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A Systematic Approach in Remote Sensing Education and Training at University Teknologi Malaysia

Kasturi Devi Kanniah, Mazlan Hashim and Mohd Ibrahim Seeni Mohd
Department of Remote Sensing, Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Engineering
Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, 81310 Skudai, Johor, Malaysia
Email: [email protected]

Remote Sensing is a rapidly growing technology and is one of the important spin offs in space research. Remote Sensing is always viewed as a discipline that is integrated with other disciplines such as photogrammetry, GIS and computer science. As with the introduction of remote sensing and related technologies, education plays a pivotal role in its widespread adoption. This is because education is a medium that channels knowledge and understanding of concepts and applications of the technology using the formal system of school, college or university. In addition, education also provides opportunities for the learners and teachers to conduct research and training activities.

Systematic review is a uniquely powerful mechanism for teaching, and they offer teachers a new opportunity to model rational and effective use of information (Robert et al. 1997). In the context of remote sensing, systematic education is reviewed as the integration of remote sensing with other related technologies such as GIS, GPS, Photogrammetry and computer science. Integration of satellite based remote sensing with photogrammetry and GIS has enhanced its capabilities in the areas of resource management and solving environmental or spatial related problems very rapidly and efficiently in comparison to exploiting just one of the technology alone. Remote sensing and photogrammetry provide a means of creating and revising data in GIS. Satellite data is an essential component in GIS as data to be stored, analyzed, retrieved at will and produced end products that can be used to solve problems. Therefore, it is worthwhile to treat remote sensing as an integrated discipline of photogrammetry, GIS and computer technology. In addition to that, systematic education must also cover research into new areas, appropriate training activities to both the learners and teaching/ academic staff in related fields, and promotion/ awareness of the technology to other remote sensing society or other communities. The combination of all the 4 above mentioned aspects are considered here as a systematic approach in remote sensing education.

Remote sensing education had fairly a late start in Malaysian universities due to the lack of expertise, facilities and the late realization of the technology (Mohd Ibrahim Seeni Mohd, 1993). Remote sensing had its prominent step in Malaysia via a general Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that was signed between the Australian government, and Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment, Malaysia in December 1985 (Forster, 1993). Malaysian Centre for Remote Sensing (MACRES) was established via the memorandum and this emerged the needs for education, research and training in the field.

 Fig 1: UTM from space

In UTM, education in remote sensing and related technologies has its origin from the undergraduate programme in Land Surveying at the Faculty of Surveying and Real Estate (now called Geomatic Engineering at the Faculty of Geoinformation Science and Engineering) (Mohd Ibrahim Seeni Mohd, 1993). Remote sensing has been taught as a compulsory subject as well as an optional subject in this course since 1983. However, with the increasing importance given to remote sensing and related technologies in order to fulfill the human resource development needs of the country, a four year undergraduate programme was started in May 1997 at the faculty leading to the B.Sc. (Remote Sensing) degree. To date only UTM offers B.Sc in remote sensing in Malaysia. Whilst, the postgraduate programmes in remote sensing have been offered since 1986. The department of Remote Sensing at UTM was established in July, 1998. However, the concept and application of remote sensing technology has already been implemented in UTM as early as 1986 via the establishment of the Centre for Remote Sensing (CRS) which has objectives to provide courses and training at undergraduate and postgraduate levels in remote sensing, facilities for staff to carry out research , consultation services and training for users from government, semi-government and private sectors. Currently, the department consists of 8 full- time lecturers, one tutor and three laboratory assistants. In addition to that, the course is also supported by lecturers from other departments at the faculty such as the departments of Geomatics and Geoinformatics. The central mission of the department and CRS is to achieve excellence in teaching, research and professional activities in applied remote sensing and related technologies , and to promote the awareness of the technology within the remote sensing community and outside world.

Figure 1. UTM and its surrounding area at daytime, captured by Landsat Thematic Mapper with 30 meter resolution. This is a combination image of bands 7, 5 and 2 assigned respectively to Red, Green and Blue guns. The vegetation is revealed by green colour, whilst, built area and clouds are shown respectively by brown and white colours.


Undergraduate Programme
The department of remote sensing provides education and training in remote sensing to a group of undergraduate students. Student intake began in May 1997 with the intake of 28 students. Currently introductory and advanced level remote sensing and GIS are taught to 136 students from year one to four. The first batch will graduate in the year 2001. The entrance requirement for the B.Sc. (Remote Sensing) course is, passing the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (equivalent to Cambridge O level exams) with credits in stipulated subjects. The study period for the course is 8 semesters (4 years) and the maximum allowed study period is 12 semesters.

Curriculum The curriculum of B.Sc (Remote Sensing) was implemented by UTM upon the consent of the National Remote Sensing Committee (NRSC) and also based on the curriculum of similar programs at oversea institutions. A total of 128 credits are needed to fulfill the requirements to be awarded the degree of B.Sc (Remote Sensing). The credits come from 7 study sections. The composition of the study sections is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Subjects and the corresponding credits for the B.Sc (Remote Sensing) course at UTM.

