The BTAA Geospatial Information Network has created a series of tutorials to showcase the practicality of the BTAA Geoportal for teaching and learning about maps, geospatial data, and GIS techniques. These tutorials cover a wide range of activities designed to meet the needs of instructors and students in a wide range of disciplines and levels of competency in geospatial data retrieval, use, and analysis.

Types of Geospatial Information

Types of Geospatial Information, by Nicole Kong at Purdue University, introduces students to the most commonly used types of data in GIS. Using a range of visual and diagrammatic examples, it reviews the different data models that GIS professionals typically use to collect and share information, and which are discoverable through geodata portals.

Estimated time to complete: 30-40 minutes

Find Map Images for Simple Use

Find a Map Image for Simple Use, by Danny Dotson at Ohio State University, is designed to help students locate a map for a given topic and use it in a document. This tutorial reviews the steps required to locate a relevant map, using the BTAA Geoportal, how to download or copy the scanned map, how to insert the map into a given document, and provides an overview of basic fair use and copyright implications for using these maps.

Estimated time to complete: 20-30 minutes

Finding Geospatial Data (slides)

Finding Geospatial Data, by Joshua Sadvari at Ohio State University, is intended to help geoportal users frame a search strategy and perform a search for geospatial data. The tutorial is divided into two activities designed to teach students how to access relevant geospatial data using the BTAA Geoportal based on their research or assignment objectives.


Estimated time to complete: 40-50 minutes

Evaluating Geospatial Information

Evaluating Geospatial Information, by Ryan Mattke at the University of Minnesota, is designed to help students evaluate geospatial data on the BTAA Geoportal for research and coursework. This tutorial reviews how to determine if metadata exist for a resource, how to review this metadata to understand the data’s authority, quality, and relevance, and where to find citation information for resources found with the geoportal.


Estimated time to complete: 30-40 minutes


Using GIS Web Services, by Jay Bowen at the University of Iowa, is meant to give GIS users a basic understanding of GIS web services, how to find them using the BTAA Geoportal, and how to use them in QGIS, ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Pro. The tutorial also contains a link to a walkthrough demonstrating how to use GIS web services to create an interactive web map with Leaflet.

Estimated time to complete: 30-40 minutes

Linking Tablular Data to Geospatial Data

Linking Tabular Data to Geospatial Data, by Wenjie Wang at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, provides step-by-step instructions for downloading and visualizing spreadsheet data in ArcGIS Online by linking tabular data to geospatial data with a key index variable. More specifically, the tutorial gives an overview of how to locate and download a Wisconsin county boundaries shapefile and a data table of population for each county from the US Census Bureau. The tutorial then explains how to prepare the data, add these files to ArcGIS Online, and join the Census data to the county shapefile using the matching county names column in both files. Finally, the tutorial introduces how to symbolize the joined data using county population.

Estimated time to complete: 40-50 minutes


Georeference, by Wenjie Wang at the University of Illinois, guides ArcMap users through the steps of georeferencing a scanned historic map of Hyde Park, Chicago. Georeferencing allows GIS users to employ scanned maps as thematically appropriate base maps for geospatial data. It is a particularly useful skill for historical work requiring GIS analysis and mapping. This tutorial explains how to select an appropriate projection, how to add and evaluate control points, how to run the rectification process, how to evaluate the results by making the scanned overlay semi-transparent, and how to publish your output as a tiled map service on ArcGIS Online. Publishing a georeferenced map in this manner allows for easy sharing over the web as well as convenient application in user-interactive web mapping.

Estimated time to complete: 45 minutes


Digitizing, by Nicole Kong at Purdue University, introduces how to use ArcGIS Pro to convert data in raster format, such as scanned maps or aerial imagery, into vector data, like points, lines, and polygons. Through the tutorial, students will get a brief overview of common digitization techniques, including preliminary evaluation of the raster data source, creating new feature classes by using different snapping methods and construction tools in ArcGIS, how to modify created features, and how to add attributes to digitized features. The tutorial also includes an exercise worksheet to reinforce the learned techniques.


