Welcome to the class! These lesson notes will take the place of traditional lectures. This is sometimes bad, as we lack face-to-face communication you would get with me and your classmates. It also takes quite a bit of personal self-constraint and perseverance to force yourself to bother to read the lessons and material.

There are positives though. The online notes allow you to go at your own pace. Also, you will likely find it beneficial to read the notes and then do the course readings - as opposed to the traditional way in that you need to read the papers before you come to class.

The format of the class

Before you continue reading on, you should consult the syllabus for the content of the course, its grading scheme, when things are due, and the email to contact me at. (Please use my gmail account, not my account.) I will not repeat that information here, and if you have questions about the syllabus send me an email.

In brief, the expectations for the course are simply to introduce you to the essentials in making maps and their utility for our field (in particular those used by crime analysts for policing). By the end of the course you should be able to make maps and conduct spatial analysis that are most frequently used in criminology research or practical applications – such as those a crime analyst would use.

This online course is set up into weekly lessons. These will involve several readings, my notes related to the week, and a software tutorial. While they mimic a traditional class in weekly sessions, the content of the course is available to you all at once – you can consume the material and do the homeworks at a much faster pace if you care to. I also include a mid-term and final exam, as well as a final project. I set timers for the homework simply to make sure you do not procrastinate.

Many online courses have forums to discuss weekly topics. I do not have that in this course. There is not much to discuss in terms of learning the software. I do however provide a forum for students to ask questions about doing the software tutorials.


This course mostly uses ArcGIS for making maps. ArcGIS is not free, but is available in basically all of the SUNY library computer labs. If you do not have access to the library (I realize this is an online course, so you may not be physically present in Albany), you will need to access the software through other means. The two easiest ways are either to purchase a personal home use license for $100 (and this lasts for a year). A cheaper solution is to purchase an ArcGIS textbook, and these come with a trial version of the software that lasts for 6 months. The textbook I recommend for the course is Gorr and Kurland’s GIS Tutorial 1, which on Amazon is as I write this is only $45. (While there are minor differences between versions, any version 10+ will be fine to follow along for the course. Versions in the 9+ range have the same functionality, but changed the look substantially, so it will be harder to follow along with the tutorials with versions that much older.)

These both require you to sign up for an account through Esri, and install the software on whatever computer you are using. (If using in a computer lab you do not need to do this.) ArcGIS currently only works on Windows Operating System. So if you do not have access to a windows machine (or are not comfortable setting up a virtual windows environment on a Mac or Unix machine), or cannot install ArcGIS for whatever reason, you will not be able to follow along with the tutorials. Most of the assignments only involve turning in a final map as a PDF document - which can be created using other software (such as QGIS or making maps in the R statistical program). But I will not be able to help you recreate homework assignments in any software besides ArcGIS.

There are tutorials on using other software in the course (CrimeStat, GeoDa, and R), but these are all free, so are not an issue in terms of access.

If you are not using a version of ArcGIS already installed, you should spend this first week making sure you can install the software. We are using it right away in next weeks tutorial, so if you wait and have problems installing you will have trouble finishing the first tutorial on time.

Asking software questions

Part of the challenge in teaching software is that we can get stuck at particular points. This is normal - I’ve used GIS and statistical software on a regular basis for over 10 years now, and I make mistakes I need to trouble shoot almost every day.

In response to this, I have set up an online forum where students can ask and answer questions. Many students get stuck at the same point - either because it is tricky or I did not do a very good job explaining something. If you are stuck at a particular point, you should consult the online forum to see if another student has had the same problem. All software questions need to be posted to the online forum, I will not answer them via email.

I’ve set up the forum so that students cannot only ask questions, but also answer them. In class often-times students help each other out through steps in the software. This can work the same way through the online forum. If there was a step that was particularly tricky and you figured it out you can post and answer your own question!

I’ve also made a thread at the beginning about how to solve some frequent problems, as well as what to include in your question to make it much easier for outsiders to help you troubleshoot. I’ve attached points to your final grade for participation, and if you participate beyond the minimal amount you can accumulate extra credit points for the course.

Before I forget, don’t be afraid to ask or answer questions. There is sometimes a negative stigma associated with asking questions - there shouldn’t be. In this format there is quite a bit of value added to everyone in the course if you ask and answer questions. I’ve focused this section on software questions (as they are the most common), but if you have a question about the readings or my notes feel free to post that as well.

Don’t be afraid to email!

The format of the course will make it seem largely like a self-study course – and this true. I cannot replicate in person instruction through this medium.

You are not alone though. I encourage you to send me an email if you are having problems with the course not due specifically to the software tutorials. I assure you I am a real human on the other end of the line, and will do all that I can to help you through the course. Here is what I look like sans hair cut for a few months (and yes I have a blanket of the world map hanging up in my home)!

If you have complaints I encourage you to send me an email – it is the most direct way to have influence over the material in the course. Also if you spot any errors in my lecture notes or tutorials feel free to email and let me know. To further incentivize this I will provide additional extra credit points for those who spot errors and let me know.

Again, if you are having troubles with the software tutorials I highly recommend posting a question to the question forum. You are probably not the only person having the same issues.

To end, good luck with the course!