The college I work for is considering revamping their intro to GIS course. Traditionally, they've used the ESRI suite but are now open to using other options. There are two factors responsible for the desire to make a change:

  1. The text book provided by ESRI. The instructors feel that the point and click tutorials don't teach the students how to think about GIS but rather how to use ESRI software. They'd like to have something that's more than a manual and that won't be out of date by the time they arrive.

  2. Traditionally graduates could expect jobs from either the Territorial Government or Parks Canada (both of which use ArcGIS), but with recent gov't cut backs these two are no longer the main destination for graduates. After consulting with industry representatives the college has been told that they should be training student to "think spatially" rather how to use just one type of software.

Are there any resources the SE.GIS community would consider helpful for developing GIS thought and instruction (rather than tutorials)? And if you were going to commit to teaching with one program/suite which do you think would be most useful to learn such that the skills learned would be most broadly applicable to GIS software in general?

  • 9
    Avoid providing step-by-step instructions. This not only makes keep manuals/course materials updated but doesn't serve them well. Having been in the teaching GIS business for several decades, the students need to develop a vocabulary of terms and concepts that are applicable across platforms and over versions. This isn't easy and as self gratifying as the SBS instructions but it will pay off in the long run.
    – user681
    Nov 26, 2012 at 0:38
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    PostGIS, R, QGIS (open source stack). Get several types of source data (shp, dgn) and tell them to create solutions for problem. Road networks without real topology, Areas marked by group of lines in dgn. All that fun. Then tell them to get shortest path solution or get area information from point. Nov 26, 2012 at 14:18

3 Answers 3


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I'd like to suggest two books. The first one is Learn to Think Spatially from the National Academies Press.

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It is actually about the nature and functions of spatial thinking and shows how spatial thinking can be supported across the K-12 curriculum through the development of appropriate support systems like GIS but it should give you an idea on how to include spatial thinking in your classes.

The second book is Practical GIS Analysis.

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It is practical guide for solving geo-spatial problems independent of specific GIS software and hardware. It focuses on how GIS tools work, and how you can use them to solve problems in both vector and grid GIS worlds. It teaches the basic GIS operations like overlay, intersect, etc and how you can combine those together instead of teaching you about specific GIS software packages' tools.

It also includes real-life applications from urban problems including real estate query, irrigation analysis, urban emergency response, address geocoding, street management, resource allocation, groundwater analysis, auto accident analysis, parcel analysis, and optimal path analysis. There are also more than eighty GIS problems (and solutions) which should help you test problem-solving abilities. This should make a good starting point for your classes. You can view the table of contents here.

Hopefully those two books should help you achieve. I'm glad your school has this initiative. For so long the focus has been on specific tools, to the point that students equate GIS to ArcGIS when it is so much more.


I wrote practical GIS Analysis over a decade ago primarily based on workstation arc/info. If you visit my Intro to GIS website http://nrm.salrm.uaf.edu/~dverbyla/nrm338 there are many spatial problems you could work on (Thursday class, each week has pdf of 3 to 4 spatial problems and a pdf of the conceptual solutions). Hope that helps. Dave Verbyla


For me, one of the must read is "Geographic Information Systems and Science", from Paul A. Longley, Mike Goodchild, David J. Maguire, David W. Rhind that give a "meta" view for GIS and spatial thinking.

Cover from Geographic Information Systems and Science 3rd edition

You can also read and reuse the content from "GI S&T Body of Knowledge" (available as free download PDF now). It can really help you organize GIS program / content (for learning) without software vendor dependencies

GI S&T Body of Knowledge

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