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Geographical Information Science and Systems

Module titleGeographical Information Science and Systems
Module codeGEO2440
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Liam Reinhardt (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

How can spatial information be used to effectively manage the natural environment? In this module you will learn how to use geographical information software to analyse environmental data. In a major piece of coursework you will use Cornwall as a natural laboratory to investigate where to situate a nature reserve for conservation of the nationally rare silver studded blue butterfly.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to develop your understanding of the theoretical and practical skills required to create and manage complex spatial datasets for environmental purposes. The ability to use and understand GIS is a highly employable skillset. In addition, through weekly computer practicals, you will further enhance your professional skills in problem solving (linking theory to practice, being able to respond to novel and unfamiliar problems), time management and decision making.

The module focuses on data interpretation and context within a geographical information system (GIS). You will then learn how to manipulate a range of spatial data within a GIS environment, including aerial photographs and ordnance survey road maps. You will gain an understanding of how geographical information software systems are configured in practice, and the ways in which geographical phenomena are referenced and how digital representations of the world are created. In addition, the importance of scale and generalisation will be addressed and sources of uncertainties in geographical information explored. This module will include a major assessed project that applies GIS within an environmental management framework.

The teaching contributions on this module involve elements of research undertaken by Dr Reinhardt (West Penwith geomorphology), Dr Jon Bennie (silver studded Blue butterfly conservation) and Dr Karen Anderson (land-cover mapping). Moreover, you are encouraged to undertake enquiry-led learning, specifically through the GIS conservation project you will undertake as part of this module.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Operate, with some guidance, geographical information software systems to view and manipulate spatial data
  • 2. Discover how geographical information systems are used in practice and distinguish between reality and data representation in a GIS environment
  • 3. Relate the key concepts of scale, resolution and spatial data models in GIS, and how these are put into practice
  • 4. Use technical methods in geographical information systems for a range of tasks with limited guidance including entering and handling spatial data, and executing functionality such as buffering and overlay

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Describe in some detail essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of the environmental sciences
  • 6. Identify critical questions from the literature and synthesise research-informed examples from the literature into written work
  • 7. Identify and implement, with guidance, appropriate methodologies and theories for addressing specific research problems in environmental sciences
  • 8. With some guidance, deploy established techniques of analysis, practical investigation, and enquiry within the environmental sciences
  • 9. Describe and evaluate approaches to our understanding of the environmental sciences with reference to primary literature, reviews and research articles

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 10. Develop, with some guidance, a logical and reasoned argument with valid conclusions
  • 11. Communicate ideas, principles and theories fluently using a variety of formats in a manner appropriate to the intended audience
  • 12. Collect and interpret appropriate data and complete research-like tasks, drawing on a range of sources, with limited guidance
  • 13. Evaluate own strengths and weaknesses in relation to professional and practical skills, and apply own evaluation criteria
  • 14. Reflect effectively on learning experiences and summarise personal achievements

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

There will be GIS computer practical during most weeks. Lectures will cover the theoretical aspects of GIS -as applied in practice during computer practicals - and are primarily assessed through an  essay GIS practicals are cumulative in that each week you will create new layers that when combined form a spatial database. You will be using a butterfly location dataset, a land classification map created for research purposes in Penryn geography. This database will then be used in a summatively assessed student project that decides where to situate an interpretative centre for the protection of the silver studded blue butterfly and an accompanying nature reserve boundary in West Penwith, Cornwall.

Lecture topics (6 hours):

  • Introduction to GIS
  • GIS (raster and vector)
  • Data management in GIS
  • GIS Project seminar
  • Spatial and a spatial querying
  • DTMs, where they come from and how they are used
  • Georeferencing, datums and map projections¬†

Computer practicals:

  • Introduction to GIS - digimap download and import to GIS
  • Working with vector data in a simple way
  • Editing and spatial queries
  • Extracting information from aerial photographs
  • DTM based analysis
  • Completing a spatial database: pulling layers together

There will also be three supervised computer practical help sessions.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching8Lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching18GIS computer practicals
Guided Independent Study124Additional reading, research and preparation for module assessments.


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures and practical sessionsOngoing throughout the moduleAllOral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay401250 words2,5-6,9-12Written feedback
Written report602000 words1-12Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay1250 words2,5-6,9-12August reassessment period
Written reportEssay - 1500 words1-12August reassessment period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Burrough, P.A. andand McDonnell, R.A. (1998), Principles of Geographic Information Systems: Spatial Information
  • DeMers, M.N. (2005), Fundamentals of Geographical Information Systems, 3rd edition, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Heywood, I., Cornelius, S. and Carver, S. (2006), An Introduction to Geographical Information Systems, 2nd edition, Pearson, Harlow.
  • Longley, P.A., Goodchild, M.F., Maguire, D.J., and Rhind, D.W. (2005), Geographical Information Systems and Science, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Wilson, J.P and Fotheringham, A.S. (2008) The handbook of GIS, Blackwell publishing, Malden

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Geographical Information Systems, spatial data, natural environment, environmental data

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date