Don Boyes

Don Boyes COURSE: GGR272 Geographic Information and Mapping I
Arts and Science
Don Boyes

The Course Design Institute gave me the knowledge and tools I needed to take a fresh and better informed approach to my teaching. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with colleagues and learn from one another. I’m already putting into practice many of the concepts I learned!


This second-year undergraduate course is an introduction to digital mapping and spatial analysis using a geographic information system (GIS). The overall focus is on learning how maps can be used to analyze geographic features, solve problems such as finding the best location for a new fire station, and then communicating the results in a graphic way such as with a map. Students learn how to create their own maps and how to use a GIS to analyze geographic problems using methods that can be applied to a wide variety of subject areas within geography and in other disciplines.

There are a number of intended outcomes at various levels, but overall they are: for students to be able to organize and analyze quantitative, geographic data in a spatial database, to recognize certain geographic problems and apply methods to find a solution, and to create a well-designed map that efficiently communicates geographic information. Students should be able to employ critical thinking to analyze and critique existing maps, creative thinking to develop problem-solving methods given a particular context and problem, and practical thinking to design a map that can answer a specific research question.


Traditionally in this course, students have struggled with having to learn geographic concepts, how those concepts are implemented in complex software, and how to use the software to accomplish specific tasks in practical assignments. Students have told me that my lectures make it look easy but, when they try to do it themselves, they get stuck and become frustrated. They spend a lot of time in the lab sessions muddling along and trying to get the attention of the teaching assistant, who is often overwhelmed with questions, both technical and conceptual.

In the past, students were assessed with four practical lab assignments, a midterm test, and a final exam. Many students have complained that they are not properly prepared for the midterm test, and that they would like to see more emphasis on the assignments, since it is a practical, methods-oriented course. There were also complaints that the assignments were time-consuming and that their weight did not reflect the required time and effort.


In response to the above challenges, I am currently developing extensive scaffolding that will help students learn both the conceptual and practical elements of the course in a more effective and efficient manner and better prepare them for the summative assessments. For each topic, students will have access to podcasts of the lecture material, video demonstrations of the software, practice tutorials showing how to complete specific tasks with the software, and short self-assessment quizzes to help them recognize how well they are absorbing the material. Four new assignments will build on each other in order to reinforce what they learned previously. I am doing away with the midterm test in favour of more emphasis on the practical assignments. The self-assessment quizzes throughout the term (which will not be graded) will help students develop their metacognitive skills and prepare them for the final exam. These quizzes will be done online for my online course section, and in class for my “regular” section. The in-class quiz questions may be done using clickers (I have not used these before) or possibly with students’ own devices in conjunction with Top Hat Monocle (I am currently investigating this option).

I plan to promote frequent and meaningful communication between students and with the instructor using weekly online discussion questions. My goal is to create an online learning community that helps connect and motivate them. I will also be holding virtual online office hours using web conferencing software that will be recorded and made available to students who were not able to attend.


I have been teaching for many years, but found that I was approaching my course and curriculum planning every year using the same old methods. The Course Design Institute provided me with a fresh, systematic approach that allowed me to think about my courses in new and creative ways. To prepare for the CDI, I read Fink’s book (Creating Significant Learning Experiences) cover to cover, and found that it was a great guide to course planning and a great primer for the CDI.

One valuable and specific take away was to start with learning outcomes. In the past, I would spend an enormous amount of time wrestling with content and how to sequence it, and with assessment instruments. Once I began to think in terms of learning outcomes, the course design process became much more clear, systematic, and efficient.

Another great benefit of the CDI was the opportunity to meet so many of my colleagues, to realize that they were facing similar challenges, and to hear some of the strategies that were being used by them.


I have referred to the online CTSI resources on a regular basis, particularly the Instructor Toolkit for online courses. I have learned a lot about online pedagogy, such as methods of student engagement, and what other instructors at U of T are doing.

I have received wonderful guidance from Laurie Harrison and Saira Mall through extensive consultation. They have been fantastic resources for both pedagogical and technical issues.

I have attended many CTSI workshops over the years, including several on Blackboard. These have been great for quickly familiarizing me with the various tools available, including the grade center, discussion forums, and tests and surveys.


I am still in the process of redesigning this course, both for the regular and online sections. I have recently completed the planning phase, including making sure there is alignment between the learning objectives, activities, and assessment methods. I am now revising my existing course content and creating new podcasts, software demonstration videos, tutorial exercises, practical assignments, and self-assessment quizzes