QGIS: A new option for GIS teaching by Dr Alan Howard

The use of the free open source GIS package “Quantum GIS (QGIS)” is increasing slowly but steadily and for many purposes provides a viable alternative to commercially produced software like MapInfo and ArcGIS. QGIS is licensed under the GNU General Public License.

Data indicates that interest in QGIS, as measured by the relative number of Google searches, overtook MapInfo this year while ArcGIS maintains a dominant market position.  The French Ministry of Environment has investigated the feasibility of migrating from MapInfo to QGIS and some universities, such as Harvard, offer GIS classes using QGIS. There is strong and expanding online support for QGIS users and a growing collection of materials and tutorials licensed for free T&L use.

Google Trends Data: http://bit.ly/1aOO3VF . Accessed: 17/7/13.

I currently use QGIS in preference to ArcGIS for personal research and I propose introducing a Part 1 “basics” course in GIS using QGIS from 2014. At present ArcGIS remains the primary teaching package in Geography and the Part 2 module GG2SDA Spatial Data in the Digital Age convened by Geoffrey Griffiths attracts students from other programmes in Science/Life Sciences. However instructors report that many students do not spend enough time out of class working with the software in order to acquire sufficient experience to develop confidence and expertise in GIS. This may in part be due to perceived difficulty in accessing ArcGIS out of the classroom. Although students may license ArcGIS for free use on their personal equipment few tend to go through the ITS registration process to facilitate this. It is hoped that by using QGIS at Part 1, which is easy to download and install from the Internet, more students will be motivated to engage with the material and software “out of hours”.

July 2013 sees the launch of the first MOOC utilising ArcGIS (“Maps and the Geospatial Revolution”) produced by Pennsylvania State University. GIS training is likely to become increasingly open, accessible and free and QGIS may work well in this developing model.