Courses

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

GGR272 Geographic Information and Mapping I

This course is an introduction to digital mapping and spatial analysis using a geographic information system (GIS). You will learn how to create your own maps and how to use a GIS to analyze geographic problems using methods that can be applied to a wide variety of subject areas within geography and in other disciplines. In the lectures, we discuss mapping and analysis concepts and how you can apply them using GIS software. The practical assignments provide an opportunity for you to learn how to use the software, gaining hands-on experience with ArcGIS from Esri Inc., the most popular GIS software and an industry standard in many fields.

There is no prerequisite for this course. A basic familiarity with computers and the Microsoft Windows operating system is assumed.

GGR273 Geographic Information and Mapping II

This course builds on GGR272 (Geographic Information and Mapping I) and continues the examination of the major theoretical and analytical components of a geographic information system and spatial analysis. Some topics from GGR272 are discussed in more depth and new topics are introduced. The lectures discuss underlying theory and its implementation in GIS software. The assignments give students the opportunity to learn for themselves how to put that theory into practice, gaining hands-on experience with ArcGIS Desktop from Esri Inc., the most popular GIS software and an industry standard in many fields.
Prerequisite: GGR272.

GGR373 Advanced GIS

This course covers advanced topics in understanding and using geographic information systems (GIS). Students learn how to use a global positioning system, perform raster analysis, create and analyze three-dimensional surfaces, visualize geospatial data, and perform advanced spatial analysis. The lectures discuss underlying theory and its implementation in GIS software. The assignments give students the opportunity to learn for themselves how to put that theory into practice, gaining hands-on experience with ArcGIS Desktop from Esri Inc., the most popular GIS software and an industry standard in many fields.
Prerequisites: GGR272, GGR273.

GGR462 GIS Research Project (also listed as grad course JPG1914)

Students learn how to design, manage, and complete a research project that emphasizes the use of a geographic information system (GIS). Students work in groups of four to six. Groups will agree with the instructor on a suitable problem and then solve it by acquiring, organizing, and analyzing data using a GIS. Projects must include a substantive analytical component where GIS is central to the methods used.

Although real issues in geographical analysis are addressed, the focus of the course evaluation is on the project’s methodological and organizational design, the application of appropriate GIS techniques, and proper reporting of the results. The GIS component is accomplished through independent work. It is assumed that students already know the GIS concepts and functions required or are capable of learning them, and are proficient in the use of at least one GIS package. This is a time-consuming course that simulates a team-oriented, workplace environment. Students must be highly motivated and able to make progress without constant supervision, manage their time effectively, meet strict deadlines, and be prepared to contribute to their group.

Each group has the freedom to choose their own project topic. The instructor may suggest some project ideas, but students are welcome to develop their own. If you have an idea for a group project, you are encouraged to discuss it with the instructor as soon as possible to see if it is feasible and to start the process of data acquisition, which can be time consuming. Ideas may come from a variety of sources, such as a current or previous employer, work done as a volunteer, or work done in another course or on a field trip. Just keep in mind that the project topic must appeal to other members of your group. If you plan to work with an outside organization, you are encouraged to contact them as early as possible, as it often takes a while to arrange for data acquisition.

There are some lectures during the term but at least some time in several of the classes is used for groups to work on their projects and for informal progress reports and consultation with the instructor. Students are expected to participate in discussions.
Prerequisites: GGR 272, 273, 373, and two other GGR courses. Other combinations of courses may also be suitable, with permission of the instructor. Knowledge of basic statistics is recommended.
JPG 1914S: Graduate students require permission from the instructor (please contact me before the course begins). A strong GIS background is required (i.e., several GIS courses at the university level; JPG1906 or online training courses are not sufficient preparation). This a project-based course, where students use concepts and skills they have learned in previous courses. This is not an introductory course and is not a substitute for JPG1906. Note: Graduate students are expected to complete a group project. Groups may be composed entirely of graduate students if there are sufficient numbers and common interests. If not (which is usually the case), graduate students will work in a group with undergraduate students, while participating and contributing at a graduate level. Due to the workload in this course, students are not allowed to complete a project on their own.

JPG1906 Geographic Information Systems (graduate course)

This course is an introduction to digital mapping and spatial analysis using a geographic information system (GIS). You will learn how to create your own maps and how to use a GIS to analyze geographic problems using methods that can be applied to a wide variety of subject areas within geography and in other disciplines. In the lectures, we discuss mapping and analysis concepts and how you can apply them using GIS software. The practical assignments provide an opportunity for you to learn how to use the software, gaining hands-on experience with ArcGIS from Esri Inc., the most popular GIS software and an industry standard in many fields.

The course is designed to accommodate students from a variety of research backgrounds and with no previous GIS experience. The goal is to provide students with a theoretical understanding of spatial data and analysis concepts, and to introduce the practical tools needed to create and manage spatial data, perform spatial analysis, and communicate results using a well-designed map. Successful students will be able to learn new functions on their own and apply what they have learned to their own research.

There is no prerequisite for this course and students should not have taken any previous GIS courses. A basic familiarity with computers and Microsoft Windows is assumed. A general understanding of geography is helpful, but no prior geography courses are required.

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.