Global Mapper from a College Student’s Perspective

heat map of Maine
A heat map of Maine shows the clustering of communication towers in the state.

Each user of Global Mapper has their own story about how they began using the application. Some hear about the program through word-of-mouth, others may get a job where Global Mapper is used, and some may have seen Blue Marble Geographics at local trade shows. For me, and many other young GIS professionals, exposure to Global Mapper came at a critical time in our careers — while we were learning the core GIS concepts in college.

Image Rectification
A historical map is rectified to the recent open street map of Central Park.
The Image Swipe tool in Global Mapper reveals the accuracy of the rectification process.

Workflows Build Student’s Confidence in GIS Concepts

My exposure came through the academic labs that Blue Marble Geographics provided to my university. They are free to Universities in the United States and Canada. These labs cover workflows that range from an introduction to the principles of GIS to working with different types of data including LiDAR. While many GIS terms can sound intimidating to a new user, the academic labs are a great way to introduce both Global Mapper and basic GIS concepts in the classroom. As a student, these labs allowed me to get comfortable with the tools and processes in the application by following step-by-step guidelines supplemented with images. There wasn’t a workflow in the six sections that I couldn’t complete, which was certainly a confidence booster to a student taking an “Intro to GIS” course.

I still remember many of the workflows that were covered in the labs. The Georeferencing tool and Heat Map analysis are particular standouts for me. They were not only easy to understand but educational. I was able to learn and apply the concepts of raster processing and rectification in real time. Due to the user-friendly interface of Global Mapper, I could focus on learning GIS concepts instead of spending my time struggling to navigate within the application.

Another important aspect of these academic labs that may be overlooked is the opportunity to take what was covered in each section and apply them to other situations. At the end of each academic lab there is a Final Exercise which takes the important concepts, and then gives students basic instructions and data to complete a similar task using different data. For example, in section 1 the final exercise has students take a shapefile of hospital points, along with Maine town polygons and asks to show the distribution of hospitals within each town in Maine. After completing the exercise, I felt confident taking that data and using the GIS concepts I learned throughout the first exercise and produce a final product representing that distribution.

LiDAR data before (on left) and after (on right) point reclassification using Global Mapper.

Blue Marble’s Academic Labs Are Constantly Evolving

Now, as an employee of Blue Marble Geographics I have been working on updating these academic labs for version 19, and incorporating the new features and enhancements that are present in this version. The most significant updates involve all of the querying workflows to reflect the new multivariate attribute querying tool. As a student, I found this process difficult, as you couldn’t build compound queries without running two separate searches. This process is now streamlined so you can search for two separate values or attributes at the same time (Lab 1 Section 5). We have added two new labs to enhance our curriculum. These include using the raster calculator for NDVI calculations, and basic LiDAR processing such as classification and feature extraction. With the expanding functionality of Global Mapper and increase in LiDAR use in the GIS industry, we felt that these two workflows should be available in academic labs.

Our academic labs are constantly evolving with every version of Global Mapper. Many of the updates made to our software were initiated by student feedback. The students from the University of Maine, including myself, have been compiling comments about what they like in the application and what they would like to see changed. These comments have changed throughout the years, as many students using Global Mapper before Version 18 mainly noted that the look and feel was too ‘retro’, and that an updated user interface would be beneficial to Global Mapper. I remember saying the same thing, but when Version 18 was released with a modern and inviting interface, I knew that students would appreciate the change. Now, when updating the academic labs to match Version 19, I consider many of the students’ comments and provide more explanation as to why certain steps are needed. Students also had great suggestions about future tools that should be added to Global Mapper, or changes that would benefit the application which I brought to our Developers to consider. We strive to have a large portion of our Development user-driven, which also includes students.

Our academic labs are a great way for students to learn GIS concepts while exploring an easy-to-use GIS application. These labs helped me begin my career in the GIS industry and can do the same for you or your students. If you have any questions regarding the academic lab license program or the academic labs, please email

Note: Hear Janet talk about and demonstrate the Academic Labs in a recent webcast here.

Janet Leese
Janet Leese

Janet Leese is an Applications Specialist at Blue Marble Geographics. She provides technical support and works on updating academic labs and other self training materials. Prior to joining Blue Marble in 2016, Leese earned her B.S in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Maine.

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