Faculty of Science

Geographic Information Science (GIS)

Please note: Information on this page relates to the 2015 academic year unless otherwise specified.

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This subject is taught by the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences.


Geographical Information Science (GIS) involves computer-based systems which allow you to explore, store and manipulate data that has a spatial or geographic component. GIS relates to the concepts behind the creation of these systems and the conceptualisation of spatial problems.

GIS can be used effectively in research and is in high demand in the public and private sector. It is currently used in many areas such as crime mapping, disaster management, marketing, healthcare access, conservation monitoring and archaeology.

The key ideas of GIS are the storage and spatial and non-spatial analysis of large amounts of geographic information, as well as the visual interpretation and presentation of that information in a manner that makes sense to us - most commonly in maps.

GIS is a valuable resource for Geography and can also complement courses taken in Biology, Statistics, Architecture, Earth Sciences, Computer Science and Information Management.

GIS can be studied in a Bachelor of Science (BSc), majoring in Geography.

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Undergraduate information

Geographic Information Science is taught in depth in:

You can get a quick introduction to the area in 100-level courses such as GEOG/ESCI 111: The Earth System: An Introduction to Physical Geography and Earth Sciences and in the postgraduate research methods paper, GEOG/PHYG/ESCI 580: Research Preparation.

GEOG 215: Introduction to Geographical Information Systems and Science

This course introduces the principles of GIS, including thinking about spatial problems, appropriate data, data storage and manipulation, analysis and how to present results.

The course runs a number of concurrent practical sessions, which allow you to build your experience of a particular GIS software program (ArcGIS) and includes invited lectures by guest speakers who use GIS in their industry.

Most data in computer systems does not take account of how we relate to the world. We automatically process information spatially, such as knowing that two things are beside each other, what shape they have and whether an object contains another.

Many of these relationships can be modelled within a GIS environment allowing us to ask important geographical questions of our information about the world. These questions could include - can we see a pattern in areas affected by high crime rates? Can we predict landslides? How can we better plan public transport?

GEOG 315: Advanced Geographical Information Systems and Science

This course is designed to give you a more in depth understanding of the issues in GIS and builds on GEOG 215. Students in this course gain experience in designing, creating, analysing and presenting real world geographic information on a project of their own choice. 

Past projects have dealt with crime, social justice, risk and hazard mapping, the spread of diseases in native plants, transportation and house prices.

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Postgraduate information

Postgraduate courses are available in GIS at an introductory level PHYG 415 and at a more advanced level as part of the Masters and Postgraduate Diploma in Geographic Information Science programmes.

PHYG 415: Introduction to Geographical Information Systems and Science for Postgraduates

This postgraduate course introduces students to the basics of GIS.  Students are taken through the creation and input of data into a GIS (ArcGIS), issues surrounding the storage and retrieval of geographic data, analysis and the presentation of that data.

GISC 401: Foundations of Geographic Information Science

This course will provide students with an introduction to Geographic Information Science (GIS), which will enable them to approach the remainder of the MGIS programme with a solid base knowledge. In this course, students will be presented with and encouraged to explore the breadth of research in GIS, and gain awareness of some of the key debates in the field. Course topics will include the conceptual foundations of GIS, data modelling, management, manipulation, analysis and geocomputation, as well as cartography and visualisation, and the legal, ethical and social issues pertaining to GIS. The residential week will also develop students’ knowledge and skills in the use of field techniques for data capture, including GPS.

GISC 402: Geographic Information Science Research

This course has the dual purpose of educating students in the nature and breadth of GIS research undertaken in academia, industry and government as well as to guide students in the development of a proposal to undertake their own research in GIS. The course will include a series of guest lecturers from experts across academia, industry and government providing insight into the landscape of employment or further research. In proposal development, students will learn how to plan, execute and present a research proposal and project. Students will also be exposed to some of the social, legal and ethical issues associated with GIS research.

GISC 403: Cartography and Geovisualisation

The presentation and visualisation of geographic data is a key part of communicating research results. This course provides a theoretical grounding in and practical introduction to the various ways in which geographic data can be visualised. Key topics in this course will include advanced cartographic design, geovisualisation, human-computer interaction, and augmented and virtual reality.

GISC 404: Geospatial Analysis

This course provides an introduction to a range of statistical techniques used in the analysis of spatial data. A comprehensive lab programme uses a variety of software packages to explore visualisation, exploratory spatial data analysis, spatial autocorrelation, point pattern analysis, spatial statistics and the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP).

GISC 405: GIS Programming and Databases

This course will develop students’ ability to use programming methods for extending existing GIS software and composing open source components for GIS functionality. The knowledge and skills learned in this course will support a range of applications including data processing, visualisation, advanced spatial analysis, public participatory GIS and webGIS. This course take students through a basic introduction to programming in Python, with the first term concentrating on basic programming concepts including expressions, strings and modules, objects methods and lists, conditionals, and repetition, followed by the second term that will delve into spatial databases, their design, structure and access.

