Course Syllabus

ENVS-320  Intro. to GIS - Fall 2017

Location: ES-413 (10-10:50)
    AH-16 (11-11:50)  section 41570
    AH-16 (12-12:50)  section 41757
Spatial Analysis Lab ("SAL") (Links to an external site.)  (AH-16)
Schedule (Links to an external site.) (including TA lab/office hours)

Instructor:  Stefan Freelan

Office: AH-211   650-2949
   Hours: T-Th 2-3:00

Adrina Varchetta
     Dustin Gleaves
     Kyle Cassady  


Course Readings

This course provides an introduction to the field of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and ArcGIS PRO. As such, it includes both theoretical and practical elements, providing both a general understanding of the subject and hands-on experience. The course begins with the basic elements of a GIS and progress quickly into the use of ArcGIS PRO software for spatial analysis. The culmination of the class is a final project involving both analysis and display of spatial information. Reading assignments are moderate but expectations for interactive class participation and lab work are high. This includes regular attendance (extremely important), active class participation, assimilation of computer software techniques and the ability to work effectively with others in the lab. Collaboration with fellow students is encouraged.


ENVS-320 (and GIS in general) requires careful attention to data management (storage, archiving, etc.). Basic computer literacy is essential and, though not a pre-requisite, statistical experience is helpful (as are computer graphics, spreadsheet and/or database experience). Students unfamiliar with (at the very least) the Windows operating system (including Windows Explorer), email and the Microsoft Office suite (ExcelWord) are strongly encouraged to seek outside tutorial assistance (Student Tech Center 650-4300) at their earliest opportunity. (See Unofficial Pre-Reqs).

Note that while this class serves as a stand-alone introduction to GIS and ArcGIS PRO, it also provides the foundation for the ongoing WWU ENVS-321/420/421/422 course series and the GIS Minor and the GIS Certificate.

Specific topics covered include:

  • GIS Applications & Overview
    • The possibilities & limitations of GIS
  • ESRI’s ArcGIS PRO software
    • Query, analysis and display of spatial data
  • The relationship of tabular and spatial data
  • Cartographic fundamentals
  • Database & project management
  • Types of spatial data available
  • Sources  of spatial data
  • Introduction to advanced GIS concepts and techniques
    • Geoprocessing (Vector and Raster tools)
    • Building Models



ENVS-320 is divided into two separate sections. Both sections meet together for the first hour (LECTURE). The second hour (LAB) is held in AH-16. Each Lab hour will have a dedicated TA. Prompt, regular attendance for both the Lecture and Lab portions of the class are expected. The content and homework for the course is divided into 3 components:
  • Online Introduction (ESRI's e-Learning) (1 week)
  • The ENVS-320 Labs (5 weeks)
  • The ENVS-320 Final Project (3 weeks)



Essential of Geographic Information Systems (published by Saylor Academy, 2012) will be required for this course. Note that this is available for free as a digital textbook. Essentials of GIS is available in HTML, PDF or DOC format. The HTML version is recommended for online usage, the PDF or DOC are better if you wish to download a copy. Note that this text was adapted by Saylor Academy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License. See Readings and Quiz Schedule for more information as well as supplemental readings. In addition, other online or digital readings will be assigned, including exercises from ESRI's e-Learning (see below).

ESRI’s e-Learning Web Courses

A selection of on-line courses from the ESRI e-Learning (registration for the e-Learning is free for WWU students) will be used as a resource for the class (see notes on using ESRI's e-Learning). Data for these courses can be downloaded from the course website and is also available from:  J:\GEO\GEO_data\ESRI_data\ArcGIS_PRO

Lecture Materials

Various PowerPoint presentations and demo files will also be made available to supplement the labs. These will be available via WWU's Canvas.

 Online Videos

In addition to extensive Help and Resource files provided by ESRI, YouTube has a wealth of tutorial videos for GIS in general and for ArcGIS PRO, including SAL's own GIS Channel (sadly, mostly created for ArcGIS desktop, not ArcGIS PRO). 

Recommended Course Materials (purchased items)

  • Recommended: Dedicated Lab book for taking notes from lectures and lab assignments (i.e. a lab book for just this class with only one subject in it: GIS). See additional notes on Lab Books below and Lab Book examples.
  • Optional: Portable storage device (USB drive or other storage device). For most students, with proper data management, the U:\ drive should be adequate for the data storage needs of this class. CD's and DVD's are a good way to archive projects (or classes) at the end of the quarter but are not recommended as a means of day-to-day storage. Some students prefer to use a USB drive in addition to or instead of their U:\ drive. 



ArcGIS PRO (ESRI) - Available in AH-16 (the Spatial Analysis Lab), and many of the main campus Windows computer labs. Note that this is NOT the same as ArcGIS Desktop (which includes ArcMap, ArcCatalog and ArcEditor). ArcGIS PRO is ESRI's newer software platform which is replacing the older Desktop. ArcGIS PRO software is available for installing on your personal computer (sorry, Windows only and the bigger, faster and the more RAM the better).  Email Stefan if you would like an ArcGIS PRO license for installing the software.
A progressive series of Lab Assignments (roughly one per week plus the Final Project) will introduce and reinforce the concepts and skills of GIS and spatial analysis. Labs will draw from the class readings, the e-Learning and in-class lectures and demonstrations. Content of the labs is cumulative. All assignments are due the beginning of classLate Lab assignments lose 10% PER DAY. Late Final Projects will not be accepted. See notes on Grading and Plagiarism below.
 Lab Books
Students are encouraged to maintain a dedicated (i.e. only one subject) lab book. In addition to reading and class notes (see Note Taking tips) this lab book can be used for e-Learning Exercises and general Procedural notes with regard to using ArcGIS PRO. 

