Geography 4532/Geosciences 6532 or Geography 4999/Geosciences 6999:  Geographic Information Systems in Belize: A Focus on Communities, Fieldwork and Service


***this is a sample syllabus from previous years of the course, the “real” syllabus will be provided each year to enrolled students.

Course Description: This course introduces students to the art and science of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related geospatial technologies, geographic analysis, map communication, and geographic inquiry in an international setting.  As part of the course, students will develop geographic skills and apply them in a series of learning activities and projects with residents and organizations in Dangriga, Orange Walk, Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, and South Water Caye, Belize.  In the course, we will learn about the major components of GIS, including the hardware, software, data, and human interaction needed to make these systems useful, but with an applied international focus on themes of uneven development and eco-tourism in Belize.  Prior to and while on the 12 day trip to Belize, students will be introduced to ArcGIS and related geospatial technologies so they can engage in basic geographic analysis and geospatial thinking to address the major geographic themes of interest to community members in Belize.  We will cover a variety of topics, including, but not limited to: vector and raster data models, field data collection, map layering, community GIS, cartographic communication, spatial analysis, field data collection and creation, classification and generalization, and map design issues.  Given that this is an international, study abroad experience in Belize, the class will provide students with numerous applied learning situations where they can use geographic and GIS-based knowledge for engagement in real world communities with a diverse cultural impact from the results of these efforts.

Course Learning Goals: By participating in class discussion and completing all course requirements both on-campus and during the 12 day visit to Belize, students will:

1)      Learn and apply Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and related geospatial technologies for basic geographic analysis and mapping purposes that also help students develop a greater appreciation for key geographic issues in Central America.

2)      Engage in collaborative fieldwork and community-based learning in conjunction with international partners that results in shared, tangible products (i.e. maps, reports, databases).

3)      Develop critical thinking, communication, and presentation skills that can be applied to future work within and beyond their university experiences.

4)      Form a heightened global literacy, connecting program experiences to future career paths.

Questions, Comments, Concerns, Advice: As your professors, we are here to help you learn and to develop your interests.  We have a deep interest in helping you succeed not only in this course, but also in your other academic endeavors.  One of us will be with you for all parts of the trip in Belize, and are always available to talk about course issues or feelings regarding international education and international travel.  Please see us as soon as possible if you have any questions about the course.  We want you to succeed and have the best possible international experience, but can only help if you come to us with questions or concerns.

Course Schedule: A tentative schedule will be provided on the first day of class.  The on-campus schedule is set and will not change.  The dates of the Belize study abroad experience are firm and will not be changed although activity times will likely shift once in Belize due to weather and/or community partner changes.  Due dates will not be moved up, but they could be pushed back based on instructor discretion.  The most up-to-date schedule will always be relayed to you in our morning briefing and/or nightly de-briefing group meetings.

Course Content: The course will have on-campus lecture/discussion, lab and fieldwork components.  In Belize, we will focus on applied learning and service learning projects with our international partners.  While in Belize, we will have guided tours of natural and cultural sites, visit local organizations and study sites, and engage in field data collection and project discussion with local educators/experts.

  • Field labs: Some on-campus and Belize class sessions will be set aside for lab work in ArcGIS.  These lab periods will be useful for students to work with ArcGIS to apply course concepts. While in Belize we will also have modified lab sessions using the field data, ArcGIS, and laptops.  For graduate students only, these field labs will also include one specific lecture (20 minute) presentation to the group about a topic of interest in Belize focused on GIS.  For students in the 4999/6999 course, these labs will focus on more advanced GIS topics.  Students in the 4999/6999 course, will also be responsible for leading a group discussion of GPS data integration and utilization of ArcGIS online for data sharing.
  • Final Belize GIS small group project:  Students are expected to work in small groups (3 students per team) to: 1) design poster-size maps or 8.5 by 11 inch maps that analyze a geographic issue of interest to Belize residents/organizations; 2) create a GIS project that includes a geodatabase with properly referenced data and metadata that can be shared and understood by Belizean partners; 3) provide all files in a shared, online format using ArcGIS Online; and 4) create a final presentation of their work.  Student groups are expected to present their analysis/maps at the end of the course and are also expected to share their results, data, and maps with residents/groups/collaborators in Belize.  All geospatial data results from the course are to be considered part of the open-source domain.  Students in the 4999/6999 course will be asked to complete an additional 2 advanced methods related to the final project (with maps to support the analyses).
  • Critical reflection writing and mapping assignments: As an international study abroad experience, we want to connect our classroom learning with our international experiences.  International learning is rewarding, intellectually stimulating and fun.  However, it can also be very stressful, physically and emotionally challenging, and complicated at times.  All of these experiences and emotions will be discussed before, during, and after the trip.  To ensure that students develop their writing skills and critical thinking skills about how GIS and the geosciences relate to international research experiences, students will be expected to complete daily journal reflections.  To connect their reflections to geographic space, students will also engage in a critical reflection mapping assignment where they can map their emotions/perceptions of the Belize experience.  Both assignments will be counted toward this section of the course grade.
  • Belize GIS group learning activities: While in Belize, we will engage in hands-on group GIS learning activities, fieldwork, data collection, and discussions with guides, educators, residents and local experts.  All assignments will also include a graded group deliverable (GPS data collection, database design, sketch mapping, or critical writing/analysis about the Belize learning experiences).  Students in the 4999/6999 course will participate as well, but also provide a leadership role in these activities.

Course Evaluation: Recognizing that students have different learning styles and excel in different areas, the course grading scheme is divided into many components:

  • Final Collaborative GIS project for Belize (35%)
  • Belize Field Labs (30%)
  • Belize Group Learning Activities (10%)
  • Critical Reflection Journal and Critical Reflection Mapping Assignment (15%)
  • Professionalism & Collaborative Work Ethic (10%)

Belize Attendance Policy: While in Belize, students will attend all scheduled course activities, including all discussions, lectures, and fieldtrips.  For each required activity missed in Belize, the student will be dropped one full letter grade (per Study Abroad guidelines).

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities: Georgia State University complies with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Students with disabilities who seek academic accommodations must first take appropriate documentation to the Office of Disability Services locate in Suite 230 of the Student Center.

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