University of California, Riverside

UCR GeoPad Digital Field Mapping System

Teaching Implementation



Undergraduate Students

Other Ideas

Graduate Students

Students' Perspectives


Undergraduate Students




This GeoPad system was first implemented in UCR's 2016 four-week GEO 102A-B Summer Field Geology course, which was the final course many of the eleven undergraduate students took before graduating. The course is designed to be a capstone culmination of their degree, with prerequisite courses including Petrology, Sedimentology, Structural Geology, and two field mapping courses (which themselves have prerequisites). While traditional field mapping methods played a strong role in the Summer Field Geology course, we involved use of the tablets in about half of the field projects. The field projects were variable in scope and goals, and lasted one to eight days each.




We issued a complete kit to each student about a month before leaving for summer field, explaining the basic concept and going over some of the setup in a one-hour meeting. This was then followed by a half-day field excursion to give the students the opportunity to create a simplified geologic map (we chose to keep this an ungraded exercise). One of the first exercises we did was to go to a large, dipping bedding plane, have each person in the class take a strike-and-dip of bedding using their Brunton compasses (which I recorded in my field notebook), and then had each person in the class take the same measurement using their iPad (again I recorded). This was a good confidence boosting exercise for both the instructor and class, as a shotgun-blast of compass-collected data (attributed to student measuring error not the compass directly) shrunk to a +/- 2 degree iPad-collected data cluster.




First Project


We reissued the iPad kits to the students about 1.5 weeks into the Summer Field course, after they completed a large traditional mapping project (Eastern California's classic Poleta Folds). The focus of this project was mapping the bedrock geology in a structural and stratigraphically challenging setting with very well-exposed outcrop. The first digital exercise assigned to the students was a 0.5 mi x 1.5 mi region immediately south of the area they had just mapped.


The students had a half day to interpret the geology remotely from the field classroom (drawing faults, folds and unit contacts from aerial and lidar imagery), one full day in the field to map as much as they could, and then an evening to refine their map before submission. By having their first digital project in a geological environment they were well acquainted with (climate, terrain, geology), the students could focus on learning to use the iPads effectively. This was a unique and effective exercise in several ways: (1) the students learned they could efficiently map the geology of an area remotely from high quality imagery if they were equipped with local experience and background knowledge of what they could expect to find, (2) the students were exposed to the real world scenario of not having as much time on a project as you would ideally like, and (3) the students could form a more direct comparison of the advantages and disadvantages of traditional field mapping methods compared to current digital mapping methods since they were mapping a new region but with familiar stratigraphy and structures (they found that they could take more measurements and cover more ground in less time, but found screen glare and glitches to be new challenges).


Although three or more field days could have easily been spent mapping this region, both I and the students were impressed with what they were able to map in 1.5 days. Student feedback suggested this project served as an effective bridge into the digital field mapping world.




Other Projects

  • A 2-day project focusing on mapping metamorphic rocks and their relationships to a pluton in an alpine setting (Crooked Creek, White Mountains, CA)

  • A 1-day project focusing on mapping glacial geomorphic features of multiple ages (Convict Lake, Long Valley, CA).

  • A 2-day project focusing on mapping multiply-deformed metamorphic roof pendant rocks and their relationships to intrusive rocks in a forested setting (Gull Lake, Eastern Sierras, CA).

  • A 2-day project focusing on mapping volcanic lithofacies, vent locations, and former lake shores on an emergent subaqueous-subaerial Surtseyan volcanic edifice (Black Point, Mono Lake, CA).

  • A 1-day project focusing on analyzing rock slope stability of blasted roadcuts along a gated access road (Owens River Gorge, CA). The iPads were used to efficiently take structural measurements but not really for mapping.






For simplicity we had the Summer Field students make all their finishing touches within FieldMove (or Google Earth if they preferred), then export their project as a KMZ, which was shared to a Google Drive folder by the deadline. I then created a folder in Google Earth on my PC, which allowed me to easily order the student projects from best to worst. By layering several at a time it was very easy to check for cheating.



To assess the student projects I used a rubric I created with the above workflow in mind (adapted for all editing to be done on the GeoPad and quick export to a .kmz file). Note that many things relevant to paper or digitally drafted maps are not relevant to digital projects submitted in .kmz format (North arrow, declination, scale, title, etc.). "Neatness" and "accuracy" need to be considered based on a desired map scale. The ability to readily layer multiple student maps in Google Earth provides a very fair means of directly assessing the relative quality of student maps. Potential biases driven by handwriting style or coloring quality are also eliminated.