Suggested Lab Book Sections:
  1. Reading, Lecture & e-Learning notes
  2. Notes on Lab Exercises
  3. Procedure Notes (aside from a specific exercise, i.e., how to buffer, export, clip features, etc.)
  4. Notes on the Final Project

Note that lab books and/or general class notes can be used for all quizzes and the final exam (hint, hint).
Working at HOME or in other labs:
All of the material in this course should be able to done using the ArcGIS PRO software on a  personal computer or in the other Windows labs on campus (many of which have ArcGIS PRO installed). HOWEVER, this may not be true for all of the assignments. As such, the recommendation is that students schedule time in the main SAL lab (AH-16) to complete their homework. Those who choose to work from home or in other labs should allow adequate time, in case something doesn't work, to get the assignments done in the lab if need be. "I wasn't able to finish the homework because MY version of the software didn't have the right tools..." (or 'my internet connection failed,' or 'my USB drive is corrupt,' etc.) will not be considered acceptable excuses for late assignments. (Actually, they are all perfectly acceptable excuses, but the labs will still be docked 10% / day for being late...). Students choosing to work off campus will need to transfer data and map project files from the university servers to their own computers. At times this can be more difficult than it sounds and is entirely the responsibility of the individual student...


There will be a brief QUIZ every THURSDAY. Each quiz is worth 5-10 pts (90 pts total) and should take less than 10 minutes. Quizzes will be given either at the beginning of the Lecture or at the beginning of the Lab. Quizzes will be either on paper or digital. Late quizzes are not available (thus quizzes serve as an excellent incentive for punctual attendance). Quizzes are (typically) OPEN lab book/notebook, but CLOSED computer (in other words, anything you want to write down in your lab note book ahead of time is usable, unless otherwise specified). Likewise, the use of previous lab exercises is fine. The use of computers, the internet or printed copies of the Readings are NOT allowed for Quizzes. Quiz scores will be posted to CANVAS. 

The FINAL EXAM (worth 60 pts) will be a combination of written questions and ‘live’ (on the computer) GIS skills/exercises. The Final will be entirely OPEN book, open computer, open internet, open Readings. The content of the quizzes and final is cumulative and will draw from the e-Learning materials, the readings, and in-class lectures, demonstrations and discussions. There will not be a Mid-Term for this course.


GRADING: (scores are posted to CANVAS)

  Points % of Total
Lab Assignments 250 50
Weekly Quizzes 90 18
Final Project 100 20
Final Exam 60 12
        TOTAL 500 pts. 100 % 

Final grades will be based on a percentage of points earned (roughly 91% = A-, 81% = B-, etc., with the actual percentage breakdown subject to final revision by the instructor at the end of the quarter). 
Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with WWU's University Academic Policies found in the Course Catalog, which will be adhered to in this course. 
  • Neatness counts! Lab assignments should be turned in on a crisp, clean sheet of paper
  • Lab & Quiz scores will be posted to CANVAS
  • Late Lab assignments lose 10% / day
  • Late final projects will not be accepted
  • Extra-credit assignments, make-up or bonus points will not be available for this course
  • Learn how to properly save and backup your work - “The computer ate my file” is not an excuse



Digital files are extremely easy to share and copy. Resist the temptation to 'collaborate' with fellow students beyond reasonable limits. Getting advice, feedback and help from classmates is strongly encouraged. Plagiarism will not be tolerated... Likewise, be sure to NOT leave copies of your work on the C:/ drive of lab computers where others might 'find' and 'adopt' them... (for this reason students are encouraged to work off of their U:/ drive). See WWU's Student Rights and Responsibilities Code (Appendix C) and Academic Honesty Policy and Procedure (Appendix D) in the Western Catalog.

    See also: Plagiarism Policies & Guidelines:



Reasonable accommodation for persons with documented disabilities should be established within the first week of class and arranged through Disability Resources for Students (360-650-3083;;


Pass / Fail

Students taking this course purely as an elective (including graduate students) are encouraged to take this course Pass / Fail.  Note, however, that students cannot use Pass / Fail for any courses that are part of their Major, Minor or GURs (this includes courses used as a Major elective).


  • Please TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE - no not just set it to vibrate... at the very least turn the ringer off. Trust me, you'll survive...
  • No food or drink in AH-16 (if you need to consume something, please leave the room)
  • Please keep AH-16 tidy, dispose of your trash in a receptacle and your old prints in the recycle bin
  • Try to avoid unnecessary printing, however, be sure to turn in your final products on clean paper. Remember sometimes it takes time (1-2 minutes) for a printout so be patient rather than hitting Print again.... 
  • Use the color printer only for final prints - do test prints with the BW printers when you can



Course Summary:

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