BA Geography with International Study / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Spatial Thinking with GIS: Constructing and exploring virtual worlds

Course unit fact file
Unit code GEOG20502
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Geography is about much more than mapping. However, the construction, analysis and interpretation of maps are still fundamental to the discipline and central to what it means to be a Geographer. Geographical Information Science (GISc) and associated systems (GIS), allow us to go beyond mapping and into the realm of virtual words. We can use a range of spatial data sources to generate new knowledge about people and places, about the built and natural environment and about the fundamental processes which shape our world. If you’ve always been intrigued by maps and the power of location, this is the course for you. Lecture examples and practical work encompasses both human and physical geography. You will also be encouraged to explore ways in which what you learn might be applied to your personal interests in Geography. Assessments comprise a space-time assessment of student locations (Block 1 - Assignment 1) and a choice from three guided practicals related to the analysis of distance, terrain and site suitability (Block 2 - Assignment 2). You will complete all three guided practicals, but submit one practical write up for Assignment 2, together with a project plan on a topic of your choice.



• Explain the value of GIS and how it can be used for geographical problem solving;

• Outline the basic theoretical principles behind GIS and spatial thinking;

• Explore key GIS analysis techniques and how they can be used;

• Introduce ArcGIS Pro & provide practical experience of a range of GIS functions; and

• Help you to develop a critical approach to the application of GIS.

• Make you more aware of the wealth of applications of GIS in human & physical geography

Teaching and learning methods

GEOG20502 is delivered though a mix of teaching methods over two Blocks. Block 1 runs Weeks 1-3 and Block 2 Weeks 5-12. Study Weeks are usually Weeks 4 and 8. The course is normally delivered entirely within a suitable computer laboratory. There are three hours of classes per week. An additional hour may be timetabled for administrative purposes with the core three hours confirmed via the unit’s e-learning pages. Individual sessions may include lecture-based or practical-based content depending on the week.

Lectures are used throughout the course to provide the theoretical underpinning of GIS and the analysis techniques covered in the unit. Lecture slots provide an opportunity for questions and discussion. Practicals use ArcGIS Pro (version 3.1.1). For students not able to be on campus, a remote cluster log-in option is available using the Citrix system. The practical sessions are a mix of staff and demonstrator led sessions (depending on student numbers). Block 1 has a series of guided practicals and activities building towards Assignment 1. Block 2 uses a set of semi-independent practicals each with dedicated timetable slots. Timetabled practical surgeries provide extra support in addition to staff consultation hours.

It is strongly advised that students wishing to take this unit have access to a suitable Windows -based computer for private study. All students have free access to installation software for home use, but the software is only available for Windows 10 operating systems. ArcGIS Pro software is not available for Mac OS X. To check that your personal computer meets the minimum hardware and software requirements, see Please contact if you have any questions about hardware or software requirements. In exceptional circumstances it may be possible to make alternative arrangements for software access.  

Information will also be provided about how to access follow-up non-assessed ‘training’ practicals produced by the software provider, e.g. for self-study for the dissertation. Software and additional practicals are available free of charge to University of Manchester students.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Define GIS and have a knowledge of the basic principles of spatial thinking with GIS
  • Identify and characterise different ways of representing the world with GIS, including their presentation
  • Appreciate and understand a variety of spatial data analysis techniques with reference to a number of geographical examples

Intellectual skills

  • Evaluate the relative advantages and disadvantages of ways of representing the real world within a GIS
  • Explain and evaluate a variety of spatial data analysis techniques with reference to a number of geographical examples
  • Critical reflection on results obtained through GIS analysis.

Practical skills

  • Collect, input, interrogate and map data using ArcGIS Pro
  • Perform basic spatial analysis functions in ArcGIS Pro
  • Designing a GIS analysis project, including the use of logic charts

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Data handling and management
  • Information collation, evaluation and analysis, including the use of Internet based resources
  • Research skills and question formulation
  • Cartographic and report production skills
  • Project planning
  • Communicating technical materials
  • Team-working and independent work

Assessment methods

  • Assignment 1:  Space-Time Exercise.  Individual Report       1500 words       40%
  • Assignment 2: Individual Coursework Portfolio                       2500 words       60%


Formative Assessment Task:

  • Practical work    Word length: optional

Feedback methods

  • Assignment 1:  Week 8: Individual written feedback via Turnitin 
  • Assignment 2:  Individual written feedback via Turnitin 3 weeks after submission


  • Formative practical work:  Group feedback and self assessment in Week 2 or 3

Recommended reading

Introductory Readings

  • Biljecki, F., Stoter, J., Ledoux, H., Zlatanova, S. and Coltekin, A. (2015) Applications of 3D City Models: State of the Art Review. ISPRS Int. J. Geo-Inf. 2015, 4(4), 2842-2889
  • Longley, P. A. Goodchild, M. F. Maguire, D. J. and Rhind, D. W. (2015) Chapter 1 in Geographic Information Science and Systems, John Wiley and Sons: Chichester Fourth Edition
  • ESRI (2020) What is GIS? Online at Date last accessed 14th Aug 2020 Useful textbooks
  • Heywood, I., Cornelius, S. & Carver, S. (2011) An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems, Fourth Edition, Prentice Hall : Harlow
  • Lloyd, C. (2010) Spatial Data Analysis An Introduction for GIS Users, Oxford University Press
  • 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

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 10
Practical classes & workshops 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Richard Figueroa Alfaro Unit coordinator

Return to course details