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GIS in Indian Colleges

Dr. Seema M Parihar
Reader in Geography, Kirori Mal College,
University of Delhi.
[email protected]

GIS is a technology that should be implemented in every organization. It is a promising tool with lot of analytical capabilities. It began in 1960’s as a computerized tool for land assessment in Canada and the neighborhood analysis in USA and has evolved into a revolution in many disciplines. However, for traditional academicians, even after forty years of its advent, it is a new technology that should be viewed with suspicion. This obstructs the implementation of GIS in the course curricula at undergraduate level in India. Organizational mismatch and fear of non-usability further slows down its implementation in structured academic environment. This paper focus on 3 C’s – Considerations, Contingencies and Challenges in implementing GIS course in College education in India.

Why should GIS courses be considered as a part of Course curriculum in College education in India?
General anatomy of Geographic Information System presents a relief to a graduate amidst continuously aggravating difficulties in the job scenario. GIS is a multifaceted field with rapidly expanding opportunities for those who are familiar with the concepts and the technology. Because of its potential for a rewarding career, GIS needs to be considered as a rewarding option in a theoretical curriculum. Moreso, our society is becoming information intensive. About three-fourth of any information has a geo-spatial element, which means that it can be geo-referenced by either address or a location. This knowledge in totality constitutes a foundation for GIS Varied definitions of GIS and its innumerable nomenclature further highlights the dynamism in the discipline. A definition for consideration is that of Burrough, who defined GIS as “set of tools for collecting, storing retrieving at will, transforming and displaying spatial data from the real world for a particular set of purpose” (Burrough, 1986). The term is becoming hybridized and modified to conform to cultural, economic and intellectual objectives. Some related terms are Geographical Information system (Europe), Geomatique (Canada), Geo-relational Information System (Technology-based), Geoscience Information System (disciplined based) and Spatial Information System (Non-geographical derivative). All definitions and related terms however, reflect basic philosophy of spatial environment

Another consideration pertains to the versatility of the functions that GIS can perform. It raises as many questions as it answers. The questions range from inventory related to analysis related. Their function and approach can identify all these. The basic questions, ‘How to map’? and `What to map’? still challenge GIS, that began forty years ago. A large number of GIS applications involve updating and displaying map products. Question involving `Where is what’? provide a valuable insight into data storage. It exploits the linkage between the digital map and data base management technology. `Where has it changed’? questions involve temporal analysis. A graphic portrayal of changes in geographic space provides a new perspective on existing data. Spatial patterns relationships involve sophisticated spatial analysis incorporating analytical tools and system models in GIS.

Equally important is the compatibility element in GIS. Its adaptability to varied datasets occuring in different platforms (ground, air and space) increases the scope for its consideration. Digital databases of satellite , maps and census can be scientifically integrated through GIS. GPS links GIS maps and their data sets to real world positions and movements. With high-resolution data and stereo data becoming more readily available the proliferation of GIS into non-expert areas is also eminent. IKONOS imagery, which is commercially distributed by Space Imaging Corporation, USA can be procured from National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Hyderabad on 1 meter (panchromatic) and 4 meters (multispectral) resolution in India. Not only this, Department of Space of Government of India has successfully launched a satellite to generate imagery of less than 2m resolution in October, 2001. Besides, IRS 1C &1D data is already being used intensively by GIS users. In addition, availability of stereo air photos, 3D models and highly accurate orthoimages enhances applications in GIS. ISTAR claims to have embarked on a programme to acquire 1 meter -resolution 3D imagery. Stereo Analyst from ERDAS too is enhancing 3D capability into the GIS world.

The need to become familiar with basic principles of GIS is growing as more organizations are adapting GIS in their daily working. GIS industry is all set to pay premium to graduates who know not only how to use the existing software but also how to integrate the technology in the existing system and carry it beyond its current bounds. This vacuum in India can best be filled with introduction of GIS courses in Colleges.

Who should be considered?
All disciplines that recognize the importance of spatial dimensions need to be considered. The GIS as discipline can be studied at two distinct levels, where one pertains to technology development and the other pertains to development of concepts behind the technology. Knowledge of underlying geographic principles driving spatial patterns and dynamics will in turn strengthen the accuracy in use of algorithms to solve real world issues. The ability to think and analyse spatially becomes the core of GIS.

