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MSc Geographical Information Science

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
GIS and Environmental Applications

Unit code GEOG60951
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Geography
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Geographical Information Science and Systems are now at the heart of much environmental research. This is true whether research is conducted from with the ‘home’ discipline of Geography or from an array of aligned areas and conducted by universities, agencies or the public sector. Increasingly considered as a distinct way of doing science, it is important to have knowledge of both GIS principles and their application to real-world problems and issues. This unit provides a foundation in such theory and practice covering spatial concepts, representations and problem-solving skills. The material underpins the remainder of the MSc Geographical Information Science and provides a foundation for students interested in research in environmental fields, human-environment issues and processes and core physical geography applications. The general principles are also relevant for students interested in other areas of geographic enquiry involving spatial data, spatial analysis and associated analytics. 



There are no prerequisites. However, absolute beginners who are interested in ArcGIS training are not encouraged to take the unit. All University-registered students can access ESRI training materials for independent study. For more information please contact the School’s GIS & Remote Sensing Officer.


To provide students with a foundation in the principles and practice of using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in environmental research.


Teaching and learning methods

There are 3 hours per week of timetabled sessions with a mix of lectures and practicals in computer labs. Lectures include some Q&A elements with small tasks to re-enforce learning of key ideas. Practicals have supporting workbooks which can be completed as private study following scheduled classes, as required. Assessment questions are included in the workbooks for Assignment 1. In some weeks timetabled slots may be optional, e.g. practical surgeries or allocated for progress meetings. Otherwise attendance is required. In slots allocated to progress meetings contact time with the lecturer/demonstrator is not for the full session.

Additional opportunities for assistance and clarification are available throughout the semester through regular office consultation hours. These are open drop-in session. 

The unit is supported by a Blackboard e-learning site through which students can obtain copies of presentations, practical handouts and data. Reading lists and materials for further independent work are also provided through the Blackboard e-learning site.

For 2019-20, the unit will be taught in ArcGIS Pro version 2.2.4.

Students may obtain their own copies of GIS software for home working. Note: Software is only available for Windows operating systems.



Knowledge and understanding

An understanding of key GIS and spatial analysis principles (normally including spatial interpolation, density estimation, distance functions and overlay using multi-criteria techniques); an appreciation of the principles and methods associated with automating GIS tasks; knowledge of a range of environmental applications of GIS; knowledge of GIS project design

Intellectual skills

Skills in handling and applying technical concepts; skills in critical assessment and evaluation of GIS data, analysis and results; enhanced skills in spatial thinking; research skills.

Practical skills

Extended practical skills in GIS; skills in importing a range of geospatial data from external repositories; enhanced abilities to prepare and deliver a GIS analysis project, including producing and delivering map outputs, geospatial metadata and GIS logic charts.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Experience of communicating and expressing geographical ideas and results in written and visual (map-based) form, report-writing and spatial data handling and management.

Employability skills

The theory and practice covered in this unit are highly relevant for developing employability skills for a range of public, private and other roles outside of the university sector. For example, spatial data analysis is core to activities in environmental agencies, local and central government, consultancies and many businesses. Furthermore project design, data management and technical communication, including through map production is also relevant as generic transferable skills.



Assessment methods

F1: Submission of work associated with the non-assessed practical. The non-assessed practical is in a similar style to the following assessed practical. Deadline Week 2.  (Mix of short-and longer answers with map/chart deliverables) Formative

A1: Submission of a practical write-up based on the practicals completed as part of Block 2. Deadline Week 5.  (Mix of short-and longer answers with map/chart deliverables (1,500 words) 40%

F2: Group discussion on Block 3 GIS automation. Verbal feedback, peer and tutor in class. Formative.

A2: The design, preparation and delivery of a GIS analysis project on an environmental topic. Deadline Week 12. (2,000 word report with map outputs) 60%


Feedback methods

F1: Verbal feedback, individual marks and written comments (Week 4)

A1: Verbal feedback, individual marks and written comments (Week 8)

F2: Verbal feedback,  peer and tutor written comments (Week 12)

A2: Individual marks and written comments (start of Feb 2016)

Recommended reading

Two text books cover core themes which are supplemented by additional reading through the course.

Heywood, I., Cornelius, S. & Carver, S. (2011) An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems, Fourth Edition, Prentice Hall : Harlow. 

Longley, P. A. Goodchild, M. F. Maguire, D. J. and Rhind, D. W. (2015) Geographic Information Science and Systems, John Wiley and Sons: Chichester Fourth Edition.

Reading Lists should normally be managed through the JRUL 'Link2Lists' facility. This field will generically contain the URL address for the 'Link2Lists' facility, but you can amend this as you wish (either entering a different URL in this field, to the specific reading list for the course unit), or by entering supplementary free text details of the reading list.
It is although advised that the 'Link2Lists' functionality is utilised as standard.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Demonstration 2
Lectures 9
Practical classes & workshops 14
Supervised time in studio/wksp 8
Independent study hours
Independent study 150

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Sarah Lindley Unit coordinator

Additional notes

As a guide, the course comprises around 23 hours of compulsory formal elements with the remaining 10 hours of timetabled sessions used for optional informal elements:

- around 9 hours of formal lectures (with lecturer)

- around 14 hours of formal practicals (with lecturer & demonstrator).

- around 8 hours of optional practical surgeries (with lecturer/demonstrator depending on demand)

- drop-in progress meeting slots within 2 timetabled hours and 2 additional hours to support work on unit assessments (with lecturer/demonstrator depending on demand)


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