The digital field mapping project rubric is available for download here:




This rubric is modified after one used by Miami University for their capstone field course and publicly available on SERC's website:



Instinct might tell you that a subset of students will latch on to the opportunity to download data and claim it as their own. This concern may be genuine if you are mapping in an area used by other schools. However, if you chose to map in an area effectively only used by your class, you can easily maintain a KMZ database of all past years' student projects. Because you can readily layer as many maps as you want in Google Earth (and check for repeated or copied elements), you can check for cheating more quantitatively and with less effort compared to paper maps. This took only a few minutes for me to check an entire class for potential cheating.

Other Ideas


Professional Map Draft


If you wanted to take the projects further (e.g. have more time available in a classroom setting) you could have the students examine their field data in Move and use it to create balanced cross sections, or take their data to ArcGIS or Adobe Illustrator to do a final "published map style" draft.


Tiled Project


This digital field mapping system is well suited for teaching students to map in a quadrangle-style where groups of 2-3 students map a rectangular region which abuts regions other students in the course must map. To do this you can pre-load the different "quadrangle" boundaries onto a basemap or have the students draw it on later. At the end of the project the students must submit a final detailed map of their sub-region, and a smaller scale map where they aggregate the entire class' tiled data (made available in a shared Google Drive folder) into a "seamless" (and inevitably simplified) map covering the entire student mapped area. This will teach them about how many professional geologic maps are made, how different geologists place different emphasis on the features they see and map, the challenges in compiling maps from different sources, and how large-scale field mapping is often simplified for clarity on small-scale final maps.


A variation on this exercise would be to give students a geologic map with a region extracted as a basemap, and task the students to map the extracted region in the same style of the existing geologic map. Be sure it is not a map they could easily find though!


Crowdsourced Data


The tablets enable collection of structural data at considerably greater efficiency and accuracy than students are capable of with a Brunton compass. This allows them to accumulate a vast dataset in a very short time in the field and then pool their data back in the classroom (strike-and-dips, fault kinematic data, paleocurrent data, etc). Ideally in the future the AirDrop functionality would allow direct import into different devices' FieldMove program.




In contrast to paper maps which must always have a fixed scale, the ability to instantly pinch your way between any scales (say 1:500 and 1:24,000) on a digital map means that you can readily teach students about the importance of scale in digital mapping. If you select a field area that has patchy outcrop overall but some very revealing mappable outcrops, you can emphasize the importance of mapping these outcrops in detail to better understand and map the less exposed regional geology. This works well in structural scenarios where small features mimic large (e.g. parasitic folds to a regional fold, secondary faults to a larger fault). The students had to learn this technique to some extent in our Black Point exercise where relationships between volcanic lithofacies were exposed in a few key cliff sections.


Building Basemaps with UAVs


The field mapping exercise could be taken further (and expanded in duration) by teaching students how to use UAV (a.k.a. drone) photographs and structure from motion (SfM) photogrammetry techniques to create their own basemaps (high-resolution orthophotographs, hillshades, and contours). The exact details are beyond the scope of this website but essentially this would require (1) one (or more) field sessions to collect the photos and GPS control points, (2) a lab session to process the data in SfM/GIS programs (e.g., AgiSoft PhotoScan, ArcGIS) and export products to the iPads, (3) one (or more) field sessions mapping on the basemaps in FieldMove, and (4) potentially another lab session (or several) to export and manipulate the data. This is a workflow likely to become much more prevalent in industry and research due to the relatively low cost and ease of use. This concept was demonstrated successfully over a two-day field trip in my Fall 2016 graduate-level Modern Field and Visualization Techniques course (to the delightfully unvegetated and wonderfully exposed Rainbow Basin in the Mojave Desert). Exporting orthomosaics as MBTiles in PhotoScan (with or without contours) can easily be uploaded to the GeoPads in the field to allow students to map on it immediately. If you are really organized, willing to submit to the positional accuracy of the UAV's GPS (~3-4 m), and bring a laptop in the field for processing, it is possible to be able to go through this whole workflow with the students in less than an hour! The resolution of the data was considerably better than the ~5 pts/m2 point density in the 2007 EarthScope airborne lidar data collected for the same area. This greatly impressed the students!



Above and right: Students collecting UAV aerial imagery



Above and right: Generating 3D models with contours and 2D orthophotos for field mapping





Left: Layering all class maps in Google Earth (a quick way to crowdsource structural data).              Right: Instructor field map.

Graduate Students


In Fall 2016 I introduced the GeoPad system in a newly designed graduate-level Modern Field and Visualization Techniques course. I advertised and recruited the 12+ students from our department and beyond (Environmental Sciences, Anthropology) ensuring diverse backgrounds in geology, geophysics, paleontology, environmental sciences, and anthropology. For this course students generated their own basemaps and then utilized them in the field. The course also included an introduction to landscape change detection, post-export data manipulation, and every student had a chance to 3D print a fossil or landscape that they digitally modeled. The graduate students picked up the digital field mapping technology as well as the undergraduates and seemed to produce tidier and more data-rich maps. A personal highlight for me was to see how the intuitiveness of the GeoPads and the FieldMove program enabled archaeologists to quickly pick up the basics and create their first geologic map in less than two full days! They could easily see how the same program and methodology could be utilized for archaeological mapping.



