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GEOG 487 - Environmental Challenges in Spatial Data Science

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 487 is an elective course in the Master of Geographic Information Systems degree program, which is offered exclusively through Penn State’s World Campus. It is also one of the optional capstone courses that lead to Penn State’s Postbaccalaureate Certificate in GIS. The course consists of projects, associated readings, quizzes, and discussions about concepts, operations, and tools in geographic information systems and spatial analysis in a variety of environmental scenarios.

It provides real-world activity-based scenarios covering such operations as data acquisition and preparation, raster calculations, surface analysis, statistical analysis, and interpolation. Students who successfully complete the course are able to use GIS tools to access, display, manipulate, edit, and analyze geospatial data. Students will be exposed to a variety of GIS tools, data formats, sources of data, and environmental challenges they are likely to encounter in a career involving GIS and the environment.


Students who successfully complete this course will be prepared to:

  • describe a broad range of current environmental challenges;
  • understand how spatial analysis can be used to address environmental questions;
  • identify and acquire sources of publicly available datasets relevant to current environmental challenges;
  • locate and interpret metadata;
  • describe common geospatial data formats; be able to display and manipulate them using GIS software;
  • customize data and perform analysis using ArcGIS Pro;
  • design and conduct a workflow using spatial analyst and other GIS tools to address specific environmental questions;
  • present results of spatial analysis in a professional format such as maps, tables, interactive websites, and videos;
  • utilize resources other than ArcGIS Pro, such as ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Experience Builder, and Prezi.

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.

Required Software

ArcGIS Pro, and ArcGIS Spatial Analyst Extension (free to Penn State students).

We will also use a variety of free online software programs in this course. You will need administrative rights to your computer to complete all of the required activities.


GEOG 483: Problem Solving with GIS and GEOG 484: GIS Database Development or equivalent experience.


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 10 – 12 hours per week on class work.

Major Assignments

Students earn grades that reflect the extent to which they achieve the learning objectives listed above. Opportunities to demonstrate learning include the following, and grades will be based on percentages assigned to each of several components of the course as follows:

  • Quizzes: Graded quiz questions related to data and analysis outputs you create throughout the lesson. This gives you immediate feedback on a large portion of your lesson grade.
  • Canvas Discussion Posts: You will be required to create a short discussion post for most lessons. They may contain maps, tables, graphics, and interpretation of results.
  • Static & Interactive Maps: Maps included in reports must appear professional to receive credit. Examples of unacceptable features include:
    • default legend settings (e.g., excessive decimal places, cryptic layer names, layers not displayed on your map shown in your legend);
    • default scale bar settings (e.g., odd units such as decimal degrees, odd scale bar divisions, and labels);
    • titles that do not provide information about what the map shows (e.g., "Map 1" or "Deliverable 1");
    • Illegible text (too small, difficult to read colors).
  • Final Project: The final project includes a graphic workflow and video presentation.
  • Additional Credit: You can earn up to 15 points for participation in the EDGE international virtual exchange student collaboration. There are three 5-point extra credit opportunities (icebreaker activities, discussion activities, and a presentation) that require above-average participation. 

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
  • Orientation Activities
1Lesson 1: Context of Environmental GIS Professionals
  • Discussion
2Lesson 2: Find and Share Environmental Data
  • Lesson 2 Step-by-Step Activity
  • Lesson 2 Advanced Activity
  • Lesson 2 Quiz
  • Canvas Discussion Post
  • Peer Review (optional)
3Lesson 3: Wetland Restoration and Invasive Species
  • Lesson 3 Step-by-Step Activity
  • Lesson 3 Advanced Activity
  • Lesson 3 Quiz
4Lesson 4: Wetland Restoration and Invasive Species Part II
  • Lesson 4 Step-by-Step Activity
    Lesson 4 Advanced Activity
    Lesson 4 Quiz
    Canvas Discussion Post
    Peer Review (optional)
5Lesson 5: Land Use Change
  • Lesson 5 Step-by-Step Activity
  • Lesson 5 Advanced Activity
  • Lesson 5 Quiz
6Lesson 6: Forests, Carbon Sequestration, and Climate Change
  • Lesson 6 Step-by-Step Activity
  • Lesson 6 Advanced Activity
  • Lesson 6 Quiz
7Lesson 7: The Role of Forests
  • Lesson 7 Step-by-Step Activity
  • Lesson 7 Advanced Activity
  • Lesson 7 Quiz
  • Canvas Discussion Post
  • Peer Review (optional)
8Lesson 8: Groundwater Vulnerability Modeling
  • Lesson 8 Step-by-Step Activity
  • Lesson 8 Advanced Activity
  • Lesson 8 Quiz
9Final Project: Lead a GIS Team
  • Visual GIS Work Plan
  • Video Presentation
  • Canvas Discussion Post
  • Peer Review (required)
10Final Project: Lead a GIS Team (cont.)
  • Visual GIS Work Plan
  • Video Presentation
  • Canvas Discussion Post
  • Peer Review (required)