Tutorials for Introducing Geoscience Students to ArcGIS

Barbara and David Tewksbury
Hamilton College
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Initial Publication Date: July 9, 2008 | Reviewed: January 17, 2015


Three sequential modular exercises introduce geoscience students to the power of GIS and give them experience with the kinds of GIS raster image analysis tasks commonly used by geoscientists. You might also be interested in our Full GIS course with links to all assignments.

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These exercises are part of a GIS Across the Curriculum effort in the Geology Department at Hamilton College. We use these core exercises in most of our introductory geoscience courses, and we also use them as refresher tutorials and introductory workshops for students in our upper level courses. Completion of the first three exercises is considered a base level of GIS knowledge for students entering the core courses for the major.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered


How the activity is situated in the course

Because these GIS modules are not content-specific, they can be used at any point in the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will become familiar with a suite of GIS tasks that they will use in other GIS assignments. These include working with DEMs and DRGs, creating and working with hillshades, 3D scenes in ArcScene, and shape files (point, line and polygon), and creating and managing attribute tables. Datums, coordinate systems and file management are addressed as well.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Rather than teaching students point-and-click GIS, or techniques without analysis, these exercises teach GIS in the context of solving a geoscience problem or addressing a geoscience question.

Other skills goals for this activity


Description of the activity/assignment

The following three sequential tutorial exercises provide students with an introduction to and experience with GIS analysis of raster image data sets.

Mt. St. Helens exercise: Modified from an ESRI Canada activity, this exercise is designed primarily to be a "hook". It quickly gets students into ArcMap and gives them a first hand experience in the power of ArcGIS without bogging them down in background details.

Clinton exercise:
Students gain experience in using ArcCatalog, creating hillshades of DEMs, and working with orthoquads. Although this exercise is built around the Clinton, NY 7.5' quad, it could be easily modified for any other quadrangle.

Adirondacks exercise:
Students practice skills that they have learned in previous tutorials and gain experience in working with shape files. The primary emphasis of the exercise is to analyze the correlation between topography and bedrock geology in the Adirondacks region. The tutorial also teaches students how to create a finished map view. Although the exercise is built around the Adirondack region, it could be easily modified for any other area where bedrock resistance is correlated with topography.

All three tutorials are contained in the assignment/activity document that can be downloaded below. The data sets can be individually downloaded; even though the data sets are in zipped folders, they are still large and may take awhile to download.

Determining whether students have met the goals

These tutorials do not have any accompanying assessment. Students are ultimately assessed in later activities and assignments on the basis of whether they can apply what they have learned in the tutorials to new assignments.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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