situated laboratories

a Web information design laboratory


map of ancient lands known to Ptolemy

I am trained as a cartographer within Science Hall in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, home to such legendary figures as Arthur Robinson and David Woodword.

My training began under Prof. Mark Harrower and continues while working alongside Prof. Robert Roth (both trained at Penn State under Cynthia Brewer and Alan MacEachren, respectively). Read more about my research into web mapping with web standards.

I continue to gain inspiration and skilz from ongoing friendships with such talented map geeks as Zach "Hollywood" Johnson, Andy Woodruff, Tim Wallace, Daniel Huffman, Sam Matthews, John Czaplewski and Jeremy White.

I also enjoy engaging with the talented members of the North American Cartographic Information Society (NACIS).



Interactive Cartography & Geovisualization

lab instructor, Geog 575 Spring 2013, Spring 2012

summary: Geography 575 (G575) provides a comprehensive overview of topics related to dynamic mapping, topics typically considered under the cartographic research thrusts of Interactive Cartography and Geovisualization. G575 focuses on the design and development of user interfaces to geographic information and associated map-centered representations of these information, drawing from research and practice on Human-Computer Interaction, Information Visualization, Usability Engineering, and Visual Analytics, perspectives that you are unlikely to receive in other GIS courses. Specifically, G575 emphasizes mapmaking over map use (compared to G170) and the design of interfaces to maps rather than the maps themselves

student comments Spring 2013
  • Rich is amazing. He should earn 100% TA funding, not the standard 45%... This is no part time gig, Rich put his heart and soul into this job. We couldn't have achieved what we did without him. I want to work for this guy.
  • Rich was an extremely effective teacher who was always willing to help outside of lab and really cared about teaching his students how to code. I don't think the students would have learned the material as well without Rich as a TA. In the future, I would recommend having the TA teach the first two labs instead of DoIT, then we can begin learning Leaflet quicker.
  • Rich was one of the most helpful, most knowledgeable TA I have ever come across. He was always available for consultation, did more than is required of him. If he did not know something he always looked it up and informed the student. He seemed genuinely concerned about the students and always did his best to help us students to excel as much as we can within the given time frame. The class would have been much less efficient and worthwhile without him as our TA!
  • I think Rich is a great teacher. I learned a LOT in the labs, as well as going to his office hours.
  • RICH IS AWESOOOOOOOOOOOOME. great teacher, effective, helpful, patient. THANKS RICH!
  • Rich did a great job TAing this class... it was a lot of work for him, but he was always available to meet in person or offer assistance over email. He really knows his stuff and was very helpful providing feedback about the labs during and after completion.
  • Rich is a fantastic TA. Incredibly knowledgeable and helpful! I doubt I could get all the labs done without his help. Rich was by far what got me through these labs. I honestly would not have been able to complete any of them if it wasn't for Rich. He is available outside of class by e mail, he's incredibly knowledgeable about JavaScript and these libraries, and he did a great job of working with what he was given. Hopefully, Rich will continue to TA this class, because it definitely needs someone like him who is patient with students and knowledgeable.
  • An incredible TA. Honestly the best I have ever had. Rich made himself available almost 24/7 and would be glad to meet wherever and whenever. He provided the right balance of instruction and assistance during lab. Super knowledgeable about the subject matter and an overall great guy! I would so lucky to have him as a TA again in the future, or perhaps an instructor!
  • Rich was a fantastic TA, possibly the best TA I've had here at UW. He was very accessible, positive, and helpful, and accommodated my relatively low level of background knowledge extremely well.
student comments Spring 2012
  • Thank you for being a great TA and for all of your help!
  • Excellent TA, very knowledgeable and available. One of the best TAs at this school! Hands down.
  • Rich was a great TA! Always willing to help and extremely knowledgeable in the topic!
  • Rich was an excellent TA. He was extremely dedicated and tirelessly helpful in completing our assignments. This class would not have functioned without his endless efforts and availability. Thanks so much!
  • Thanks again for a great semester Rich!
  • Great TA. Very helpful and accessible.
  • Thanks so much for all your help, you were a wonderful TA.
  • I’ve had Rich as a TA before; he knows what he is talking about and is helpful.
  • Most dedicated TA I have ever had. Pushed us all extremely hard to develop and learn and he was there to help whenever needed.