Estimated time to complete: 45 minutes

Creating Elevation Surface Models using LiDAR

Creating Elevation Surface Models Using LiDAR, by Milan Budhathoki at the University of Maryland, introduces LiDAR datasets and point cloud processing in ArcGIS Pro. In this tutorial, students will download a LiDAR point cloud from the BTAA Geoportal of the Washington Monument in Washington, DC. They will learn how to load this data in ArcGIS Pro and view it over a 2D map and obliquely in 3D. Following this, students will learn how to symbolize the points so that vegetation and buildings can be extracted from the dataset. Students will also learn how to filter all ground points to create a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) as well as to create a Digital Surface Model (DSM) from all the points.

Build a Zonal Stats Tool

Build a GIS-Free Open-Source Zonal Stats Tool with Python in Jupyter Notebook, by Jay Bowen at the University of Iowa, teaches students with a basic knowledge of Python scripting how to make a free-standing zonal statistics tool that is not dependent upon desktop GIS software. This tool can be run on both MacOS and Windows and produces an input form to handle user inputs to determine the percent coverage of a given raster class range within a given polygon. For teachers and students who do not have time to download and install Anaconda-Navigator and Jupyter Notebook, there is a convenient step-by-step breakdown of the required code blocks that can be run in a Binder through GESIS Notebooks. This is particularly useful for those who want to gain a quick understanding of what the code does, but who do not have the capacity or desire to use storage space on their current computer. This tutorial is designed to initiate Python scripters to techniques for building their own GUI-driven GIS tools, which they can share with others who need simple user-friendly ways to analyze geospatial data.

Estimated time to complete: 45 minutes

Story Maps

Story Maps, by Ryan Mattke at the University of Minnesota, introduces the process of creating a story map by using ArcGIS Online’s StoryMaps interface. This tutorial covers many of the features within this tool that are not readily apparent as well as those that are not very intuitive. Some of these include how to add credits and content attribution, changing text formatting, adding buttons and separators, embedding media, and presenting media using immersive options. The tutorial also links learners to helpful resources for creating compelling story maps.

Estimated time to complete: Variable, depending upon choice of content

GISLIS 2019 Data Management for Spatial Data

Geospatial Metadata: Documenting and Organizing your Data, by Melinda Kernik and Karen Majewicz at the University of Minnesota


Creating Geospatial Metadata with ArcGIS, by Melinda Kernik and Karen Majewicz at the University of Minnesota

WritingDescriptiveMetadata Slides 2019

Writing Descriptive Metadata, by Melinda Kernik and Karen Majewicz at the University of Minnesota


“The Sanborn map collection consists of a uniform series of large-scale maps, dating from 1867 to the present and depicting the commercial, industrial, and residential sections of some twelve thousand cities and towns in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The maps were designed to assist fire insurance agents in determining the degree of hazard associated with a particular property and therefore show the size, shape, and construction of dwellings, commercial buildings, and factories as well as fire walls, locations of windows and doors, sprinkler systems, and types of roofs. The maps also indicate widths and names of streets, property boundaries, building use, and house and block numbers.” -- Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

Plats (maps) of the public land survey of the United States are a valuable resource for original land survey information, as well as for understanding landscape history. The work was done using the Public Land Survey System (PLSS), which divides land into six-mile square townships and one-mile square sections. It established the township, range and section grid; the pattern upon which land ownership and land use is based. The aim of the survey was to divide the land into lots that could be sold, or otherwise divested, to raise funds for the federal government and to encourage settlement. In general, this work took place near the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century. Survey dates for specific plats vary depending on the state/region.

The U.S. Census products are the premier source for detailed population and housing information about our nation. It is comprised of two parts: The U.S. decennial census is a count of each resident of the country, where they lived on April 1 in every year ending in zero. The American Community Survey (ACS) is an ongoing monthly survey which started in 2005. The ACS contains much more varied and timely data than the decennial census. Together these datasets drive government policy and help researchers, local officials, community leaders, and businesses understand the changes taking place in their communities.