CCTIS/Geography 60
Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Instructor: Jeff Tolhurst, Ph.D.
Sugar Pine 119 and Fir 1
Office Hours MTuW 4:30-5:30 pm in Fir 1; MW 11:15-12:45 pm in Sugar Pine 119; or by appointment
: (209) 588-5235 office (+ msg); (209) 588-5104 (fax)

Course Credit: 3 semester hours
Prerequisites: None
Day and Time: Wednesday 5:30-8:35 pm
Room: Fir 1
1. Getting to Know ArcGIS by ESRI Press
GIS Commons: An Introductory Textbook on Geographic Information Systems by Michael Schmandt (FREE online GIS textbook): GIS Commons

         3. Geographic Information Systems (recommended) by
Kang-tsung Chang  (OPTIONAL - on reserve in the library)


Class Notes and Activities Page

I. Course Description:

Introduction to basic GIS and GPS concepts and applications in the field of natural resources, earth sciences, and environmental systems.  Students will learn to use Global Positioning System hand-held units, base stations, and rover units, combined with Geographic Information System software to collect field data and produce maps for spatial analysis and decision-making purposes.  The first 6 weeks will be spent learning ArcView software; the second six weeks will be spent learning to use Ashtech and Garmin GPS units; and the last 6 weeks will be spent learning to design and carry out a research project merging GPS and GIS technologies. 

II.  Course Objectives: 

Upon completion of this course each student should be able to: 

1.  Import GPS and GIS data into ArcView.
2.  Display spatial and non-spatial data on the screen.
3.  Manipulate themes and tables.
4.  Relate and Join database files with common fields.
5.  Build queries.
6.  Classify data for modified display.
7.  Select specific spatial and non-graphic features.
8.  Create charts, layouts, and shape files.
9.  Build complete projects and plot results.

           10. Set up, monitor, and use a GPS unit for successful navigation purposes.

11.  Set up, monitor, and use the GPS unit for successful data collection.

Interface GPS units with the computer and download field data.
Perform position-averaging with hand-held GPS units.
Export GPS data into ArcView to create GIS projects and maps.
Design and carry out a research project from proposal writing, through data collection, to communicating findings to peers in a presentation.
            16. Demonstrate the ability to work cooperatively in small groups by working collaboratively with peers on several group projects.

Student Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the course you will be able to collect, compile, organize, transform, analyze, and make intelligent land use decisions from analyzing geospatial and attribute data.

By the end of the course you will have worked cooperatively with a small group of peers to design and present a GIS research project to the public.

By the end of the course you will learn to summarize scientific concepts using a scientific/technical writing style.

Course Content:

Each of the following units will require somewhat less than one week to complete and will require a minimum of 3 hours per week of outside of class work.  It is likely that individual students will need additional time to work on computers during open lab time, since computer courses characteristically are very time consuming. 

IV. Representative Text(s): 

            1. GIS Commons: An Introductory Textbook on Geographic Information Systems by Michael Schmandt (FREE online GIS textbook): GIS Commons
            2. Getting to Know ArcGIS (GTKAV)
by ESRI;
            2. Geographic Information Systems (recommended) by Chang  (OPTIONAL)

V.  Basic Method(s) of Instruction: 

            1.  Fundamental GIS concepts will be covered by lectures, small group activities, demonstrations, and readings from the online textbook. 

            2.  Students will learn to use the ArcGIS/ArcPro software applications by completing exercises in the GTKAV textbook and with supplemental handouts.

            3.  Student projects will be highly directed at first, then evolve into autonomous ventures by the end of the semester.  Each student earning 3 units of credit will design and carry out a culminating project to be presented to peers during the final week of class.

VI. Method(s) of Evaluation: 

1. Lecture material will be assessed on the exam (see below) and the project will be assessed on an individual or team basis, to be completed at the end of the semester (see details below).

2. Grades:

In Class Assignments 20%
GIS Midterm 40%
Project 40%

3. Computer exercises and in class work is essential to your success and is your individual responsibility to complete in a timely fashion. I expect you to ask for assistance when needed.

Note: A grading curve will not be used to determine grades. Grades will be determined as follows:

A 90-100%
B 80-90%
C 70-80%
D 60-70%
F < 60%

Project Guide


  1. You will demonstrate organizational, communication, and critical thinking skills during your presentation.
  2. You will present research findings/conclusions using a combination of media forms your peers and instructor (research and format are described below).
  3. You will demonstrate competence with applying GIS knowledge and skills acquired during this course.


GIS project presentation skills are critical in the current work force environment due to their effectiveness in communicating geospatial information. Computer programs that incorporate video, audio, textual, graphic, animated, and other media forms are important in business, scientific, and educational applications. Research has shown that people acquire knowledge and information in a variety of modalities (eg. visually, auditorally, kinesthetically, etc.). In order to effectively communicate your research to your fellow classmates, you will design a project that uses more than multiple media forms (i.e. video, slides, audio, text, posters, manipulatives, models, etc.). Remember, you are trying to: 1) learn new information related to geospatial technology; and 2) effectively communicate that information to others.


1. Project Ideas:

A) Pick a concept where a GIS can be used in the decision-making process

B) Think carefully about the scope and sequence of the project (can you complete it by the end of the semester? and in what order will you carry out the tasks that need to be done?)

