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Using QGIS in an Advanced GIS course: Instructor and Student Perspectives

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This paper describes how QGIS software was integrated into a graduate-level course “GIS for International Development” taught at Clark University in 2015 and 2016. This course examines how GIS is used to better understand and address social problems in the context of international development. Specific topics include disaster management, global health, water and sanitation, poverty and hunger alleviation, climate change impacts, armed conflicts, human migration, and human rights. The course uses a hands-on approach to learning, and all lectures take place in the computer lab. When the course was taught the first time, most homework assignments were written for ArcGIS software, and only a few assignments used tools in QGIS and GeoDa. Assignments included the following topics: analyzing armed conflicts over time, delineating catchment areas for health facilities, planning delivery routes during a humanitarian emergency, finding suitable camp sites for internally displaced persons, assessing the number of people affected by floods, and improving operations of a refugee camp. The students liked the opportunity to explore free and open source software for GIS (FOSSG) and asked that it is used in the course even more. The following year the instructor integrated as many QGIS-based assignments as possible. This paper highlights challenges encountered during this process and identifies analytical areas where no comparable QGIS tools were found. Students’ feedback on the new QGIS-based exercises is also discussed ​
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