The GIS users are now more interdisciplinary than ever. Their applications are in wide range of fields and projects, and across a variety of subjects, The system have been used in studies of the spatial distribution of forests, minerals, animals as well as snow melt run off simulation, fertility transition dynamics and industrial location. One of the marked change in the user community have been the increasing number of diverse studies. In some areas GIS use continues to be a specialist activity, while in others, with the development of more specialized modules offering querying and mapping capabilities, users need not necessarily have GIS technical know-how. GIS course curriculum can thus cut across different subjects and can become part of following four faculties at undergraduate Level:

  • Faculty of Technology – Civil Engineering,; Computer Science; Information Technology
  • Faculty of Sciences – Botany; Geology; Zoology.
  • Faculty of Social Sciences – Geography; Economics; Sociology, Commerce & Business
  • Faculty of Mathematical Sciences – Statistics

In Delhi there are three universities where there is a scope for introduction of GIS exist at Undergraduate level – University of Delhi, Jamia Millia Islamia and Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University. The present status illustrates that GIS is though a part of course curriculum in Geography at undergraduate level, it is totally theoretical. At present, in Delhi University, it is an optional paper in B.A.(Hons.) Geography, with less than 50 students offering it in three of the twelve colleges offering Geography ( 21 in Kirori Mal College and 22 together in Dayal Singh & Bhagat Singh College) . Its only in one college (KMC) where the course is being offered right from its inception (1990). Thus, indicative of the step-discipline treatment given to the subject. However new syllabus in Geography hopes to offer a partial solution. But its advent in other faculties is still non-existing and needs to be considered. In around fifty colleges there lies a scope for its expansion (Table 1). For all application related exercises in GIS, following centers of Delhi University offer a good premise.

  • Centre for Science Education and Communication Center.
  • Centre for Geo-resources .
  • Centre for Inter Disciplinary Studies on Mountain & Hill Environment
  • Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystem.

Table 1: Scope for Introducing GIS In Delhi Colleges

Course No. of Colleges where scope for introducing GIS exist at Undergraduate Level inUniversity of Delhi within present set-up
North Delhi Colleges West Colleges Dhaula Kuan Area South Delhi East Delhi Central Delhi Shrebutse
Geography (Hons) Ö     04
ð     01
Ö     02 Ö     04
ð     02
Ö     01 Ö     01
ð     01
Geology (Hons) ð     01 01
Economics (Hons) 10 09 07 07 03 01 01 38
Statistics (Hons) 03 02 02 07
Sociology (Hons) 02 01 03 01 07
Computer Science & Comp. App 04 06 Ö     – 05 01 01 17
Business Data Processing 02 05 02 01 10
Botany (Hons) 07 01 02 04 01 15
Zoology (Hons). 07 01 02 04 01 15
Ö   GIS is already a part of the Course Curricula (A Final Year Paper, First group will be passing out in 2003)

ð GIS is taught at present

The second important issue that needs to be understood before introducing GIS in colleges is cost to be borne by an institute in its implementing. All these are dependent on the perspective that particular University and discipline upholds. There are different views regarding the importance of three essential element of GIS – data, operations and applications. The students of different disciplines may do better in one element than the other. Some disciplines like geography, geology, architecture are closer to data-centric perspective, as they prepare individual layers and/or assemble the comprehensive databases GIS needs. Other disciplines like computer science are operations-centric, because they lock in on refining and expanding the GIS toolbox of processing and display capabilities. Finally, other physical sciences and social sciences are applications-centric. For them the ominous details of spatial data and operations are impediments to problem solving. The tracking of “cause and effect” and reliance on empirical relationships are the main ingredients and they vary with disciplines. The idea that GIS modelling retains spatial specificity and responds to spatial autocorrelation of field data is a challenging one in each subject. Over the years there has been a transitional shift in the perspective from data and operation centric to application centric in GIS. A crucial component of this evolution is an effective mechanism to communicate model logic, as well as processing flow. All these carry costs and need to be handled effectively and differently.

The interaction emanated due to changes in the syllabus. Job specifications further add to the contigencies. This requires a training -either in house or outside. However, the college teaching has ignored a number of significant factors amongst which are:

  1. The coordination of course content;
  2. A strategy for incorporating new members of the department into teaching.
  3. The traditional demand for links between teaching and research
  4. The educational goal of colleges has been to produce graduates.