Students' Perspectives


These comments were solicited from 2016 UCR Summer Field Geology students by anonymous web survey at the end of the course (as part of a much longer 40 question survey about the course). This capstone course was the first time these tablets (and digital field mapping) was introduced to the students. The students used the tablets for six 1-2 day mapping activities (in addition to projects utilizing only traditional mapping techniques). Comments are unedited and appear in their entirety. Generally student responses to using this system were quite positive.


Overall do you feel like using the iPads in the field enhanced your geological understanding and/or mapping efficiency of an area? Did they contribute to the capstone experience?

  • It definitely increased efficiency. No time was lost finding your location on the map. The ability to simultaneously look at an aerial photo made placing unit boundaries easier.

  • YES! I enjoyed having access to photos and notes in the same place.

  • I have mixed feelings over the iPads. Measurements, mapping, and easy access to multiple maps greatly increases the efficiency of an area. However, glitches in the iPads and my preferred time to hand map my units in a geological paper map also leads me to think "old mapping" is still preferred. I do think using a bit of technology did contribute to the capstone experience.

  • Yes, I enjoyed the iPads tremendously. They were far more convenient to carry around and take measurements with than the traditional map boards and I do think they enhanced the understanding and mapping efficiency of the various areas.

  • There was a moment when everything clicked with the iPads. Before that, I felt like hand mapping was better. After I got the hang of it, I think the ipads proved their worth. They were awesome.

  • Yes, mapping efficiency is increased with regards to taking measurements. Also it allows more time to analyze geological stuff, rather than dealing with bulky map boards, colored pencils and compasses. It is convenient to carry.

  • I do not feel that the iPads enhanced my geological understanding, but they definitely improved my efficiency. The iPads contributed a major role to the capstone experience.

  • I thought they were helpful in that we know where we are. However I paid less attention to where I was because I relied on the GPS. Editing is much easier on the ipad.

  • Yes, mapping was much faster with them.

  • Certainly helped with efficiency but not necessarily with understanding. aerial photographs were the same as the ipad. They did allow for faster mapping which made the work much more possible in the short time so yes they were highly necessary.

  • Yes and yes.


Do you feel like digital field mapping and data collection were worthwhile skills to learn?

  • Yes

  • Yes, although doing a little more traditional topo mapping would have been nice.

  • Yes, data collection is more efficient in digital field mapping, and for years to come I am confident these will be worthwhile skills to learn.

  • Yes, I think the future of geology will be based on digital data collection (for good or bad) and they are very useful skills to learn.

  • Yes, they are very worthwhile. I imagine that in the future, it will become more of the go-to.

  • Yes, it improves mapping efficiency

  • Yes. Anything that includes newer methods of mapping helps. ie iPad, drones, lidar, etc..

  • Definitely.

  • Yes

  • Most certainly.

  • Yes.


Given the choice to map an area with a paper map and compass or an iPad, which would you choose?

  • iPad

  • Ipad!

  • If I had to choose one, the iPad. I honestly believe both are still the best tools to learn as experience as much as possible.

  • I would choose an iPad. It as GPS for locating exact positions, is much more convenient to carry, and the paper maps tear and are difficult to correct when mistakes are made (which happens very often).

  • I would choose the iPad.

  • iPad

  • iPad

  • Ipad because it is faster. I don't waste time trying to figure out where I am. But figuring out where you are on the map is a great skill to have.

  • iPad

  • I would choose the Ipad given it's light weight versatile and quick utility and very accurate location notes/photos.

  • iPad without a doubt. Despite all its flaws the iPad is an order of magnitude better than a paper map.


Should we have used the iPads less often for projects?

  • There were some projects we brought them and they weren't needed on. Gull Lake and the Glacier project we only used the iPads for GPS and note-taking.

  • No, but maybe a mix of the two?

  • I consider it would be better to use less iPad work in the future.

  • No.

  • I preferred the ipads.

  • No, it was the right amount. iPads should only be used for mapping projects

  • No.

  • I think we should use the ipad and paper map equally.

  • No

  • No, I don't think it would have been possible to work as fast.

  • No. We should have taught people how to use them more before field camp.


What was your favorite feature?

  • Being able to have my photos geotagged was really useful.

  • Pictures, feasibility of adding units, and fast measurement taking.

  • I like the FieldMove app and its GPS feature, enabling me to locate my position in the field and way around it.

