GEOG 5003, Elements of GIS

Dr. Kenneth E. Foote, Instructor

Office Hours: 2:30-3:30 Friday and by appt. in Guggenheim 102B, Phone: (303) 492-6760, E-mail:

Li Xu, Teaching Assistant

Office Hours: 3:30-4:30 Tuesday and 10:00-11:00 Thursday in Guggenheim 301B, Email:

Lecture/Seminar:  Monday, 1:00-3:50 pm, GUGG 201E; Lab: Tuesday, 9-11:50, Guggenheim 6 (KESDA lab)

On this page: Overview | Grading | Lab Meetings | Textbooks | Required Supplies | Identikey, Internet Access and E-mail | KESDA Laboratory Access and Use | Disabilities Assistance | Religious Observances | CU Discrimination and Harrassment Policy | CU Classroom Behavior Policy | CU Honor Code

Related pages: Schedule | Lecture and Discussion Notes | Assignments | GEOG 5003 Homepage | Geography Homepage | CU Homepage |

Overview and Learning Outcomes

Elements of GIS provides an overview of geographic information system (GIS) technologies and the important roles these play in today's world. GIS are proving vital to the exploration of spatial and environmental patterns and processes across a wide range of fields in the physical, biological and socials sciences; engineering; business planning and marketing; urban and regional planning; and the humanities, particularly history.  Elements of GIS  is organized to give you a hands-on appreciation of how geographic information systems can be put to use in your area of interest.  By the end of the semester, you should be able:

1) To create GIS datasets and maps for a thesis, dissertation, or publication

1. To understand how GIS are used to represent, model and analyze geospatial patterns and processes
2. To know the basic principals of cartographic and visual communication and apply them to the composition of map
3. To understand the strengths and weaknesses of various methods of statistical mapping
4. To be able to use cartographic symbology to depict spatial relationship of location, direction, distance, and movement

2) To gather, explore, model, and analyze data using GIS

1. To be familiar with the coordinate systems used most widely where you live and within the US as a whole
2. To understand why and how map projections effect the display of cartographic information
3. To be familiar with methods for using maps in exploratory data analysis
4. To understand modeling and geostatistical capabilities of GIS
5. To understand the role of error and uncertainty in GIS modeling and how error and uncertainty can be estimated and managed

3) To master the digital skills needed to build GIS projects on your own

1. To know the most important starting places for data in the Web and elsewhere
2. To learn how to geocode data for use in GIS
3. To develop a working knowledge of ArcGIS

Elements of GIS is organized around five active-learning assignments and two take-home exams. The active-learning assignments emphasize ways that cartographers and other researchers use maps to address real-world research issues. The issues have been selected so that they raise a variety of technical and methodological problems related to the theory and practice of cartography. In this way, you will learn by experience how cartographers gather and weigh evidence about natural and human processes, employ maps and databases to represent and model real-life situations, analyze spatial, temporal, and functional relationships, and communicate findings cartographically and graphically and in written and spoken presentations. The assignments stress analytical reasoning and how such reasoning is supported by the use of maps, computers, and information technology.

Most of the course materials for Elements of GIS have been developed in hypermedia format as an on-line "electronic" textbook and lab manual in the Worldwide Web. The course does not assume previous experience with geographic information systems, mapping technologies or the Internet, though experience with Windows-based computers is valuable. The course is built around lectures, discussion and, of course, hands-on laboratory experience. The active-learning assignments make use of the popular ArcMap software from ESRI.  Practice with this system will be of value in your future academic and professional work.


Your course grade will be based on five active-learning projects (70% of your final grade) and two exams (30% of your final grade). The projects are:

Assignment 1: The 2012 Campaign Trail for President | Introduction to ArcMap I | Introduction to ArcMap II (15 percent of final grade).

Assignment 2: Mapping Tectonic Hot Spots (10 percent of final grade)

Assignment 3: The Cost of Renting (10 percent of final grade)

Assignment 4: Boulder County Flood Risk and Evacuation Plan (15 percent of final grade)

Assignment 5: Independent Project (20 percent of final grade).  Rubric for final project.

Take-home Exam 1: (15 percent of final grade)

Take-home Exam 2: (15 percent of final grade)

The deadlines for assignments are given in the course schedule. Please contact me as soon as possible if you will miss a deadline owing to a health, medical, or family emergency. Assignments handed in late lose 10% of point value per weekday.

It is my policy in all my classes to abide by the CU Honor Code ( This means that I will penalize with course failure anyone who engages in "academic dishonesty." Academic dishonesty includes, among other offenses, plagiarism of the writing of others, cheating on exams, falsification and fabrication of data, and submitting the assignments or papers of others as your own.

Lab Meetings

Attendance is required at all lab sessions. 


