Posts Tagged ‘course’

Reading List for Geographic Information Course

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

The fall semester is here, and I’m about to start teaching the class I mentioned in my last post (an information studies course on geographic information). I thought I’d share my reading list and try out the Open Book plugin. I chose my readings based on: my particular audience (undergraduate students from many disciplines with little or no background in geography), relevance (materials appropriate in a hybrid information studies / geography course), cost (wanting to assign the students a single textbook that’s reasonably priced and covers all the bases, and will supplement with other readings), and copyright (staying within the bounds of fair use by not assigning too much from a single work). Here goes:

[openbook]1593852002[/openbook] I decided to go with Krygier and Woods Making Maps as my assigned text book. Since cartography is a visual and technical art, I thought it made sense to use a book that relies on visuals for explanations rather than text. It’s approachable, particularly for my students who won’t be coming from a geography background, affordable, wonderfully quirky, and covers all of the essentials of the geographic framework and map interpretation and design independent of specific GIS software.

[openbook]1405106727[/openbook] I’m using the first chapter of Cresswell’s book as a succinct introduction to how individuals define places, but would recommend the rest of the text for classes that cover geographic concepts and methods.

[openbook]026208354X[/openbook] I’m assigning the second and third chapters of Hill’s book. The second chapter, which discusses how people process, store, and use geographic information is the best summary of this topic that I’ve ever seen, and the third chapter is a good overview of the different types of geographic objects. As a librarian-geo nerd, I love the chapters that deal with coordinate metadata and gazetteers, but won’t be using them in this class.

[openbook]0262620014[/openbook]This is an urban planning / design classic, and I’ll have my students read the summary of Lynch’s city elements (based on his research, Lynch proposed that people mentally break the urban environment down into five types of elements in order to organize and navigate the city: paths, barriers, districts, nodes, and landmarks).

[openbook]0470129050[/openbook]This is the only traditional textbook that I’ll be borrowing from (I actually used it when I was a Freshmen, way back when). While I’m using the previous three books to discuss egocentric places, or how we as individuals conceive of place, I’m using the first chapter of this book to give the students an overview of geocentric places – the formal, defined hierarchy of places that exist in the world – and to introduce them to the concept of regions.

[openbook]0226534146[/openbook]This has become a modern classic and I almost assigned it as a second textbook. I am assigning the chapter on maps for propaganda as a background to our discussion on map interpretation and communication, and will later use the chapter on census maps to talk about the effects of data classification and choice of enumeration units.

[openbook]1934356069[/openbook]This is the only software book that I’ll be using chapters from, so the students have some formal guide for using QGIS (in addition to the QGIS documentation). I’m using the chapters on vector and raster data.

[openbook]1412910161[/openbook]This concise, excellent book deals strictly with the concepts and principles behind GIS. I’m using the chapters on spatial search and geoprocessing, but would recommend the entire book for any GIS course, novice to advanced.

In addition to chapters from these books, I’ll also be using:

  • “Revolutions in Mapping” by John Noble Wilford, National Geographic Feb 1998 – a great overview of the history of cartography
  • USGS GIS poster – if there is such a thing, this is a “web classic” and an accessible intro to GIS
  • One article from a scholarly journal and one article from a mass market magazine to illustrate how geographic research is covered and used
  • And for shameless self-promotion, I summary I wrote about US Census data – In Three Parts

Finally, an honorable mention:

[openbook] 1593855664[/openbook] If I was teaching an introductory GIS course in a geography or earth sciences department, this is certainly the book I would use, and for those of you in that boat I’d recommend checking it out. It does an excellent job of covering GIS principles without being software specific, contains exercises at the end of each chapter, and is well written and affordable. Since the scope of my course is broader than GIS and my audience more general and diverse, I opted to leave it out (but may still assign a chapter).

Geographic Information: Literacy and Systems

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I’ve been spending a good portion of my summer working on the course that I’m going to teach this fall. The library at my college offers credit courses in Information Studies which students can take as a minor – they can choose two 3000 level courses and then a 4000 level capstone course. My course is a 3000 level special topics course which I’ve called Geographic Information: Literacy and Systems.

My situation is rather peculiar. I can’t teach this course as a pure GIS course, since it’s an information studies class and not geography or earth sciences. Beyond that, my college does not have a geography department, and earth sciences are not an individual department but are combined with other natural and physical sciences. With the exception of a regional geography class offered by the anthropology department, my college doesn’t offer geography instruction. So even if I could teach a pure GIS class, it’s unlikely that any of the students would have any foundational geographic knowledge.

I also can’t teach the course as a “library” class where I’m training people to be map or GIS librarians, because that isn’t the point of the info studies minor. The minor is meant to introduce students to the foundational principles of information – what is information, how do we search for it, organize it, what is its context in society, etc. I also could not teach the course as a basic software class, as that isn’t really appropriate for a college course. In short, I couldn’t find a model that I could follow, as what I’m doing falls outside these traditional realms.

So I decided to build the course around the concept of geographic information where I’ll cover some foundational geography,cartography, and GIS from an information science perspective that encompasses:  organization, search and retrieval, data processing, and assessment and analysis of GI. I’ve divided the class into four units that cover geographic information and fundamental geography, maps as information objects, and two units of GIS. In the first GIS unit we’ll cover the theoretical aspects and the basics of using the software with datasets that I’ll provide. In the second unit we’ll deal with the nitty gritty of actually searching for and processing freely available GIS data. In the last couple of weeks I’ll spend some time on web mapping and on geographic analysis and research.

Many of the concepts that I’ll be teaching are things that I never formally learned in a college course, such as a discussion of the kinds of administrative and statistical divisions that exist in the world, why they exist, and how data is collected for them. The second GIS unit on data processing is something that I feel is never adequately covered in GIS classes, but is essential for doing just about anything in GIS. I think this is also poignant in information studies, as it involves a discussion of the difference between data and information and how you can turn one into the other.

I’ve decided to use all open source software. Since these are undergraduate students who probably won’t be entering a geography related field, and we are a commuter campus where students have to make special trips to get to computer labs, I didn’t see any logic in using ArcGIS. With the open source software they can use it anywhere and there will be a better chance that they’ll use it after the course is over (and after they graduate). I’ve opted to go with QGIS as it covers all the bases I need. I liked gvSIG but had too many problems with the map layout – I might be able to cut my way through them, but can sophomore business and english majors? QGIS is also more thoroughly documented (in english), which is important since this is an introductory class.

I’m using Krygier and Woods Making Maps as my textbook, along with a few chapters here and there from other texts. I have looked to the pages Krygier’s created for his courses for guidance, and like the stream of consciousness style he used for writing his notes. I’ll post an annotated reading list later.

Since I’m breaking molds, I’ve also decided not to use Blackboard to organize the whole course and am using a blog and various other bits and pieces of software for creating assignments, organizing the roster, etc. If you’re interested you can follow along on my course blog – (only students can register). Classes start on August 31st…

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