Facilitating campus-wide GIS skills training

Facilitating campus-wide GIS skills training

The Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology at the University of Pretoria has been a long-time user of Esri technology. Initially Esri products were used for research and postgraduate work, and from about 2000 the department started teaching with Esri products and platforms.

The department has developed a BSc Geoinformatics (GIS) degree which is accredited by the South African Geomatics Council, the professional body for geomatics practitioners, and is highly structured. Students are exposed to informatics, database management, scripting and the basics of programming, remote sensing, surveying, geospatial software, applied GIS and Web-based applications.

The Challenge

Beyond its responsibilities to students registered for the BSc Geoinformatics (GIS) degree and post-graduate research, the department has the additional responsibility of facilitating the use of GIS across multiple departments. The department achieves this through its Unit for Geoinformation and Mapping and by hosting a basic GIS course which is open to students from all disciplines.

The GIS course caters for 350 students, and the number of students interested in this course is increasing every year.  The course provides exposure to various GIS software (including ArcGIS), the basics of projection, map creation, StoryMaps and appropriate analysis techniques.

As a result of the course, students and staff across the university have become increasingly aware of the advantages of using GIS as a platform for data analysis. In addition, due to the increasing number of cross-disciplinary postgraduate research projects, more students with limited or no GIS experience want to make use of GIS tools and/or analysis for research purposes.

Disciplines with a strong geographical component such as Zoology and Entomology, Genomics, Plant and Soil Science, and Geology recognise the benefit to their students of acquiring basic GIS skills training. Some of these departments offer their own courses, but many of them send their students to complete the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology’s elective GIS course.

Unfortunately, not all students are able to take advantage of this elective GIS module due to the highly structured nature of their own professional degrees. These include students from the Planning, Architectural and Engineering programmes. There are also other departments which have not yet incorporated GIS skills within their teaching and research programmes.

The Solution

The responsibility of ensuring that GIS skills are facilitated campus-wide is made possible by the University of Pretoria having a site licence for ArcGIS which allows for multiple users of the platform. This, and the fact that ArcGIS software has been installed in almost all the university’s computer labs, has helped the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology to meet the growing demand for GIS skills training.

Extra-departmental students who have to use ArcGIS, register online with a student email. Users are then tracked and monitored using the dashboard facility, with inactive users removed after a certain period. The department also offers technical support and guidance to these users through its Unit for Geoinformation and Mapping.  Workshops are sometimes hosted by the unit to introduce basic software and GIS concepts to the interested parties. The department also offers introductory GIS and remote sensing courses to the general public through Enterprises UP.

Individuals approaching the unit for help have a range of GIS skills, from nil to highly competent. Some extra-departmental students require assistance with map creation, while others just need some advice with problems. Many students have the technical ability but lack the academic knowledge or vice versa. Often students don’t realise the full capabilities of GIS and are pleasantly surprised when exposed to ArcGIS and its tools. Increasingly students are approaching the unit and asking how to source additional data sets.

Examples of extra-departmental student requests include:

  • Architects requiring maps or satellite images for model building.
  • Geologists needing to map geological formations using remote sensing techniques.
  • Environmental Scientists wanting to use aerial photography for mapping.
  • Health Science Professionals want to learn mapping and geocoding skills.
  • Civil Engineers needing to convert CAD data to a GIS data format.
  • Students from diverse disciplines requesting information on where to source data.


By assisting extra-departmental students and staff with their queries, the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology provides a value-added service to the University of Pretoria. The department also ensures that knowledge of GIS and its analytical capabilities is spread throughout the university. All data and maps created with the assistance of the Unit for Geoinformation and Mapping are credited to the department which further helps to spread the word about the availability of GIS skills training.

In addition having other departments and students using the ArcGIS platform via the site licence ensures that the university is obtaining optimum value from its site licence and that its research outputs are amplified.

For more information on academic licencing please contact vnaidoo@esri-southafrica.com

The Challenge

– Providing GIS training for students and staff from varied disciplines

The Solution

– Adminisrative Use Licence

– ArcGIS Online


– Value-add to the whole university

– Obtaining optimum value from the site licence

– Expanded and innovative cross-disciplinary research output