Fundamentals of Geospatial Information Systems

Reginald Archer, Dept of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
Tennessee State University


The purpose of this course to introduce students to the fundamentals of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) theory and technologies through the use of problem solving and spatial thinking skills. The approach used in this course is problem-based learning applied to spatially explicit problems. These concepts are essential to the use of GIS. Students will develop their own analytical skills by addressing real-world decision making problems within the spatial framework of GIS.

Course URL: []
Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This course is designed for students with no prior Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) experience. It involves lectures, class discussion and computer lab periods each week where hands-on experience using GIS software allows you to apply knowledge gained during the lectures. Lab exercises are a major part of the course and provide the opportunity for students to acquaint themselves with the many practical issues related to GIS applications.

Course Content:

We examine how geospatial data are collected and used, how geospatial technologies have transformed the way we think and make decisions, and the important societal issues that result from the proliferation of new technologies. We will discuss the use of online mapping, satellite images, crowd sourcing, and mobile technologies for responding to natural disasters, exploring issues around food security, environmental health, and embedding spatial information into our daily activities through citizen science.

Course Goals:

The specific objectives of this course are to:
  1. Introduce GIS terminology and concepts;
  2. Improve geographic problem solving abilities through the application of GIS knowledge and spatial thinking skills;
  3. Teach geospatial skills and provide relevant examples to student's career/academic interests;
  4. Sharpen critical thinking skills about geographic information – its reliability, accuracy and precision;
  5. Enhance competency in basic knowledge and skills regarding GIS.
Student Learning Outcomes:
  1. Communication: Create GIS and cartographic outputs for presentation and dissemination
  2. Specialized knowledge and skills: Create mapping applications
  3. Applied Knowledge and Skills: Design and implement a GIS Service Learning project
  4. Inquiry and Reasoning: Gain a better understanding of GIS technologies

Course Features:

The students are exposed to various examples of geospatial applications in the human and environmental sciences throughout the course. As a final project, students (individually or in teams) are asked to develop and execute an analysis of a topic of interest to them, using spatial data. And to develop a story map to communicate their findings.

Steps: Project assignments will be given throughout the term that will help you develop your final project. The final project should go beyond the content of the assignments, and, when complete, should reflect a formal presentation.
  1. Pick your topic & perform research
  2. Select your variables and form your "Where" question
  3. Acquire Data from data resource
  4. Design a geodatabase for your project
  5. Add to or limit your data based on attributes: (Geoprocessing)
  6. Create maps of the data
  7. Create features by collecting or transforming data
  8. Design a geospatial analysis
  9. Create a story including maps and an assessment of the analysis performed
  10. Present the story map app to your colleagues.

Course Philosophy:

The course is designed to exposed students to an overview geospatial information systems and science principles and applications. The lessons present different types of applications as well as various real world scenarios. The lessons are specific to each chapter, while the lectures, and discussions are more broad and are aimed at promoting thinking about how to solve problems spatially. Sustainability is addressed throughout the course, but mainly during discussions. For example, if a student is interested in finding suitable land to locate a vineyard, we may have discussion about sustainable water sources, and other resources that may impact how we define "suitable". The end goal is to get the students thinking about how to approach issues of sustainability and other issues, through spatial thinking.


The students are assessed in three ways, 1) after completing the chapter readings and lessons they, must complete the associated lab assignments. 2) There are also quizzes and exams associated with the readings, and lecture material. 3) the students are expected to demonstrate what they have learned by developing a GIS project idea, collecting data, creating a web map and perform some geoprocessing, and finally to create a web app to communicate their findings.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

The ArcGIS Book: 10 Big Ideas about Applying the Science of Where; ESRI Press 2017