About my courses

 

Note: Current course outlines for my courses can be downloaded from the geography department website.

I’ve heard that your courses are tough. Is that true?

That depends a lot on the student. GIS courses are technical, which means that they require you to think in a certain way. GIS is also very computer-oriented, and there is a lot of terminology to learn. Some people seem to have more of a natural aptitude for this than others. However, much of the material is very graphical and often people find they can relate to the concepts because they are geographic and many of the examples we use are drawn from a variety of disciplines. I make every effort to make concepts as straightforward as I can.

My approach is that I am teaching students concepts and techniques so that they can actually apply them to their own areas of interest, whether in other courses, in graduate-level research, or in a job after they graduate. In order to do that, you must master the material – either you know how to solve a certain problem or you don’t – there’s not much room for fudging. I believe that if a student completes all of the requirements for the course (attends all classes, does all the reading, completes all the assignments, reviews the material as the course proceeds instead of cramming at the end, and is always willing to seek help and ask questions), then they can do well in the course. Conversely, failure to do these things means it is unlikely you will do well. Usually, the distributions of final marks in my courses are no different than those in any other course.

Is there a lot of math in your courses?

No. There is very little math at all, and what there is, is usually limited to general knowledge or a high school level, such as simple algebra like the Pythagorean theorem. The courses are taught at a conceptual level, so that you understand what the software is doing, but not necessarily how to do every calculation yourself.

I’m not very good with computers. Will that be a problem?

There is definitely a lot of hands-on work with computers. If you have a basic understanding of Windows, such as being able to move or copy files and find files in a particular folder on a hard drive, then that should be enough to get started. While having an aptitude for computers certainly helps, I have had students successfully complete my introductory GIS course (GGR272) who had never touched a computer before (it required a lot of extra time and effort, but they were successful in the end).

Do the lab assignments take a lot of time?

The amount of time taken to complete a particular assignment varies considerably from one student to the next. Time required will be related to your comfort level with computers and with the GIS software, how well you understand the theoretical concepts taught in class that relate to the assignment, and time management skills. It is not unusual to have to work on assignments outside the usual lab sessions, but most students are able to complete the assignments in what they consider to be a reasonable amount of time.

I’ve heard that your courses will help me get a job. Is that true?

In many fields, having GIS training is considered a marketable skill set. However, you have to think of it in terms of the type of job for which GIS is a marketable skill in relation to the type of job you want to have. In other words, if having a GIS course on your résumé is the main reason you get a job, you had better want to use GIS on a regular basis. Of course, there are jobs where you would not be required to use GIS yourself, but just know enough about it to have an appreciation of what it can do and to be able to talk to GIS specialists about a project. The software we use in my courses is an industry standard and very marketable.