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GIS: Geographic Information Systems: Learn GIS

Northwestern University Library's GIS guide.

Training & Distance Learning Options

Contact us at and request training access and you will be granted "Access e-Learning" permission, which allows unlimited access to self-paced e-Learning on the Esri Training website.

The Esri provides seminars, workshops, and training courses that are both self-paced and instructor-led.  Virtual Campus Self-paced workshops (asynchronous) typically require one to three hours to complete. Many asynchronous modules are free, but longer courses do require a fee. Instructor-led courses (offered face to face and online) are 1-3 days in length and require a fee. 
NOTE:  The Esri account is separate from an ArcGIS Online account

A 40% discount is available for Instructor-led training courses (whether face to face or online). The discount applies ONLY to the course fee.  Registrants are responsible for any registration and travel costs not covered by the Esri discount.  Contact for information about registering for instructor-led training courses.

GIS consultation appointments are available to Northwestern-affiliated students who are off-site. NUIT provides desktop videoconferencing software at no cost to all who have a NetIDBlueJeans is the video conferencing application used. Look here for instructions on how to use Blue Jeans

Prepare before your scheduled consultation time:

  • request an account
  • install the software
  • have a USB headset with microphone (a webcam is optional)

To request a GIS consultation appointment complete the GIS Project Form.

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Learn GIS

A variety of courses, covering several disciplines as well as general GIS techniques, are available throughout each year. Course availability and instructors vary by quarter. 

Current Courses:

Fall 2018 » WCAS » ENVR_SCI » 390-0 » 20

Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Level 1 - Special Topics in Environmental Sciences

Past GIS Course Offerings

  • TGS PBC » 470-0Special Topics in Plant Biology and Conservation
  • TGS PUB_HLTH » 425-0 Introduction to GIS and Spatial Analysis for Public Health

  • WCAS EARTH » 390-0 "Atmospheric Science" - Special Topics in Earth and Planetary Science

  • WCAS ENVR_SCI 390 GIS II - Special Topics in Environmental Sciences
  • GEOG 343 Geographic Information Systems
  • Earth 390 Environmental Science 390 "Applied GIS" - Special Topics in Environmental Sciences
  • GEN ENG 220-2 Analy/Comp Graph II
  • PUB HLTH 425 Introduction to GIS and Spatial Analysis for Public Health 
  • GENENG 220-1 Analy/Comp Graph
  • ANTHRO 490 Mapping Space, People & Place 
  • WCAS 390 GIS for the Environmental Sciences - Special Topics in Environmental Sciences 
  • MEAS-CIV-ENG 358 Air photo Interpretation  
  • Store Relative Pathnames for Data Sources

This is worth checking immediately when you sit down to do work at a computer that is not your own. Failure to do so may result in ArcMap being unable to locate your data the next time you open your map document

One-Time Fix: File>Map Document Properties>‘Store relative pathnames to data sources’

One-Login Fix: Customize>ArcMap Options>General tab>‘Make relative paths the default for new map documents’

If you accidentally forget to do this, you will likely see errors when you take your .mxd file to another computer. Upon loading your map at a new workstation you will see a series of red exclamation points appear next to your data in the Table of Contents.

Fix: Right-click > data layer>Data>Repair Data Source

  • Stop Geoprocessing Tools from Running in the Background

When running tools from the toolbox it is often useful to see a dialogue of what is happening in the program. This will help you, in particular, if something goes wrong.

One-Time Fix: Geoprocessing>Geoprocessing Options>Disable ‘Background Processing’

  • If a tool gives you the error of ‘invalid license’…

The University has purchased licenses for most ArcGIS extensions (3D Analyst, ArcScan, Geostatistical Analyst, Maplex, Network Analyst, Spatial Analyst), however the extensions may not be turned on.

One-Time Fix: Customize>Extensions…>*check* the extension you need.

  • Displaying Full Metadata Descriptions

While using ArcCatalog to investigate a dataset, it may appear that not all metadata is present. This is likely because you are only seeing the ‘Item Description’, instead of the common XML specification for describing, validating, and exchanging geographic metadata which you are potentially accustomed.

One-Time Fix: Customize>ArcCatalog Options>Metadata tab>Metadata style: ISO 19139 Metadata Implementation Specification

  • Replacing Missing Toolbars

Upon starting ArcMap on a NU machine, it is common for only the ‘Standard’ and ‘Tools’ toolbar to appear. You may want to enable other toolbars (there are many).

One-Time Fix: Customize>Toolbars>Select toolbar you need

Examples of common toolbars you might want to enable include: Draw and Layout.

  •    Fixing the Layout of ArcMap Dockable Windows

One common problem is that a dockable window (such as Table of Contents or ArcToolbox) may not be in the desired location, for example docked to the top when you would like it docked to the left. To move a docked window to a new location, drag its title bar. When you do this, blue targets appear representing the different locations where the window can be docked. Drop the window onto the target of your choice. Pause over a target to get a preview of where the window will be located if you drop it on that target. If you want the window to float over the display instead of being docked, don't drop it onto one of the blue targets.

Another common problem is when two dockable windows become tabbed over one another. To de-tab the windows, double click on one of the tabs.

The key to moving these dockable windows to the location you desire is to use the blue arrows that appear once the window is clicked. By moving your mouse to these arrows, they will appears highlighted, showing you the location of the window once you release the mouse.

Creating maps and other visualizations are an excellent way to illustrate complex ideas and concepts. This type of analysis provides new perspectives and innovation to any project. These types of skills are especially in demand in today’s workplace and make a valuable addition to any resume.

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