Course subjects Number of subjects Number of credits Percentage
Main core remote sensing 6 24 18.7
Core Remote Sensing 15 45 35.2
Science of Mapping and Surveying 2 6 4.7
Computer Science 3 9 7.0
Mathematics, Physics and Statistics 4 12 9.4
Selective subjects 3 9 7.0
General subjects 12 23 18.0
Total 45 128 100

Source: Department of Remote Sensing, 2000.

Integration of remote sensing with other related technologies/ disciplines such as GIS, photogrammetry and computer science is also essential to acquire complete benefits of this technology. However, in most universities in Malaysia the separation between remote sensing and GIS departments are apparent and the students from the Department of Remote Sensing are not well exposed to the technology of GIS and students in GIS programs do not receive enough knowledge and sufficient training in image processing. Therefore, knowledge fusion between GIS and remote sensing or photogrammetry needs to be conducted and all students from both departments must be exposed to the technologies at undergraduate levels. However, students can be given choice to select either one of these technologies or integration of both during their final year projects. In this way, upon the completion of their studies the students will have a complete knowledge fusion of remote sensing and related technologies and skill which ensures prospective job opportunities.

Training Training provides the students with practical skill that can be used to solve problems in the real world. Remote sensing at undergraduate levels rely on a mixture of theory and practical applications. Weekly laboratory exercises for every subject are designed to complement recent lecture topics in order to create a seamless teaching environment. The classroom training objectives for students include the development of skills in the use of remote sensing data for the purpose of: knowledge of image acquisition methods, data merging, image rectification, image enhancement, image classification, and image algebra, the use of GIS including the knowledge of the characteristics of spatial data and spatial data handling systems, data acquisition, analytical operations and construction of output products, analysing remotely sensed data and applying GIS tools to address issues in natural resource management and environmental monitoring.

At the department of Remote Sensing, UTM, laboratory assignments are conducted using imagery from the local region so that students will be familiar with the study sites and encouraged to conduct necessary ground truthing. Besides that, students are also trained to use data collecting equipments like radiometer and hand held GPS or other conventional methods of data collecting such as boat for oceaonographic applications.

The final year (4th year) students in this course will also participate in independent undergraduate projects which carry 5 credits towards the end of the semester. This requirement encourages students to experiment the learnt theory and remotely sensed imagery or GIS techniques to topics of personal interest to them. In addition, the department has also arranged industrial training for students besides the classroom practical/ laboratory training. This industrial training is formulated to expose students to the aspects of remote sensing, GIS and other related technologies that are practiced in government departments and private sectors, to give opportunity to students to experience the real working environment, to relate both the learning process and the real working environment and to have a good relationship between university and industries with the objective to have job placement for students upon the completion of their course.

The training locations are at government or private departments/ agencies that have the application of remote sensing in their daily activities. This includes, the utilization and extraction of geospatial data using remote sensing data, integration of remote sensing with GIS technology and other related technologies. Among the agencies/ departments are; the Malaysian Centre for Remote Sensing, Department of Agriculture, Department of Forestry, Department of Meteorology, South East Asian Fisheries Development Centre (SEAFDEC), Department of Environment, Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM), Institute of Mineral Research, Institute of Fishery, Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia and other private companies.

Graduate Course
In addition to the 4 year undergraduate programme the department also offers Master (both by Research and Taught Course) and Doctoral programmes in Remote Sensing to support the needs of the country in this field. Currently, there are 13 registered graduate students undertaking research in various fields. At present, only master course through research and PhD are available at the department. Master through taught course requires a minimum of 5 candidates to start the course. The specification of the postgraduate courses at the department is summarized in Table 2. Some of the present research works by the students are as follows : mapping topography using SAR interferometry techniques, extraction of coastal zone information using SAR, potentional of Radar data for estimation of soil moisture, remote sensing and hydrological modeling in flood prediction studies, extraction of sea grass information, remote sensing for sea oil spill studies, haze determination from NOAA AVHRR, Landsat TM and Radarsat SAR data fusion for improving landcover classification and GIS for oil spill monitoring.