Graphic Design in Cartography

lab instructor, Geog 572 Fall 2012

summary: Geography 572 (G572) provides an extended examination of advanced topics regarding cartographic representation, or the graphics, sounds, haptics, etc., constituting maps that are employed to encode geographic information. This course focuses on cartographic design for the web rather than print, and draws upon research and practice on graphic design, information visualization, and semiotics. The course emphasizes mapmaking over map use and the design of web-delivered maps themselves, rather than the design of interfaces to these maps.

student comments Fall 2012
  • Awesome
  • Does a wonderful job of offering comprehensive feedback, while taking the time to help students understand topics and materials.
  • Rich is a wizard. I think he's hiding a magic wand under his classy apparel. Any time I feel stumped by a programming problem, I ask him for assistance, and he comes and looks over my shoulder while I explain the problem and it magically resolves itself.
  • Rich's knowledge of web design translated over to his teaching of the labs in a very effective way that allowed him to help all the students in the class, regardless of their web design experience. He gave useful feedback on course assignments and made himself readily available to answer questions or meet about a project.
  • Rich is very helpful working through course issues one on one. I sincerely appreciate all the extended lab hours he took to help us. This course would not be possible with his personable character and appreciation for the variety of skill levels. Thank you Rich.
  • awesome
  • awesome. I wish he taught the whole class, not just the lab.
  • Very passionate about course topic and provided an open minded space for students to discuss project ideas.
  • Rich was really helpful both in class and via appointment outside of class... great TA overall
  • Great job Rich! Hope to see you in 575!
  • Very knowledgeable and helpful TA.
  • He is a person with great patience.
  • This is the second time I have had Rich as a TA and he has been terrific at fostering a learning environment. I find him extremely approachable and understanding. Thanks for everything!
  • Great facilitator, competent expert good all around!
  • Rich, you are awesome.
  • Very helpful and patient and great feedback.
  • Rich was great. Took the time to work w us on our individual projects, and gave really great, detailed feedback.
  • Excellent. Often well versed on the subjects at hand and open to new and additional insights brought by students. Teaching ability alone is quite strong.


instructor, Geog 378 Spring 2011
lab instructor Spring 2011, Spring 2010

summary: This course is intended to be an introduction to scripting and programming for GIS and spatial analysis. Geog 378 will cover the following topics: shell scripting and batch files, accessing and using open-source GIS libraries, scripting and programming using the Python programming language, and accessing ArcGIS functionality using Python.

student comments Spring 2011
  • Really enjoyed the semester Rich! You did a great job introducing us to Python & I appreciate all the long hours you put in!
  • Honestly, a very well taught course. Certain topics such as binary and particular aspects of the OS were probably beyond the scope of this course. Overall though I feel very confident for future programming needs. Thanks Rich!
  • I enjoyed the course and had a positive experience overall. You were available for help which made the labs manageable when I couldn't figure a problem out. The difficulty level was just right for people coming from a non CS background.
  • Great at teaching difficult material. Stress greater emphasis on outside resources like Think Python and user forums.
  • Obviously the GDAl/OG, ARC segments were a bit sketchier, but I thought you did well in conveying why that is and showing us where to go to continue learning. I appreciated the flexibility in extending the Python-centric segment of the course. Would have been lost without the extra time & focus.
  • Suggestion: trim lab work by 750/0-50% and include a mUlti-part project that is ongoing throughout the course. Something that is built upon.
  • Lab was really useful when learning Python/scripting, etc. Some labs took a long time & were extremely hard. Good class - wish there was more GIS-involved programming included.
  • Extremely helpful and willing to meet outside of class time and even office hours. Some modules felt hurried and less important. Course flow could be improved by limiting command shell/GDAC/OGR focus initially and going to Python sooner. Appreciated flexibility in assignments/due dates being adjusted to difficult/work load.
