Les Doak




GIS in California Community Colleges




California Community Colleges, California State University campuses, the University of California, government agencies and private industry are cooperating in the development of fully transferable GIS courses, Community College GIS instructor training, and adult education GIS program and training development. Four lower division GIS courses will be offered at the freshman and sophomore level, using Esri products. The two sophomore level courses will be the first fully transferable courses in the program. Cypress College and Saddleback College, in cooperation with California State University, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, and Long Beach, and UCLA, with full participation by representatives of government agencies and private industry, have written these courses. These courses are synchronized with the newly emerging National Science Foundation GIS curriculum, managed by the National Center for Geographic Analysis, and developed for the Community College Technical Program. Cooperative community college, university, government agency, and private industry planning and organization modes will be reviewed. Basic course content, operating philosophy and student projects will be discussed.



With the advent of sophisticated, user-friendly ArcView GIS, it has become possible to work the GIS curriculum downward into the freshman and sophomore level. This enables serious training and development of technical skills, which will then permit universities the opportunity to enhance their junior, senior, and graduate training and education in applications of GIS. Bringing GIS to the freshman and sophomore allows greater opportunity for mainstreaming GIS universally into the curriculum.


Who's Working Together? Cypress College has brought together a consortium of Community Colleges, Universities, Government and Industry throughout the state of California

Community Colleges:

Cypress College, Saddleback College, Allan Hancock College, Antelope Valley College, City College of San Francisco, Cuyamaca College, De Anza College, El Camino Community College District, Fresno City College, Grossmont College, Pierce College, Riverside Community College, Sacramento City College, San Bernardino Valley College, San Diego City College, Santa Barbara City College, Santa Monica College, Sierra College, Solano Community College, Southwestern College, and West Valley College


CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Fullerton, CSU Long Beach, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Redlands

Research Institutions:

National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis, Business Environmental Assistance Center


City of Los Alamitos, Southern California Association of Governments, and the City of Fullerton

 Private Industry:

 Esri, Fluor-Daniel, Airshow, Kim and Grady, and CH2M Hill


American Association of Geographers (including the AAG Community College Group and the AAG Task Force on GIS in Community Colleges), Orange County ArcView Users Group, and the Orange County Business Council


What have we done?

We have created an Advisory Committee, a consortium, a series of basic courses (and arranged transfer to the CSU system), developed workshops, created a web site, and instructor training in GIS for Community College instructors.

Our basic courses and contents (Cypress College Course Numbers):

Geography 230 Introduction to GIS 3 Units

Geography 231 Advanced GIS - Vector 3 Units

Geography 232 Advanced GIS - Vector & Raster 3 Units

Geography 233 GIS Applications - Field Work 3 Units

Sample course content for Geography 230:


Introduction to Geographic Information Systems provides instruction and training in the use of this powerful new academic analysis tool. Individual student projects, related to their own current field of study, are developed; resulting in a series of maps portraying their findings.



Upon entering this course, the student needs to be able to:

Operate computer systems, especially Windows operating systems (Win95 or Win 3.11 acceptable).



Upon completion of this course, the student will be able to:


      1. Relate the knowledge of GIS to Geography and/or their own selected field of study.
      2. Extend their background knowledge of spatially related data, mathematical formulas, and scientific applications to their field of study.
      3. Recognize and develop new data and conduct further research to determine the accuracy of their information.
      4. Develop the skill to accurately represent spatially related data in a final presentation, including a series of maps.



Introduction to GIS - discussion and review of GIS designs and methods. How data is related spatially

The Core Modules - review of basic GIS systems and operating assumptions and methodology 

ArcView vector-based software - instruction and learning of basics through more advanced applications

Project Design and Development - essentials of developing a GIS project: sources of data etal, project design and planning

Research and Base Maps - methodology in research; determining the scope of research and the stated hypothesis 

Remote Sensing and GIS - how remote sensing is applied to GIS applications

Review of Group Final Projects - progress reports and modifications




      1. Lecture
      2. Group discussion
      3. written assignments
      4. student verbal presentations
      5. final projects - written and graphic
      6. computer generated projects


      1. Class participation
      2. Verbal presentations
      3. Written work
      4. Final graphic projects - map series
      5. Final exam
      6. Computer project evaluation


(books such as)

 Introduction to ArcView by Esri Distributed by John Wiley and Sons



Written assignments will include presentation of scope of semester project, methodology, source documents and source maps. Students must also present a final written discussion of their semester project, along with a series of maps demonstrating their proficiency. The maps may be print or digital.



Students must develop the scope of their individual projects. They must problem-solve, discover sources, and make decisions related to the full dimensions of their semester projects. They must also demonstrate their learned critical thinking and analytical skills in their final projects, including a written discussion and a series of student produced maps.

Our operating philosophy


We write and teach our courses to fully utilize the Active Learning Mode. The learning environment can also be related to the SCANS (Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, U. S. Department of Labor – Secretary Lynn Martin) research and resultant methodology. This process, a twelve-month interview of various employers throughout the United States, identified five competencies and a three-part foundation of skills and personal qualities that are needed for solid job performance.


The Competencies:



The Foundation:




Each of these is interwoven into the learning process in each course. This method can lead to a level of discomfort for both student and instructor, alike. It is quite new, and each must adapt to a much higher level of student expectation and involvement in the learning process. A new classroom and teaching model emerges:




Teacher knows answer.

More than one solution may be viable and teacher may not have it in advance.


Students routinely work alone.

Students routinely work with teacher, peers, and community members.


Teacher makes all assessments. Information is organized, evaluated interpreted and communicated to students by teacher.

Students routinely assess themselves. Information is acquired, evaluated, organized, interpreted and communicated by students to appropriate audiences.


Organizing system of the classroom is simple; one teacher teaches 30 students.

Organizing systems are complex. Both teacher and students reach out beyond school for additional information.

Reading, writing and math are treated as separate disciplines; thinking is usually theoretical and "academic". Listening and speaking often are missing from curriculum.

Disciplines needed for problem-solving are integrated; listening and speaking are fundamental parts of learning. Thinking involves problem solving, reasoning and decision making.


Students are expected to conform to teacher’s behavioral expectations: integrity and honesty are monitored by teacher; students’ self-esteem is often poor.

Students are expected to be responsible, sociable, self-managing and resourceful; integrity and honesty are monitored within the social context of the classroom; students’ self-esteem is high because they are in charge of their own learning.



Selected student project titles include:




What are our plans?


Cypress College and our consortium are planning to develop a certificate program synchronized with the newly emerging National Science Foundation GIS curriculum, managed by the National Center for Geographic Analysis, and developed for the Community College Technical Program. In addition, we are developing an AA Degree program in GIS. We also plan to apply for several additional national and state grants for the development of a regional and/or national center for Community College GIS Training, Course Development, and mainstreaming GIS into all areas of curriculum and certificate programs.

Les Doak

Instructor - Geography

Cypress College

(714) 826-2220 x185