Table 2. The requirements for M.Sc and PhD at the Department of Remote Sensing, UTM

Requirements M.Sc (Taught course) M.Sc (Research) PhD
Admission requirement A relevant bachelor degree recognized by the university A relevant bachelor degree recognized by the university A relevant master degree recognized by the university
Total credit hours 24 (taught subjects)


6 (master’s project)

30 90
Subjects Courses offered within interfaculties Own thesis topic Own thesis topic
Study Period (years) 2 2 3-4

Innovations, new understanding and advancement in remote sensing will only occur when great amount of effort is put towards research activities. The initiation of this field of research began as early as 1986. At present staff and postgraduate research projects span as diverse as marine applications, topographical mapping, vegetation mapping, hydrological analysis, spatial variability studies and natural hazards monitoring. The development of research and also consultation activities are greatly supported and enhanced by the well-equipped centre. Amongst the facilities available at the centre are PCI EASI/PACE (v6.1), PCI (v6.3), ILWIS, ERDAS-Imagine, ER-Mapper, Ergo Vista (Image processing), Digital Photogrammetric Workstation, ARC INFO, ARC VIEW, MapInfo, WinGis (GIS ), hand held GPS, Gamman Trimble (GPS), radiometer, LOWTRAN, MODTRAN, PcGiant,Autocad and Quicksurf, Surveying equipment and a library. Refer to the departmental homepage at https://.rs.fksg.utm.my for some of the major research projects that have successfully been completed by the staff at the Department of Remote Sensing.

The department and CRS proactively involve in many new projects in order to achieve innovations, new understanding and advancement in remote sensing. Among others are development of direct satellite data readout for daily monitoring of haze and coastal environments, Integration of remote sensing and GIS for oil palm spatial variability studies, ocean variability studies using SeaWiFs data, generation of spectral signature database and videogrammetry system for ship building, repair and maintenance. Funding for these projects come from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment via Intensified Research in Priority Areas (IRPA), contract research and etc.

Links have also been made with external organisations both for development of research and funding. UTM proactively involves with foreign organisations to undertake joint research projects. It started to have collaboration with the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) since 1991 which was scientists exchange programme and from 1999 both institutions have taken part in cooperative projects. Their focus is mainly to study the variability of ocean conditions from SeaWiFs data and ADEOS OCTS satellite data. Besides that, UTM is also involved with British universities like University College London under Committee for International Cooperation in Higher Education (CICHE) scheme to undertake topographical mapping in Malaysia using SAR data. Through these collaborative/ bilateral projects UTM aims not only to exchange techniques and skills but also to produce graduate students.

The centre has been offering consultancy services since 1990 to many local government, and private user agencies and also to some foreign agencies like Bintan Resort Management Pte. Ltd. The areas of consultancy services rendered by CRS can be grouped into; water depth mapping, seagrass mapping, sea surface temperature mapping, coastline variation mapping of Peninsular Malaysia, coral reefs mapping, land use mapping, estimation of water volume in reservoirs, modelling of sedimentation in reservoirs, pipeline corridor mapping analysis, and digital mapping.

Awareness and Promoting Activities

Seminar, Workshop, Short Courses
Any new technology will not expand without promotion. The department and centre has a strong commitment to promoting awareness of remote sensing and GIS throughout the academic and commercial sectors. This is achieved both through presentation of papers at conferences and hosting specific conferences at UTM. There were 2 seminars/ conferences hosted by UTM. The first was “The South East Asian Regional Conference on Education and Research in Remote Sensing” held in 1993. This was followed by “The Integration of Remote Sensing and GIS for Applications in South East Asia seminar hosted by UTM in 1995. Since the adoption of the technology, many papers have been presented by specialist staff and postgraduate students at various National and International GIS and RS conferences. (for detail information refer to the departmental homepage at ).

The department and centre also offer short training courses. The first short course was conducted in 1992 for personnel from government agencies and other user departments which proved to be successful. The first short course was mainly on the application of remote sensing for marine studies. However, realizing the lack of remote sensing basic knowledge among many user departments, this programme has been extended to include courses on the basics of remote sensing to form a strong foundation among the users of the technology. The department has run 5 courses until 1999 on a yearly basis. The ever-increasing number of participants from year to year (from only 10 in 1995 to 25 in 1999) (Department of Remote Sensing, UTM, 2000) shows the realization of the importance of this technology in many aspects of resources development in developing countries like Malaysia. The 2 months short course covers many areas of remote sensing, GIS, photogrammetry and other related fields as diverse as the basic concepts, application, field data collection and presentation of the output.

The major objective of the Department of Remote Sensing, and Centre for Remote Sensing at UTM is to produce qualified graduates or trained professionals in remote sensing and related technologies to fulfill the needs of National Remote Sensing Programme. The approach that has been adopted and implemented in higher educational institutions in Malaysia like UTM can be said as near systematic approach as it has met the conditions used to define the term systematic. However there is still room for improvement. First of all the integration between remote sensing, GIS and other related technologies should be further enhanced. This can be achieved by having mutual understanding between those departments or sections that are available at the university and employing staff who have wider experience in such fields. UTM has always taken effortn towards research in new areas and promoting this rapidly growing technology to remote sensing community via hosting of seminars, workshops and short courses. With the Memorandum of Understanding signed between UTM and Malaysian Centre for Remote Sensing in 2000, further development in the aspects of human resource development , technology transfer, research, consultation, and data and information exchange is expected to happen in remote sensing.

Our whole hearted thanks go to all the staff at the Department of Remote Sensing, UTM, to academic staff from other local universities and the Ministry of Education, Malaysia for providing data and guidance to complete this paper.


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