Awardee: Eric Grosfils, Minnie B. Cairns Memorial Professor of Geology and Chair of Geology
Research Assistant: Graham Brady (Pitzer ’21)
Title: Introduction to GIS for Geologists
Goal: To design the new Fall 2021 GEOL 189: Intro to GIS for Geologists course using the latest GIS software (ArcGIS Pro) and examples that reflect a diverse array of geological topics, including DEI and social justice
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a modern computational tool widely used within the natural and social sciences to perform sophisticated analyses of geospatial datasets. While the tool is typically applied to work with map data on Earth (e.g., satellite imagery, census data, land planning information, GPS field information), it also can be used for any type of data with a spatial component—from mapping planetary surfaces to assessing the minerals seen on a microscope slide to quantifying colors and stroke characteristics of a master artist to then assessing whether a newly discovered work might also have been painted by the same artist. This reality of the broad use of GIS formed the basis of Eric Grosfils’s course redesign.
Grosfils recruited student Graham Brady, Pitzer ’21, to assist him with this grant project. Their collaboration began in the summer, as they worked to redevelop the GIS course. Together, Brady and Grosfils transferred all the content and modules from a previous, more general GIS course Grosfils had offered that used older ArcGIS software to a newer version, ArcGIS Pro. They then replaced all non-geological content with compelling, geologically-grounded examples throughout, including many from across the geology curriculum and several explicitly related to social justice and DEI issues.
The newly designed course boasts seven learning modules that span a range of topics to both engage students with varying interests and expand their understanding of the scope of GIS:
- Introductory Concepts (9)
- Social Justice and DEI (3)
- Meteorites (2)
- Oceans on a Habitable Planet (2)
- Geoarchaeology (1)
- Remote Sensing (1)
- Volcanology/Geophysics (3)
- Tectonic Landscapes/Structural Geology (3)
- Earth History/ Sedimentology (2)
- Mineralogy/Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology/ Geochemistry (2)
*Numbers indicate how many times topics from these courses appear in the GIS class
The modules begin with an introduction to GIS analysis to familiarize students and effectively scaffold content to ensure accessibility. As the semester progresses, students increasingly work independently, eventually taking a practicum exam and completing an extensive applied capstone project.
The new design was implemented in Fall 2021 with tremendous success. Grosfils found students were engaged by the examples, effectively learned valuable skills, and met course objectives. Students stated that they were able to apply their new skills in other classes as well.
In addition to the course’s and students’ success, Grosfils and Brady have other meaningful takeaways from the project—both giving credit to the collaborative experience. Grosfils described Brady’s and his collaboration as a “cross-pollination” of ideas that led to a multitude of creative ventures, such as planning a future field trip to the Sierras. From their active exchange of ideas, they not only developed new examples but also increased the breadth of the course topics.
Brady, too, gained much from the experience—from a new appreciation for the intense work that goes into course development to solidifying his plans to pursue a career in GIS.
The redesigned GEOL 189: Intro to GIS for Geologists course will benefit students interested in Geology for years to come. In the meantime, Grosfils already has new ideas that he plans to fold into the modules for the next iteration.