August 10, 2021

The Global Mapper Academic Curriculum – Free GIS Teaching Materials

Written by: David McKittrick


Late in the summer of 2013, Blue Marble invited several faculty members from various campuses of the University of Maine system to a meeting at the company’s headquarters. The purpose of this gathering was to garner input and advice that would help the company formulate a strategy for effectively introducing Global Mapper to the academic community.

At the time, Global Mapper was undergoing a rapid expansion of its worldwide user-base, thanks in large part to its recent acquisition by Blue Marble. Inevitably, universities and colleges were being introduced to the capabilities of the software and its suitability for teaching the basics of GIS to students. At that time, however, there were no resources or teaching materials available, and an academic licensing system had not yet been established.

The meeting ended with two items on Blue Marble’s to-do list: The software deployment process had to be streamlined and simplified to provide teachers and students with on-demand access to the software, unencumbered by burdensome licensing requirements, and, more importantly in the eyes of the teachers in the room, learning materials needed to be developed to help teachers incorporate the software into their curricula.

Within weeks of the meeting, Blue Marble announced that any accredited institute of higher education in the US or Canada would be eligible to use Global Mapper for teaching at no cost. Deeply discounted licensing was also introduced for schools and colleges throughout the world. Concurrently, work began on the Global Mapper Curriculum; a series of instructional labs that explore the software’s principal features and functions, while providing students with a concise and easy-to-follow introduction to the fundamentals of GIS.

Initially, there were six labs covering some of the common analytical procedures in Global Mapper. Over the years, as new tools were added to the software, additional labs were developed. At the time of writing, the finishing touches are being applied to Lab 12, which focuses on the process of modifying the terrain through hydro-flattening and terrain painting.

Each lab includes detailed written instructions on how to perform the prescribed procedure or operation, along with the requisite data files. At the conclusion of the scripted section of each lab, students are given an opportunity to employ their newly-acquired skills and knowledge in a problem-solving exercise. To assist in the teaching and assessment process, completed versions of these exercises are included in the package.

The following is the current list of labs along with the specific workflows that are included in each:

Lab 1 – Introduction to the principles of GIS

  • Importing/accessing data
  • Creating and editing vector features
  • Adjusting the appearance of vector features
  • Working with raster layers
  • Querying and filtering data
  • The basics of spatial analysis
  • Methods for sharing data
  • Reprojecting Data

Lab 2 – Generating a terrain surface and creating contours using lidar data

  • Lidar importing
  • Data visualization
  • Lidar editing/processing
  • Creating a gridded surface model/shader options
  • 3D modeling
  • Contour generation

Lab 3 – Working with attributes and creating a thematic map

  • Creating and managing attribute data
  • Joining attributes from an external file
  • Performing a calculation to create new attributes
  • Applying a shading pattern to reflect recurring text values
  • Applying a shading pattern to reflect a numeric range
  • Designing page layout elements including a legend and map title
  • Printing the map or exporting to a geospatial PDF

Lab 4 – Rectifying an image file

  • Viewing and downloading reference data from an online source 
  • Georectifying using existing geospatial data 
  • Modifying a georectified image 
  • Exporting a georectified image 
  • Georectifying using known coordinates

Lab 5 – Extracting vector features from a raster layer

  • Vectorizing features of a specific color from a topographic map
  • Vectorizing a small range of colors to delineate features in from and aerial image
  • Delineating an elevation range from a digital elevation model
  • Outlining areas within a slope angle threshold

Lab 6 – Creating a watershed model

  • Creating a drainage network from a digital elevation model
  • Outlining the watershed boundaries
  • Adjusting the watershed boundaries based on area and flow variables
  • Creating a water drop analysis model
  • Delineating the catchment area for a defined location
  • Creating a flow direction model
  • Simulating water level rise

Lab 7 – Lidar classification and extraction

  • Auto-classifying ground points 
  • Automatically classifying non-ground points
  • Extracting 3D vector features from lidar

Lab 8 – Raster calculation

  • Calculating NDVI values
  • Comparing the differences between NDVI values

Lab 9 – Creating a point cloud using the Pixels to Points® tool

  • Creating a 3D Point Cloud and Orthoimage
  • Automatically Classifying Ground points
  • Creating a terrain layer
  • Generating contours

Lab 10 – Suitability analysis for a solar power project

  • Identifying low-slope areas
  • Identifying sun-facing areas
  • Combining the low-slope and sun-facing layers
  • Creating and measuring area features
  • Identifying areas near transmission lines
  • Intersecting transmission line areas with low-slope and south-facing areas

Lab 11 – Change detection using point cloud data

  • Detecting change by identifying individual points that are offset
  • Creating Digital Service Models (DSM) from point cloud data
  • Visualizing the difference between DSM layers 
  • Subtracting DSM layers to create a change model
  • Creating a custom shader to show the extent of change over time.

Lab 12 – Hydro-flattening and terrain painting

  • Creating a terrain surface
  • Hydro-flattening a lake
  • Hydro-flattening a stream
  • An introduction to terrain painting
  • Using the terrain painting tool to create a dam
  • Calculating the capacity of the reservoir

The Global Mapper Academic Curriculum materials are available to any educational institution by request and are free of charge. Participants are encouraged to provide feedback to help ensure that the lab contents are meeting the needs of teachers and students.

For more information on Blue Marble’s academic initiatives or to request a copy of the Global Mapper Academic Curriculum materials, visit the academic programs website

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