Two books are required for this course:

Brewer, Cynthia A.  2005.  Designing Better Maps: A Guide for GIS Users. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press.

Mitchell, Andy.  2005.  The ESRI Guide to GIS Analysis. Volume 2: Spatial Measurements and Statistics.  Redlands, CA: ESRI Press.

Other study materials are online in the Web or will be distributed by email.  Ask if you would like recommendations for other online and printed study materials.

Books should be available at the bookstore and can be ordered directly from the publishers or from Web bookstores such as or

Required Supplies

During the course of the semester you will need to purchase about $20-60 in computer supplies for the laboratory exercises. You will need to buy at least a 2 GB USB  memory stick for laboratory work.  You will need additional (completely independent) storage media for your backup files--a separate memory stick, CDs, or DVDs. Please bring a memory stick to the first lab so you can save your work. 

Identikey, Internet Access and E-mail

You will be making extensive use of the Geography Department's KESDA computer lab, the internet, web, and email. Be sure that you have a valid CU Identikey password and working email account.

Laboratory Access and Use

For this course you can use the free software license for ArcGIS on your home computer and you can use Geography's KESDA computer lab on the ground floor of Guggenheim Hall (GUGG 6), as well as the computers in GUGG 8. You should plan to spend at least 4-6 hours working with the software each week, in addition to your time in lab. If you plan to use KESDA, please study the guidelines for using the computer laboratory which are available online .

Disabilities Assistance

If you qualify for accommodations because of a disability, please submit to me a letter from Disability Services to me in the first two weeks of the class so that your needs may be addressed. Disability Services determines accommodations based on documented disabilities. 

The College will make reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students should notify the Counselor for Students with Disabilities, Disability Services Office, located in Willard 322 (phone 303-492-8671) and their instructors of any special needs. If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please let me know early in the semester so that your learning needs may be appropriately met. You will need to provide documentation of your disability to the Disability Services Office see www.Colorado.EDU/disabilityservices

This University abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which stipulates that no student shall be denied the benefits of an education "solely by reason of a handicap." Disabilities covered by law include but are not limited to learning disabilities and hearing, sight or mobility impairments. If you have a disability that may have some impact on your work in this class and for which you may require accommodations, please see me or the Coordinator of Services to students with disabilities in the Disability Services Office, Willard 322 (phone 303-492-8671), so that such accommodations may be arranged.

I encourage students with disabilities, including non-visible disabilities such as chronic diseases, learning disabilities, head injury and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder, psychiatric disabilities, to discuss with me, after class or during my office hours, appropriate accommodations.

Religious Observances & Class

If conflicts arise between class meetings, assignment deadlines, or examinations and holidays or celebrations observed by your religion, please notify me, Professor Foote, at least two weeks in advance of a given conflict so that suitable schedule accommodations can be made.Campus policy regarding religious observances requires that faculty make every effort to reasonably and fairly deal with all students who, because of religious obligations, have conflicts with scheduled exams, assignments or required attendance. See full details at

CU Discrimination and Harassment Policy

The Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) requests that all faculty include this information in their syllabi for every course: The University of Colorado Policy on Sexual Harassment applies to all students, staff and faculty.  Sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual attention.  It can involve intimidation, threats, coercion, or promises or create an environment that is hostile or offensive. Harassment may occur between members of the same or opposite gender and between any combination of members in the campus community: students, faculty, staff, and administrators. Harassment can occur anywhere on campus, including the classroom, the workplace, or a residence hall.  Any student, staff or faculty member who believes s/he has been sexually harassed should contact the Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) at 303-492-2127 or the Office of Judicial Affairs at 303-492-5550.  Information about the ODH and the campus resources available to assist individuals who believe they have been sexually harassed can be obtained at:

CU Classroom Behavior Policy

Students and faculty each have responsibility for maintaining an appropriate learning environment. Students who fail to adhere to such behavioral standards may be subject to discipline. Faculty have the professional responsibility to treat all students with understanding, dignity and respect, to guide classroom discussion and to set reasonable limits on the manner in which they and their students express opinions. Professional courtesy and sensitivity are especially important with respect to individuals and topics dealing with differences of race, culture, religion, politics, sexual orientation, gender variance, and nationalities. See polices at and at

CU Honor Code

All students of the University of Colorado at Boulder are responsible for knowing and adhering to the academic integrity policy of this institution.Violations of this policy may include: cheating, plagiarism, aid of academic dishonesty, fabrication, lying, bribery, and threatening behavior. All incidents of academic misconduct shall be reported to the Honor Code Council (; 303-725-2273). Students who are found to be in violation of the academic integrity policy will be subject to both academic sanctions from the faculty member and non-academic sanctions (including but not limited to university probation, suspension, or expulsion). Other information on the Honor Code can be found at and at

Last revised 2012.3.8.