Introduction to Online Topographic Maps

Mark Bowen
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: Nov 24, 2014


Students use geoPDFs and Google Earth topographic map layers to conduct a variety of measurements and answer questions

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



The activity is used in an online undergraduate introductory physical geography course. The focus of the course is landforms and soils. The course is predominantly composed of non-majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

None, but familiarity with topographic maps would help

How the activity is situated in the course

This is a stand-alone exercise that reinforces concepts introduced in lecture.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • Become familiar with the information presented on a digital topographic map and how to interpret that information
  • Interpret information included in a topographic map
  • Measure distance on a digital topographic map
  • Calculate area
  • Determine precise coordinates

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This is a basic introductory online exercises that introduces students to digital topographic maps. Students download a geoPDF from the National Map and install the TerraGo geoPDF toolbar. They use the toolbar to conduct a series of measurements. Students then import the historical topographic map layer into Google Earth and use a variety of tools to conduct measurements.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students complete the exercise during the week it is assigned. Upon completion of the laboratory exercise, students must complete an online quiz that consists of the same questions in the exercise. The online quiz is within the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) online learning platform, so answers are automatically graded and imported into the student's grade book.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials