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GEOG 486 - Cartography and Visualization

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


GEOG 486 is a required course in the Master of Science in Spatial Data Science degree program; one of several courses students may choose as their final course in the Certificate Program in Geographic Information System; and an elective for students in the Penn State Master of GIS degree program. This course covers design principles and techniques for creating maps with contemporary mapping tools, including ArcGIS Pro and Tableau.  Students will apply cartographic theory to practical problems, with a focus on making optimal design decisions during tasks such as selecting visual variables, classifying and generalizing data, applying principles of color and contrast, and choosing projections for maps. Students will also be  introduced to future focused application topics such as augmented and virtual reality, mapping with multivariate glyphs, the visual depiction of uncertainty, interactive geovisualization and (geo)visual analytics, and decision-making with maps and mapping products. 


At the successful completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • create professional and aesthetically pleasing maps through thoughtful application of cartographic conventions;
  • select and combine appropriate visual variables to clearly represent geospatial data and communicate map content;
  • classify and generalize data, apply principles of color and contrast, and choose projections and scales for maps of varying purpose;
  • discuss current trends in cartographic science & technology, including virtual reality, open-source web tools, and geovisual analytics; 
  • demonstrate mastery in map production for communication and research; analyze, critique, and share high-quality maps.

Required Materials

The materials listed here represent those that may be included in this course. Students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.

ArcGIS Pro 3.x (free to Penn State Students)


GEOG 484


We have worked hard to make this the most effective and convenient educational experience possible. How much and how well you learn is dependent on your attitude, diligence, and willingness to ask for clarifications or help when you need them. We are here to help you succeed. Please keep up with the class schedule and take advantage of opportunities to communicate with us and with your fellow students. You can expect to spend an average of 8 - 12 hours per week on class work.

Major Assignments

  • Labs (70% of course grade) 
    Labs apply cartographic design knowledge from each week’s lesson into the making of a map or maps. Assignments are based on practical mapping applications, including trail run mapping and building map-based scientific communication documents and advertisements. The final lab spans two weeks and is an opportunity for students to develop a creative interactive map product worthy of inclusion in a personal portfolio. 
  • Quizzes (16% of course grade)
    Most weeks include an online quiz, used to assess student engagement with the week’s readings. Quiz questions are drawn from required course readings and relate directly to lesson and lab objectives.
  • Map Critiques (10% of course grade)
    Students will participate in short critiques of external and peer-designed maps. Exposure to other students’ maps will provide new design ideas and perspectives, and the reception of thoughtful critique by others will encourage analytical reflection by each student on their own design decisions.
  • Discussion Participation (4% of course grade) 
    Participation points will be awarded at the end of the course based on the quality and quantity of each student’s participation in discussion forums.

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
  • Orientation activities
1Lesson 1: Basemaps and Big Picture Design 
  • Lesson 1 Quiz
  • Lab 1
  • Critique #1
2Lesson 2: Lettering and Layouts
  • Lesson 2 Quiz
  • Lab 2
  • Discussion
3Lesson 3: From Data to Design
  • Lab 3
  • Critique #2
  • Discussion
4Lesson 4: Color and Choropleth Maps
  • Lesson 4 Quiz
  • Lab 4
  • Discussion
5Lesson 5: Flow Mapping and Projections
  • Lesson 5 Quiz
  • Lab 5
  • Critique #3
  • Discussion
6Lesson 6: Terrain Visualization
  • Lesson 6 Quiz
  • Lab 6
  • Discussion
7Lesson 7: Multivariate and Uncertainty Visualization
  • Lesson 7 Quiz
  • Lab 7
  • Critique #4
  • Discussion
8Lesson 8: Multiscale Web Mapping
  • Lesson 8 Quiz
  • Lab 8
  • Discussion
9Lesson 9: Beyond the Map (Two Weeks)
  • Lab 9
  • Discussion
10Lesson 9: Beyond the Map (Two Weeks)
  • Lab 9
  • Discussion