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Ethics Expectations

Individuals and organizations that specialize in geospatial technologies and methods are responsible for the ethical and legal implications of their work. They recognize their professional obligations, and master the problem-solving skills needed to help stakeholders resolve ethical challenges with integrity.

Ethics Education

Penn State requires all graduate students to complete formal training in the responsible conduct of research. Our program provides options and resources that meet and exceed the University’s minimum requirements. Additionally, our program promotes ethics across the curriculum and shares ethics resources with students and educators worldwide through open courseware. 


Ethics Taught

Master's students in the Online Geospatial Education program can fulfill Penn State's ethics training requirement by choosing one of the following options:

Responsible Scholarship and Professional Practice is a free, non-credit, 12-hour instructor-led workshop that provides training in the responsible conduct of research and the practice of moral reasoning. 

GEOG 581: Spatial Data Science Ethics is a 3-credit graduate seminar for those who want to study applied ethics in the geospatial field in greater depth.

Graduate students pursuing the MS-SDS or MGIS degrees choose their preferred option in consultation with an academic advisor. GEOG 581 may also count toward our GIS Certificate program and is available to all Penn State students as an elective.

Ethics Practiced

Penn State Online Geospatial Education has a longstanding commitment to teaching ethics using real-world scenarios. Our ethics educational resources are available to the public, and we strive to incorporate ethics across our curriculum.

Case Studies: Applied ethics in our courses are typically taught by the case method, in which students analyze realistic ethical scenarios to strengthen moral reasoning skills. This NSF-funded collection of workplace scenarios challenges current and future geospatial professionals.

Open Courseware: Ethics cases, seminar lectures, associated reading lists and assignments are freely available and licensed for reuse.

Ethics Across the Curriculum: Instructors of 14 courses in the Online Geospatial Program course catalog include ethical issues in their course curricula.

Ethics Studied

As geospatial technologies and methods proliferate in government and business, so do concerns about their ethical implications. We are committed to contributing to the scholarship of geospatial ethics. Here's a sampling of recent publications by academic geographers:

DiBiase, D., and A. Robinson. 2022. "Can There Be a Spatial Data Science Ethics?" Paper presented at AutoCarto Conference, Redlands, CA, Nov. 2-4.

T.A. Nelson, M. F. Goodchild, and D. J. Wright. 2022. "Accelerating Ethics, Empathy, and Equity in Geographic Information Science." The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Goodchild, M.F., Appelbaum R., Crampton, J., Herbert, W.A., Janowicz, K., Kwan, M. Michael, K., ... Langham, G. 2022. "A White Paper on Locational Information and the Public Interest". American Association of Geographers.

D. DiBiase. 2017. "Professional and Practical Ethics of GIS&T." The Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge (2nd Quarter 2017 Edition), John P. Wilson (ed.). doi: 10.22224/gistbok/2017.2.2.

What Our Students Say

Interesting and engaging

The case studies gave me strategies to use when approaching a new project to ensure I consider the ethical implications. I learned more than I anticipated and feel I am better prepared for future school and work projects.

— Dustin Coburn

A pleasant introduction  

...the ethical decision-making process that we learned (and most importantly, practiced!) ...will be useful in my economics consulting work. The course material will likely be relevant to a wide variety of data-science- and GIS-related professions.

— Sam Friedman 

Want to Learn More?

Join us in the graduate seminar GEOG 581: Spatial Data Science Ethics, or in the Responsible Scholarship and Professional Practiceworkshop.