  • Lectures were extremely effective, esp. after we were able to move to 380. Enjoyed the hands on approach to the course. Really helped me to understand the application of the material. Good balance between assessing conceptual knowledge and scripting/writing code (i.e. through quizzes, exams & labs). Rich really made himself available - went above & beyond. Thanks! Big help!
  • Instructor showed great enthusiasm. Spent countless hours away from his own work to focus on improving the class/making it more informative.
  • The class was great. It definitely made me challenge myself but in a good way. I think I havelearned a great deal. The class/lecture should always be held in computer lab if possible. I wish we touched on class lecture, however I appreciate the time you took to' explain other material and give time for it to sink in.
  • Rich is a great instructor. He is always willing to help even outside of class and his office hour.
  • Rich - this course greatly exceeded my expectations. The material and nature of scripting is quite enjoyable. As a 1st year instructor you did an excellent job of organizing the course, making yourself available, replying to emails, etc. Seriously, well done. This was my favorite course ofthe semester and makes me much more excited about the GIS certificate program. Also, I could tell you put a lot of effort and patience towards the students who were struggling, which is very respectable.
  • I thought it was great how, while Rich didn't exactly give us everything we needed, he gave us the methods for finding what we need. I think this was more helpful, as this is the nature of the subject. Rich was happy, accessible, knowledgeable, and helpful. He helped make the class quite enjoyable.
  • Rich was always available to help with any scripting problems, even if not directly related to this course. I really liked that the quizzes tested our knowledge while also giving ideas for the solutions to the labs. Having lecture in 380 made it easier to follow the lectures. Open book/computer exams were also very helpful because they were more like how scripting is donein the real world. I would have
student comments Spring 2010
  • Very knowledgeable & helpful. Unfortunately, the lab material and the lecture material don’t always seem to be timed together. Some of the labs seem to be just a little too hard.
  • Everything was great until lab 8 – methods of GDAL/OGR, ARC files confusing… Also more practice on reading/writing would be helpful.
  • Rich – thanks for putting all the effort that you did into teaching this class. It was much appreciated. You were great at making time outside of class. Future class suggestions: In later labs especially, it would be very helpful for an outline of “how to get started.” I wasted dozens of hours on labs b/c I simply didn’t know how to start. I think this could be balanced with the learning process & how to learn programming.
  • More visual aids, i.e. list, dictionary, etc. Add another lab section but on different days.
  • Thanks Rich, you did a great job! The labs really helped me get a better understanding of the course material.
  • Rich did a great job. I believe he will make an excellent instructor next year. Rich was sometimes a bit slow with correspondence. But otherwise, a very solid TA.
  • I enjoyed having Rich as our TA very much. He is approachable, knowledgeable, and flexible when necessary. I would recommend his lab sections to other students should he teach this class again in the future.
  • He was an effective TA. He answered questions in a clear and concise manner.
  • Rich is a gifted educator, my only suggestion is the number of labs. Instead of 9-10 total labs with a couple of weeks to complete, possibly 12-14 labs due weekly with less tasks and more straightforward scripting without multiple new concepts to implore. Overall, Rich is an asset to UW-Madison and the geography students he helps.
  • The lab was understandable at first, but about halfway through everything became very confusing. Needs to show more examples and have less work time in lab. More time explaining how and what is needed to be done.
  • Great lab, good at explaining problems/answers. Liked format of the class.
  • The TA was pretty knowledgeable of the material and available for help. He was willing to spend time to help answer questions. There were some topics at the very end of class that he did not seem as well-versed in, but overall he was an effective teacher.
  • Explanations are generally clear/ lucid. I would prefer stricter rules (helps me motivate myself)/ Seemed to come unprepared a couple times. More feedback on our code (too much for one TA to do?).
  • The examples were very helpful in learning the material.
  • The way you present examples are really helpful. It was also beneficial when you started to go over the previous labs once we turned them in to see what we struggled with or more easily see what we could have done better.

