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You’re surfing the internet and up pops a BuzzFeed article for “28 Things That Will Teach You A Damn Thing About Your State For Once”. So you click through and look at the various maps, learning valuable lessons in “The Most Popular TV Show by State” and hoping the British don’t think of your home state in a rather embarrassing term, when you begin to wonder how is it they compiled these maps? The answer, as you may have guessed when you began to read the “Introduction to GIS” text, is GIS. A science capable of remarkable feats such as pinpointing patient zero during an outbreak of some horrible disease, but also capable of compiling and representing “The Most Googled Term by State”.

Such as a map displaying the terms someone from a foreign country thinks about a particular region of the United States, maps are a scaled, graphic representation of reality. As Americans, we know Texas cannot be summed up with the terms “guns, oil, and cowboys”, since that is really just a stereotypical representation of the area, we can equate that to an understanding that no single map can fully represent every single location, object, or the entire history of events of any certain place. The ability to represent the world in a compact and concise way while keeping the data simple enough to understand at a glance is the challenge faced by all those who use GIS.

In this class, we will look at GIS as a system, learning not only how to use the software, but why the software performs as is does by looking at the concepts behind it. We will explore why GIS is only a tool at our disposal, capable of powerful calculations and map creation, and how we will still need an understanding of geography, earth science, mathematics, and the science which we wish to apply the GIS to. From the point where GIS is defined to the submission of your final project, your understanding of the software and the world that surround it will grow and become more defined.

BuzzFeed: We Had Our Colleagues In Japan Label Maps Of America And The Results Were Hilarious

1.1.2: Modeling Our World - Reality, Conception, Representation, Analysis, Documentation, Storage, and Distribution

Throughout the semester, we will look at the GIS system by focusing our learning on a seven part model of GIS: Reality, Conception, Representation, Analysis, Documentation, Storage, and Distribution; where reality is the world as we experience it, conception is the ideas, goals, and objectives we have before we begin representing digital map data, analysis is using GIS tools to solve spatial problems, documenting the process and storing data based upon industry standards, and finally, distributing the data in a standardized format for all the world to use.

It is an important distinction to learn that GIS is not just a single idea, but the model of a process - being able to apply a set of learned tools to a problem, question, or idea, where a GIS technician is asked to look not at their part in the process, but instead at their agency as a whole and the world beyond.  If you embark upon this class thinking GIS is simply a series of unrelated maps and ideas instead of looking at the entire GIS model can limit your learning and force a narrow view of what GIS really is - a way to understand and explore the world in new and exciting ways by finding patterns and ideas “hidden” in the data with the assistance of a software suite. Becoming proficient in the use of the software is extremely important for moving forward in the geospatial sciences, but really understanding the ideas that make GIS what it is will help so much more. Issues with the software can always be assisted with help menus and tutorials, but if you do not understand what drives GIS and where your data will go after you have completed your assigned tasks, you will never really understand what you are capable of when you align yourself with the power of the software.

This class will use the model to teach you all the parts of the GIS and culminate in a completing a project using the skills you learned throughout the semester.  Your task will be to use the model to decide the idea for a project, decide on and find or create data to represent real-world objects, use the tools learned in lab to solve that problem, document your findings, keep your project data organized in such as way that you can find you data along the way, and turn in a completed product.  There will be little difference between the steps you take for a semester project and the steps you would take in the real world in order to complete an entire GIS project.  The skills you learn along the way will be your guide to creating a project that you will be happy with and will later be able to build upon in future GIS classes and jobs.