Penn State Offers Online LiDAR Mapping Course

Many readers may have heard about the online learning opportunities provided by the Penn State World Campus. The online geospatial programs have served over 5000 students since 1998. In 2009, an international organization, The Sloan Consortium recognized the master of GIS program as the Most Outstanding Online Teaching and Learning Program. Program offerings include an online Master of GIS, a Master of GIS with Geospatial Intelligence Option, a Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security with Geospatial Intelligence Option, a Graduate Certificate in GEOINT Analytics, a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in GEOINT Applications, and a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in GIS. Over 2500 hundred individuals have acquired one or more of the credentials through online study.

What you may not realize is that many of the Penn State online courses can be taken for continuing education purposes, by individuals who are not actively pursuing a certificate or degree. Among these courses, GEOG 497D: Topographic Mapping with Lidar, is one of the most popular, having served individuals from the US Geological Survey, NGA, NOAA and many commercial lidar data providers. The co-authors and instructors, Karen Schuckman and Mike Renslow, recognized leaders in the field of photogrammetry and remote sensing, have vast experience acquiring and processing lidar data, as well as educating customers, end-users, and students at all level in the management and use of lidar data in a broad range of applications.

You or your staff can take this course via the internet, during evenings and weekends over a 10-week period. This course provides an excellent opportunity to provide new staff training in fundamental LIDAR concepts as well as being introduced to latest developments in technology. Students will learn theory as well as having hands-on experience using lidar data and software in real-world scenarios. The courseware includes commercial software such as ArcGIS, Qcoherent LP360, Quick Terrain Modeler, USFS FUSION, and ENVI. Individuals who complete this course will be able to:

Describe the operational characteristics of airborne and terrestrial LIDAR sensors and platforms

Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of various lidar platforms and instruments for a broad range of application scenarios.

Describe the basic methods of calibrating lidar data.

Identify common artifacts that occur in LIDAR data and describe methods used to detect and correct them.

Explain procedures for converting raw LIDAR data into georeferenced point clouds

Describe quantitative and qualitative methods and industry standards for quality assurance and accuracy assessment of lidar-derived data products.

Apply automated filters and manually edit LIDAR data to produce classified point clouds.

Explain procedures used to create secondary products, such as DEMs, DSMs, TINs, and contours.

Describe quality assurance and quality control practices used to evaluate LIDAR data pursuant to federal standards and industry guidelines.

Apply acquired knowledge and critical thinking skills to solve a real-world problem with appropriate lidar data processing and analysis methods.

Students who complete the course have produced a final project of their own design, demonstrating the use of lidar data in an application related to their work or academic interests. One such project, Exploring the Geographic Extent of Flooding in the Fox River Valley at Cary and Fox River Grove, IL and Its Impact on Housing Using LiDAR and Related Technology by Mr. Andrew Dolch, was recently featured in LP360 News. Many of our other graduates can be found at conferences such as ASPRS, ESRI, URISA, ILMF, American Society of Floodplain Managers, and GIS in the Rockies, sharing the results of their project work in a professional setting.

If you are a professional in a field such land surveying, environmental resource management, coastal zone management, urban and regional planning, local government, energy and utility management, facilities management, or transportation planning the online curriculum at Penn State can help you become a leader in your industry. To find out more, contact or visit the course home page at

About the Author

Karen Schuckman

Karen Schuckman is Senior Lecturer in Geography at Penn State University, teaching remote sensing and geospatial technology in the online programs offered by the John A. Dutton e-Education Institute. Before moving to the academic sector, Karen was the Geospatial Technology Leader at URS Corporation from 2005-2007 and held various management positions within the EarthData group of companies from 1995 - 2005, including President of EarthData International of North Carolina. She also served in the public sector, working for the USGS National Mapping Division in Menlo Park, California from 2002-2005. Karen is a Past-President of American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, and was recently elected as an ASPRS Fellow. She has served on numerous national committees, including the NOAA Advisory Committee on Commercial Remote Sensing (ACCRES), the National Research Council's Committee on Floodplain Mapping Technologies and the Committee on FEMA Flood Maps, and the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors (NCEES). She is an ASPRS Certified Photogrammetrist (CP), a Professional Land Surveyor (PLS) licensed in North Carolina, and she also holds a BS degree in Meteorology and a Masters in Geographic Information Systems from Penn State University. Karen was a member of the 1971 and 1972 US National Womens Gymnastics Teams and competed for Penn State from 1974 - 1979, winning individual national championships in All-Around, Floor Exercise and Vaulting, and was the first female in Penn State history to receive a varsity athletic scholarship.
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