Colloquium for Undergraduate Majors

teaching assistant, Geog 565 Fall 2011

summary: The primary objectives of this class are to: (1) briefly introduce you to a broad scope of geographic theory, debate, and practice across the discipline; (2) help you acquire the skills necessary to design and implement a geographic research project; (3) enhance your critical reasoning and analytical skills; (4) advance your knowledge of a specific sub-field of the discipline; and (5) further develop your written, oral, and visual communication skills. The Undergraduate Geographic Colloquium differs from most lecture classes in that participants will meet these objectives by designing and implementing an original research project. One often comes to appreciate the study of “earth as home” through geographic practice. This class will provide you with that opportunity.

student comments Fall 2011
  • Rich was a very good TA and very helpful when answering questions and helping us with our project.
  • Was always there to help and gave insightful feedback.
  • Very helpful and gave very useful advice on what to do. Discussions seemed useless many times because we can meet with our groups anytime.
  • Rich was very helpful and approachable. He simplified things more than the professor and always had useful ideas/suggestions. The discussions were not necessarily well organized, but due to the nature of the class, it was not always a bad thing.
  • Rich was a very helpful and accessible TA. He was easy to converse with and unlike many TAs treated me/us/his students as capable, responsible peers.
  • I liked that some days discussion was self-directed, but some days felt as though there was just nothing to do.
  • Rich was a good TA but I did not find discussion section useful because my entire group was not in my section and we did not do any surveys or interviews, and many classes were dedicated to that.
  • Great TA, don’t really know what you can do to improve.
  • The only change I would make is to have the assignments pertain to the project more – like the last assignment.
  • Went above and beyond helpfulness for course assignments – very great TA. Discussion as a whole didn’t seem as if it was needed for this course, though.
  • Rich is very friendly, easy to talk to and communicate ideas with.
  • I thought Rich was helpful and knowledgeable in class. He always asked us thought-provoking questions that led to improvements in our project.
  • It’s nice to have a TA who is both nice and passionate about the subject. You were readily available and that was helpful.
  • Very good TA. Good advice on homework assignments.
  • Overall good, class time was mostly used for individual group work time which was fine so we really didn’t learn much in discussion that we didn’t cover in lecture.
  • Rich didn’t always know specific details about assignments but always found out as fast as he could. In general most assignments needed clarification.
  • Rich was often available outside of class for questions or feedback. He also was willing to help out however he could. GREAT JOB!
  • Excellent how flexible and welcoming you are… You are an ideal TA for such an important class in the Geography Department.
  • Discussion section could have been more helpful to projects than just cutting us loose. The last one that had the handout was nice because the handout helped us understand what is expected of us.
  • Extremely helpful. Great job, favorite college course by far, Thank you!
  • Rich was willing to help and answer questions. If he didn’t know the answer, he did his best to find it and get back to you. This was very helpful. Thanks.
  • Rich was a great TA. I always felt comfortable approaching him with questions, and his answers pretty much always gave me more insight than I could ever hope for.
  • I thought Rich was a great TA. He was very approachable and answered all my questions. The only suggestion I would make is to make sure that the TA and professor are on the same page. (sometimes seemed like there was a little confusion which may be because this is the first time this class has a TA.)
  • Easily my favorite TA that I have had since attending the UW.
  • Rich made himself available to help with our projects if it was necessary. It was also helpful that he helped guide us to make a clear and concise argument in our projects.
  • Rich is very personable and easy to approach. I would suggest he needs to participate more in class and discussions. He is well prepared but discussion does not flow as well as it could. I like how he does not give out easy “As”. More teachers should challenge their students like that.
  • Rich was very helpful and easy to communicate with. My only real critique of him and the class was the miscommunication between Rich/Bill/students. I mean this in regards to the specific work demanded and how some work worked logistically. Besides that I really enjoyed the TA discussions. Thanks.
  • Rich did a great job this semester. He was timely with emails and grades and gave helpful instruction when assignments were unclear. I like that discussion was mainly work time for groups, but I wish we have certain task to achieve for each class time. Like “write your abstract” or some of those smaller parts of the project that need to get done. Rich was very helpful when many of the parts or assignments were unclear or just open-ended.
  • Great course facilitator for students. No doubt one of my best TAs to date.
  • Nice guy, easy to talk to, offered good verbal advice. His written comments weren’t always very useful but he was much better when talked to.
  • Went out of his way to help with the projects or to find people that could help us. Assignment sheets were helpful and explained the assignment well while helping to stimulate thoughts about the assignment. The summaries/key points from readings were very helpful in understanding the readings.
  • I thought the individual group and TA meetings were very helpful, but the discussion section and lectures were not constructive – next semester try setting up a weekly meeting time with each group instead instead of a lecture or discussion. It was very frustrating that assignments, presentations and parts of the paper due were explained as a work in progress, and then we would follow all of the directions (but they were way TOO VAGUE) and then get steady Bs on assignments, and then again without much direction on how to do better next time. I have never done a research project like this before, so unless I have good direction, there is no way I can do very well – more constructive feedback and dedicated goals and outcomes!!!!!
  • I think Rich did a great job with what he could individually in this course. However I think the communication between Rich and Bill was not at the level it should have been. With grading particularly it seemed that we would hear one set of instructions from Rich and the comments on our paper would be as if there was a different set of instructions. We asked him to explain some of the comments and our grade on the presentation and he didn’t seem to have a clear answer.
  • Rich is friendly and approachable, he gave me good advice on the project and was a valuable resource


current research

screenshot of nacis 2012 slides

My Ph.D dissertation project seeks to answer the question, How do we learn, practice, and teach web mapping with web standards?

I'm most interested in how we build our curricular and pedagogical tools to facilitate students' mastery of web standards – i.e. to get us over the learning curve – so we can focus on higher-level tasks of UX and UI design.

The project uses a convergent approach, drawing conclusions drawn from 5 studies using various methods to better understand the state of digital cartography in the current web development environment, implications for user-centered design, and how teachers and students best learn to negotiate this conceptually difficult and persistently shifting terrain.

Here are some slides from a collaborative project (that kicked this research off) on keeping pace with emerging web mapping I presented at the NACIS annual meeting last year:

web design & development

think. write. design.

I've been learning web design and development since 2003 when Rich Points turned me on to the magic of styling html elements with CSS, most notably celebrated in Dave Shea's CSS Zen Garden (recently updated for responsive web design!).

I've made a bunch of horrible websites since, but my passion to create beautiful user experiences and help improve our engagement with the Web continues to grow. Lately I've found this expertise couples nicely with the front-end developer needs of web mapping. Isn't that nice?

I recently partnered with Sam Matthews to incorporate as a web and information design business. We've made a couple websites this year: SMAHRT & Tawi, and even a web map.

my skillz


richard donohue

rich donohue

contact & more info

situated laboratories

The name "situated laboratories" originated from the writings of Science and Technology scholars Bruno Latour, John Law, and Donna Haraway. For many years it probably smacked of obscure, elitist intellectualism (which it may have been).

Given my recent training in spatial science (situated?) and desire for a playful, experimental engagement with the web (laboratory?), it kinda sounds alright?