster on a topic of your choice that could be presented at a conference.

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

I go through 12 of the 15 chapters of the textbook, in the lectures I summarize the main points of each chapter and use ArcGIS to show practical examples. I hand out paper copies of my slides. My main emphasis is on getting students to work on exercises independently, these exercises are either taken from the text book or were designed by me (so-called mini-projects). During the lab sections, I am available to help but I let students work at their own pace and many students do most of their exercises outside the official lab hours (I'm available for email questions outside the lab hours)


- 12 homework assignments (typically 3-4 exercises from the book). I ask students to describe their solution and urge them to include plenty of screenshots.
- 3 larger, more complex exercises
- 2 quizzes (3 of 4 questions, hand written answers)
- Midterm and final exam: each have with a multiple choice text (~15 questions) and a set of exercises that have to finished within 90 minutes.
- Midterm/final and quizzes are open book
- Class project: Students prepare a map and give a 10 slide powerpoint presentation


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