GIS Project Course Starts Again!

Tomorrow marks the start of the spring offering of GEOG/PLAN 481. This course is one of the capstone geomatics courses for students in the Faculty of the Environment as it gives students the chance to bring together the skills they have acquired across previous geomatics courses to solve a spatial problem. While each instructor has her or his own twist to the delivery and content of the course, the overarching goal is to mentor students through the completion of a GIS-related project. I tend to teach the course like a group-based senior honours thesis, whereby I work with the students to create a research question related to a topic of their choosing or they answer a research question related to a topic defined by an external partner. The final product from each group is a research paper or report that documents the work they have achieved in a format that could be submitted for publication.

Last year was the first time I solicited external partner projects. In the first class I pitch external partner projects and other potential projects to students and have them discuss the different aspects of these projects with each other in small groups (like a world cafe approach) and then we discuss them again together. Following the class students post biographical sketches and try to market their skills and capabilities to other students to self-organize into groups and topics. The results from last year were terrific. One group of students benchmarked elevation data acquired by Worldview 2 against LiDAR data for an area of Ontario. Their project involved, among other things, creating land cover data for a study area, assessing the effects of land cover and other features on error between the two sets of elevation data, and describing the spatial distribution of error across their study region. The researcher with the Ministry of Natural Resources, who provided this project to the course, had the following to say about the final paper these students created

““I just finished going through the report and I’m very impressed with it. I have sent work to other GIS programs before and found the products to be less than complete and really not usable. This report contained excellent analysis, statistical testing and some very interesting results. I really appreciate your hands-on dealings with the students, which is evident in the report. I am already talking with my co-workers to line up another project for next year. Hopefully we can send something your way that is fun, challenging and relevant.” (September 11, 2013)

This term is looking to be quite exciting as my teaching assistant (Andrei Balulescu) and I have solicited 8 projects for the students from government, private, and non-profit organizations (logos provided throughout this post). These projects provide students with real-world problems and illustrate the relevance of their knowledge and skill acquisition to date. It will be a fun and challenging term for us all.