GISC 406: Remote Sensing for Earth Observation

This course explores the use of data from earth orbiting satellites for monitoring and analyzing the state of the environment from local to regional scales. It provides practical experience in data analysis from a range of earth observation sensors to obtain information on surface properties in 3 dimensions. The derived information can be used for further analysis in Geographic Information Systems.

GISC 411: Geographic Information Science in Health

This course will provide students with an introduction to the use of Geographic Information Science (GIS) in health geography. Health geography is the application of geographical information, perspectives, and methods to the study of health, disease and health care, and can provide a spatial understanding of a population’s health, the distribution of disease, and environmental effects on health and disease. Health geography also deals with accessibility to health care and the spatial distribution of health care providers. GIS is a powerful tool that can integrate geographical information for application in the study of health, disease and health care.

GISC 412: Spatial Algorithms and Programming

This course builds on an introduction to python programming course (e.g. MGIS405), developing students’ ability to use python in GIS software such as ArcGIS as well open source GIS software, and to understand and create spatial algorithms. This course is heavily lab and project based, where the context and theoretical framework is presented in lectures and tutorials in order to guide the hands on development.

GISC 413: Special Topic - Geomatic Data Acquisition Techniques

The course will give the student a broad understanding of the techniques and issues involved with position measurement and capture of geographic data or images. Much of the course material will concentrate on airborne photography, but other remote sensing and data gathering platforms will be included. The interdependence of the three cornerstones of Geomatic Data Acquisition (Platforms, Sensors, Positioning) will be covered.

GISC 415: GIS Internship

This course allows students to utilize knowledge gained from the PGDipGIS/MGIS postgraduate courses within business, government and non-profit organisations while gaining career-related work experiences, exploring compatibility with specific careers and companies, and becoming more mature professionally. Sponsorship for internship positions may be available.

View Course Catalogue information.

GISC 416: Special Topics - GIS 2.0

This paper is designed to advance students' skills in information location and retrieval, understanding of spatial conservation ecology, foster critical analysis of the research and statistical bases underlying conclusions reached in the literature, examine the relative strengths and weaknesses of different methods of spatial analyses, literature synthesis, understand theoretical perspectives relevant to the conservation GIS, and demonstrate an ability to identify the limitations of current research, and potential areas for further research.

GISC 690: Masters in Geographic Information Science

This is the thesis component and provides the opportunity for graduate students to engage in specialised research areas related to GIS . Approval of topics is subject to approval by the course director and suitable provision for academic supervision. 

Please contact the Programme Director, Mairead de Roiste for more information.


Postgraduate research opportunities are also available and students interested should contact the Programme Director, Mairead de Roiste.

We also provide a postgraduate Master of Geographic Information Science in collaboration with the University of Canterbury.  Please see www.mgis.ac.nz for further information on the constituent courses.


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How to find out more

Application for the MGIS/PGDipGIS programme is in two stages:

  1. Apply for the programme at www.mgis.ac.nz
  2. Once accepted to the programme, you apply to either Victoria University in Wellington or the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

You can order more information on this subject by registering on our Request for Study Material database.

Victoria's Student Recruitment, Admission and Orientation Office  offers advice on courses and help with planning your degree.

Contact the Science Faculty Office for information on Admission, qualifications and courses, course advice and selection criteria, exemptions and prerequisites and your Application to Study.

Geography courses are taught within the School of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, Cotton Building, blocks A and B.

Mairead de Roiste
Programme Director, GIS
Phone: 04 463 6431
Email: mairead.deroiste@vuw.ac.nz

School Administrator
04 463 5337
Email: geo-enquiries@vuw.ac.nz

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List of courses

200 level Geographical Information Systems and Science Courses
GEOG 215 - Introduction to Geographical Information Systems and Science (GIS)
300 level Geographical Information Systems and Science Courses
GEOG 315 - Advanced Geographical Information Systems and Science (GIS)
400 level Geographical Information Systems and Science Courses
GISC 401 - Foundations of Geographic Information Science
GISC 402 - Geographic Information Science Research
GISC 403 - Cartography and Geovisualisation
GISC 404 - Geospatial Analysis
GISC 405 - GIS Programming and Databases
GISC 406 - Remote Sensing for Earth Observation
GISC 411 - Geographic Information Systems in Health
GISC 412 - Spatial Algorithms and Programming
GISC 413 - Special Topic - Geomatic Data Acquisition Techniques
GISC 415 - GIS Internship
GISC 416 - Special Topics - GIS 2.0
PHYG 415 - Introduction to Geographical Information Systems and Science (GIS) for Postgraduates
600 level Geographical Information Systems and Science Courses
GISC 690 - Masters in Geographic Information Science