2. Past Student Topics:

A) Mapping Sugar Pine Distribution on the Columbia College Campus
B) Cattle Grazing Determination in the Clavey River Watershed
C) Mapping the Customer Database for an Arnold Restaurant
D) Landslide Hazard Analysis in the Stanislaus National Forest
E) Mapping Shopping Cart Distribution at Pak-n-Save
F) Using GIS to Decide Where to Attend a Four-Year School
G) Rainfall and Plant Type Correlation in Death Valley
H) Mapping the Most Efficient Truck Route for a Waste Disposal Company
I) Correlating Big Game Elk and Deer Hunting Grounds in Idaho
J) Mapping Moving Company Customers By Geographic Region
K) Determining Earthquake-Safe Neighborhoods in San Francisco
L) Mapping and Analysis of Raptor Habitat in California
M) Mapping and Analyzing Radon Concentration Levels in Madera County
N) Mapping and Analyzing Vegetative Change in the Larsen Fire Area
O) Viewshed Analyses for Potential Real Estate Buyers in Calaveras County
P) Clavey River Hydroelectric Proposal - A GIS Historical Map Archive Project
Q) Erodability Potential for Roads Within the North Fork of the Tuolumne River Watershed, Stanislaus National Forest
R) 3D Bathymetric Map of San Diego Reservoir, Columbia College Campus, Sonora, California
S) 3D Flythrough of the Columbia College Campus, Sonora, California
T) Mapping Mountain Bike Trails in Tuolumne County
U) Mapping an Equestrian Trail and Right-of-Way in Crystal Falls
V) Mapping Trees and Shrubs on the Columbia College Campus
W) Mapping Timber Harvest Plans in Calaveras County
X) Mapping Crime Statistics in Calaveras County
Y) Mapping a Membership Database for the National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Z) Using GIS and GPS for Emergency Response Systems

These topics are intended to motivate you to generate your own ideas. Make sure the scope and sequence of your topic is manageable for the given time allotment.

3. Project Format:

A) should have an Abstract (see rules for writing an Abstract below)
i) a concise, informative summary/statement of conclusions reached
ii) not more than 150 words
iii) turned in to me at the beginning of the presentation

B) should have two or more forms of the following media in the presentation:
i) computer simulation, computer maps, audio, video, slides, models, etc.

C) should have a list of references cited (listing each source of information used
; use the online citation machine to cite your sources: EasyBib)
i) any statement that is not general knowledge needs to be credited
ii) do not just use textbooks
iii) use primary (scientific journals, interviews with researchers) and secondary sources (books and review articles that deal with a specific topic)

D) should be professional (clear, audible, legible, neat, high quality, etc.)

E) Use the following file organization structure for your projects: Standard Directory Structure for Projects

4. Presentations:
A) each presentation will be 8 to 10 minutes in length with time for questions afterward from the class
B) each presentation will be evaluated by the members of the class on a standardized evaluation form to be provided


This project is due to be presented on the date listed on the calendar during scheduled class time. A sign-up sheet will be used for topics, presentation dates and times, and names of group members. Evaluations will be due at the end of that class session. Credit may be given for completing evaluations.


1. Research
A) In the library there are books and technical publications on many topics; check the catalog or ask a reference librarian for assistance.
B) Online resources are available for research purposes. This will be one of your most valuable resources. See me if you need help searching for information on the web.
C) Within the community there are several professionals with strong interests in GIS. Contact them for ideas, resources, answers to questions, etc.
D) Other students and faculty at Columbia College may be able to help guide your search.
E) I'll be able to provide a certain amount of support and guidance - use me as a resource.

2. Materials
A) Columbia College may be able to provide some materials on a check out basis, otherwise see me if you need support in this area.
B) The College has a data projector and access to a computer and multimedia software (i.e. Powerpoint or Google Documents (Presentation).

Remember - the main goal is learn something new while becoming familiarized with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and to present your findings to others in the class. Pick something interesting and fun - and enjoy being creative with this project!

Proposal Outline
Proposal Example 1
Proposal Example 2

GIS Midterm Exam

Directions: Please answer the question below for the midterm. Limit your responses to one side of one piece of paper. Use diagrams and examples to clarify your descriptions and explanations. Follow the grading rubric below for guidance. I will review any rough drafts of your responses up to the weekend before the midterm due date if you’d like me to.

Exam Examples (for organization/format)

Here is the midterm question:

1. What is a Geographic Information System (GIS)?  Include in your discussion the different components of a GIS such as data input and output, managing data (in a relational geodatabase), manipulating/changing data, and analyzing data. Also include displaying data, getting information about features, analyzing feature relationships, creating and editing data, presenting data, and modeling. Include a discussion of the difference between vector, raster, TIN, and relational GIS data models.  Finally, your discussion should also include examples of some different GIS applications and decision-making to show a "deeper understanding" of the material.

Grading Rubric

High-quality responses contain:

• an overview of what you’ll discuss including a statement defining the main point
• specific examples supporting your ideas
2 or more carefully labeled diagrams depicting important processes
accuracy, precision, clarity, relevance, depth, and breadth when discussing content
• good organization, well-developed arguments, few mechanical errors
• a conclusion and summary at the end

Medium-quality responses contain:

• an overview of what you’ll discuss
• a general example supporting your ideas
• one or more diagrams poorly labeled
• a few accurate statements (some inaccurate statements) about content being discussed
• loosely organized thoughts, moderately developed arguments, some mechanical errors
• a poor conclusion/summary statement

Lower-quality responses contain:

• no (or a poor) introductory overview
• no (or minimal) examples supporting your ideas
• no diagrams, or diagrams with no labeling
• inaccurate statements of the content discussed
• disorganized thoughts, weakly developed arguments, some mechanical errors
• no conclusion/summary statement

Lowest-quality responses contain:

• no overview
• no examples
• no diagrams
• inaccurate statements of content
• unorganized, undeveloped arguments, mechanical errors throughout
• no conclusion/summary statement

“For students with disabilities, (i.e. physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational, financial, etc., in nature), who believe that they may need special accommodations in this class, I encourage you to discuss options with me within the first 10 days of instruction.”