  • I liked the overlays you could import. The GPS was very handy. Probably the GPS is the best part--knowing where you are at all times is great.

  • Dip and strike measurements, adding geological units, camera

  • The GPS. I could spend hours trying to figure out where I am on a paper map, but with the iPad I can focus on mapping.

  • The GPS

  • Able to take strikes and dips quickly

  • The gps location of any and all notes and pictures. I could take a photo of the outcrop with annotation and notes, break off a sample, then take a photo of the sample to know which bed it related to, and take the sample back without marking it with names or whatever more difficult methods i've seen.

  • Georeferenced pictures. Amazing. S+D too.


Is there an app you wished the iPad had?

  • No

  • An app that gave more info on a subject- kind of like a wikipedia app or something. And rock identification for igneous, and metamorphics.

  • Not that I know of.

  • Not that I can think of.

  • I don't think there was anything I felt was missing.

  • A better note-taking app

  • Any app that could help in identifying a rocks.

  • No

  • No, everything needed was already downloaded.

  • Not really.

  • Better map editing software. Something to do cross sections.


What hardware challenges did you encounter? (stylus tip breaking, screen scratching, overheating, etc, etc.) How frequently? Could these have been prevented or minimized with a "you break it you buy it" motto?

  • Overheating was a big problem for the geotechnical project. I don't think that could be prevented. I may have been more careful to not have the iPad anywhere near me while hammering off a sample with a "break it you buy it" policy.

  • I only encountered a glitch that was fixed with an update. Afterwards, no problems were experienced. People would have definitely been nicer to the iPads if they knew they'd buy it if the break it. But then again, some poeple are just do not know how to take care of anything...

  • Stylus tip breaking, and overheating. After I broke the first Stylus tip in a matter of days, I decided not to use it anymore do it high sensitivity and would not help minimize the "you break it you buy it" motto.

  • I did not encounter any of these problems for the duration of the field camp.

  • Slight scratches on the screen and both stylus tips broke. The ipad kept crashing early on but stopped after week 2 suddenly. The stylus tips are very fragile. I think I took good care of the ipads, but a little more "persuasion" to make sure they come back good doesn't hurt.

  • Stylus tip was easily lost, the Lifeproof screen scratched each time dip and strike measurements were taken. Overheating was rare during the entire field camp.

  • Both of my stylus tips broke. I do not think that a "you break it you buy it" motto could have prevented this because they were so sensitive. I experienced only minimal overheating and scratching, but these are things that are unavoidable. I don't think that a "you break it you buy it" motto could have prevented this.

  • Everything you said above and the GPS turning off randomly. The app crashed on me numerous time. Use the stylus only in the lab not in the field. Definitely you break it you buy it would have made me take care of it more.

  • Stylus tip breaking-once screen scratching- a few times resulting in some scratches overheating-various times, but mostly during the geotechnical project Yes, could be prevented by saying that.

  • Overheating was never a problem if ipad was not held in the sun and kept in hands properly. It literally never overheated for me so it's overheating is entirely user error. GPS problems if held near electronics or metal. that's really it.

  • Stylus tip broke, screen easily scratched, overheated a ton on hot days, short battery life, etc. All these happened a lot. You break you buy it might work but just taking a S+D with the iPads will scratch the case. You can scratch the screen with the stylus even.


What software challenges did you encounter? (features that did not work well, counter-intuitive user interface, glitches, etc, etc.) These I can report to Midland Valley for improvement.

  • Just the GPS turning off, especially without saying it was off. Sometimes while using fieldmove, it would continuously prompt me to calibrate.

  • Sometimes when I made a new unit I would try to click on it to take a measurement but it recognized it as another unit.

  • The GPS turning off instantly and without warning glitch, that is the most annoying part in the software.

  • The only challenge I encountered was the stylus not registering on the iPad screen because the screen protector was too thick.

  • I would crash to the app selection screen every 5 minutes. That's my only issue. Everything else was manageable.

  • Sometimes the GPS got off-track for a few minutes, dip and strike measurements would sometimes get stuck (the measurement would be frozen in black) and the app would need to be restarted. the GPS tracker should show a line connecting the last known position and the current location, as well as a directional indicator for the blue dot

  • GPS initially takes me to the wrong location. GPS turns off while mapping.

  • The app crashed several times. GPS turns off a lot..

  • FieldMove closing down, some of the maps not downloading correctly especially hillshade, and GPS turning off after battery is below a certain percentage.

  • Does gps count for software or hardware?

  • S+D froze, GPS glitches, crashed a lot, random internet linking, constant recalibration.



More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Contact Information

UCR GeoPad Digital Field Mapping System
Department of Earth Sciences

Tel: (951) 827-3183

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