David Schmidt & Knut Christianson: Using Analyzing High Resolution Topography with TLS and SfM in Field Methods in Remote Sensing at University of Washington-Seattle Campus

About this Course

Upper division elective for geology undergraduates

4 hours per week
of class time over 10 weeks for the entire course.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 75kB Jul27 17)

We implemented a quarter-long field methods course that introduced students to a range of field instruments. TLS and SfM represented two of the four field-based methods that were introduced in the course. This was a hands-on course for the students, with considerable time spent working in the computer lab performing operations on real data. About half of the students had previously taken a formal remote sensing course that focused more on satellite-based imagery. So this course complemented their previous experiences, and expanded into field-scale imagery and change detection.

The students appreciated this introduction to new technologies, and enjoyed the opportunity to compare products from multiple techniques.

Our Experience Teaching with GETSI Materials

The module was restructured to fit within a quarter-system class and conform with the course schedule. Specific questions and expectations were tailored to the chosen field target. We choose to emphasize change detection so we used Unit 1-TLS and Unit 1-SfM to introduce the methods and then used elements of Units 4 & 5 for the combined field work and summative assessment.

Relationship of GETSI Materials to our Course

This was a quarter-long course with class time scheduled in 2-hour blocks twice per week (4 hours per week of in-class contact time). Each section of the course focused on a different instrument or technique, with each covering a 2-3 week span. Students were first introduced to the concept of digital elevation models, and their utility in the study of geological processes. This was followed by a conceptual overview of each technique. Laboratory work helped to build a basic comfort level with the software packages using pre-collected data sets. A subsequent lab assisted the students in analyzing data collected during a field trip and in preparing the products for a summary report.


The primary assessment was from laboratory assignments and the summative report on the bluff site. Students were are also given a midterm exam that focused on the theoretical and practical concepts of TLS and SfM.


The ultimate goal was to develop the students' ability to design a field experiment and perform an analysis of real data, taking into account the limitations and uncertainties of the data. A secondary goal was to expose students to various new technologies, and illustrate how high-resolution field data can be used to answer geological questions. The module accomplished the goals of exposing students to sensor technologies and workflows. The students demonstrated a basic understanding of the capabilities of the instruments and how they can be applied. However, they likely did not yet gain the proficiency to conduct an independent investigation.