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Geographic Information Systems



[BSc] S, ID, PSc, M:GPH

Admission Requirements



Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are a major tool for the spatial analysis of sustainability issues on different geographical scales. Their application involves the collection, integration, analysis and visualization of physical and socio-economic data with a spatial component. These data can be point data collected during field studies, or area covering data from satellite images (Remote Sensing). Before these data can be used for spatial analysis and planning purposes, these data must be integrated in a GIS using common data formats and coordinate systems. To create for example an area-covered map of point observations will involve interpretation of points in the field from where no observations were taken using sophisticated up-scaling techniques and geo-statistical methods.

Where the capability of GIS for visually overlaying geographical information is already an invaluable asset, its strongest power is in its capabilities of spatial analysis. To apply this power in a sound and scientific way both conceptual and practical knowledge is needed. This course will therefore focus on the basics of GIS and geographical data involving the following technical aspects: basic GIS theory, data formats, data import/export, visualization, creating maps and meaningful legends, overlay, mathematical GIS functions and other types of spatial analysis.

A main part of this topic is devoted to practical exercises with the GIS package ArcGIS. Both conceptual and practical skills acquired during this course will be applied directly in a case study involving a sustainability issue with a clear spatial research question. The case study topic will be selected by the student at the start of the course in consultation with the lecturer. After this very practical course students can expect to master the basics of an extremely useful and powerful geographical tool for sustainability studies, especially when combined with statistical analysis.

Course Objectives

After completion of the course students will be able to:

  • Apply basic GIS operations, such as spatial selection, clip and reclassify and use these operations to design and draw in a flowchart of a spatial model that can be used to answer this spatial problem.

  • To create a good map from available geographic data according to standard cartographic conventions, using the appropriate map components (scale bar, title, legend, cartographic variables).

  • Select and find suitable geodata online for a specific spatial research question applying the fitness for purpose concept

  • Clearly document, communicate and present geodata results

  • Set up and carry out a GIS project independently

After completion of the course students:

  • Will have elementary knowledge of GIS and geodata

  • Will have an overview and basic understanding of available spatial analysis methods

  • Know the major issues in GIScience and can recognize these in practical cases

  • Have a clear idea of the potential of geo-spatial technology in sustainability research

  • Have a clear idea of strengths, weaknesses and quality aspects of methods used

Mode of Instruction

This is a very practical course with a limited amount of lectures and a substantial amount of selfstudy. The practical work concerns exercises and a case study to be carried out with GIS. In both lectures and practical exercises the main principles of GIS, geodata and spatial analysis will be outlined and explored using practical examples. To foster practical understanding students will apply GIS based spatial analysis in a small research project dealing with a spatial issue. Students will work on the case study during the whole course. Students will present and discuss selected GIS literature and their case study results at the end of the course. All lessons and material will be supported by the course environment on BalckBoard.


Assessment: Evaluation of uploaded course assignments
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing Course Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Presentation / discussion selected GIS paper
Percentage: 5%
Deadline: Weekly deadline Friday before midnight, see also weekly overview

Assessment: Multiple choice tests in week 2 and 4
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Weeks 2 and 4 (Wednesday at 14:30-14:45)

Assessment: Final case study report in the form of a research essay (ca. 2500 words, Figures, Tables and References)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: Oral Presentation
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: Final exam (Theoretical part 50% & Practical part (with GIS) 50%)
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 Wednesday [15:00-17:00]

The students will be assessed in various ways. Emphasis will be placed on self-study by means of well-defined practical assignments and case-studies. These will also serve to develop presentation skills (which will also be evaluated by peers). Both assignments and case study (report and presentation) will be graded. During the course the basic understanding of the course material will be tested in two short multiple choice tests. At the end of the course both the practical and theoretical skills of the students will be tested in a final exam.


Reader + selected literature (will be announced asap)

Contact Information

Alfred Wagtendonk

Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)
Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
De Boelelaan 1087, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Roomnumber A-670
Tel: +31 20 5989558

Weekly Overview

Week 1
13:00 – 15:00 LECTURES – Course introduction – GIS relevance / GIS basics – Casestudy introduction
15:00 – 17:00 PRACTICALS – Online mapping with GIS
Week 2
13:00 – 14:00 LECTURES – GIS & Cartography – Geodatasources
14:15-14:30 TEST
14:30 – 17:00 PRACTICALS – GIS & Cartography – Geodatasources
Week 3
13:00 – 14:00 LECTURES – Projections & Coordinate systems – GPS & georeferencing
14:15-15:00 STUDENT WORK – Presentations case study progress
15:00 – 17:00 PRACTICALS – GPS data collection and integration
Week 4
13:00 – 14:00 LECTURES – Spatial analysis and modeling
14:15-14:30 TEST
14:30 – 17:00 PRACTICALS – Raster analysis – Vector analysis
Week 5
13:00-14:00 STUDENT WORK GROUP 1 – Discussion selected GIS paper
14:00 – 17:00 CASE STUDY – Application of specific analyses
Week 6
13:00-14:00 STUDENT WORK GROUP 2 – Discussion selected GIS paper
14:00 – 17:00 CASE STUDY – Application of specific analyses
Week 7
13:00-16:00 STUDENT WORK – Presentations case studies
16:00-17:00 WRAP-UP
Week 8
13:00-15:30 EXAM

Preparation for first session

During this course students need to work with specific GIS software (ArcGIS 10.1 from ESRI). At least one week before the start of the course students will receive specific installation instructions and are expected to start the course with a working version of the software. Laptop system requirements are the following:

Hardware: – at least 2.2 GHz CPU speed or higher – a minimum of 2 GB RAM memory – a minimum of 3.2 GB disk space.
Operating System: – Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 – Mac computers will need Windows with a dual booth