With reference to the first point there are difficulties to be overcome before academic content can be properly structured and teaching coordinated. For every small change permission from the university is mandatory. Syllabi revision is a long drawn procedure.
Table 2: Requisite Clearances before implementing new Syllabus

Stage Basic Requisites
First Preparation & Presentation of Syllabus in respective department
Second Clearance of Syllabus in respective faculty.
Third Clearance from the Academic Council
Fourth Ratification from the Executive Council.
Fifth Implementation of Syllabus

It is a 5- tier arrangement (Table2). Let me illustrate with an early experience in introduction of RS & GIS as a compulsory paper at undergraduate level in the Delhi University Geography Syllabus. The thought of introduction of GIS Course demanding infrastructure was enough for a debate among college and university teachers. After lot of deliberations in the Department of Geography, the syllabus was prepared in 1998-99. It got ratified in 2000 and being a final year paper the first batch to study the paper will be in 2003. Time lag between preparation and implementation of any new syllabus in this information age thus becomes a contingency of its own kind.

However common contingencies emanate from a fact that GIS is a complicated field, with more than a smattering of statistics, mathematics and computer science. In GIS data loading and processing demands require specialized equipment. Once, the disciplines where GIS teaching need to be included are identified and a case for development established, the colleges/ institutions must choose and implement a system. In academic environment, user-centric approach appears to be an idle choice. Involving users help to:

  • Specify discipline requirements;
  • Identify sections in syllabus curriculum where change may be required; and
  • Stipulate functionality requirements
  • Ensure user commitment and co-operation;
  • Limit resistance from individuals to any new system.

Before making a decision for setting GIS Lab, there are a number of factors to be considered. In a college set-up prime query will certainly pertain to the cost: How much can you afford to invest? Another query will certainly pertain to attitude of academia community. The contingencies can be gauged from the following basic considerations.

Get Knowledgeable:
It is essential to know the current status of the current hardware and software markets. It is equally important to know what the other universities private teaching institutes and consulting firms are using. This knowledge guides one to gauge the pertaining costs (Table 3). The corollary to this axiomatic truth is “Learn from other’s mistakes so you won’t have to make them all yourself”. GIS software generally falls into two categories: modular or core. Any purchase by an academic institute should partly depend on the type of GIS work to be conducted in respective discipline. In certain cases a small module or a more simplistic, user-friendly GIS core product may be suitable. Whereas in others a fully integrated GIS core product may be necessary. This can be in a college where two or more disciplines offer GIS. Viability for library can also be looked into. Also important is the knowledge of existing data formats. Will these formats be compatible with the system that individual colleges have in mind? If required, a separate investment can be made in data translation software products
Table 3: Basic Costs towards setting up a GIS Lab

Direct Costs
Category Sub- Category
Hardware/ Software
  • Hardware ( Spatial Input and Output devices)
  • Software
  • Software development
  • Customization
  • Consumables (paper, ink, etc.)
  • Software upgrades
  • Communications network
  • Internet
  • Maintenance and support contracts
  • Database Creation (Existing maps, Aerial photographs and satellite imagery and digital data)
  • Data Conversion (Scale & Projection)
  • Database maintenance
  • Data Updating
  • Administration
  • Training

Identify Specific Needs
Is the teaching module data- centric, operations- centric or applications-centric? Make a list of the types of data handling / analysis procedures that may be required. Find out what other teaching institutes or organizations performing similar tasks are using though. This may give you an idea what to look and where to look for. Practical insight is any day better option than an alone vendor is. Remember that in a college set-up any infrastructure development bears tremendous administrative and financial constrain. Thus, future impediments also need to be kept in mind.

Supporting System
The supporting system forms an important constituent in the success or failure of any GIS course. Support and training are key factors in the final stage of implementation. Ensure that it is readily available. Support can be in the form of dedicated teachers, good manual or an outside teaching institute. Support can be accrued from other existing institutions in India that impart training in this field (Table 4).
Table 4: Outside Availability of Institutional Support

S.No. Training Institutes.
(1). Centre of studies in Resources Engineering, IIT, Mumbai .
(2). Geological Survey of India.
(3). GIS Institute, NOIDA.
(4). IIT, Kanpur.
(5). Indian Agriculture Research Institute, New Delhi.
(6). Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehradun.
(7). Institute of Remote Sensing, Chennai.
(8). National Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad.
(9). NBSS & LUP, Nagpur.
(10). Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres, Dehradun, Kharagpur, Nagpur, Jodhpur, Banglore.
(11). Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad.
(12). Survey Training Institute, Hyderabad.

In addition, in the present time, Internet, Extranets and Intranets all can be used as a supporting system. Few sites, which can act like supporting systems, are listed in table 6. Not only basic information can be accessed through Internet, but it can also act as a metadata and a virtual library . The concept of virtual classroom where a group of students and the teacher would need to be online at the same time, is also gaining popularity. This supporting system cannot be ignored , especially at a time when Microsoft is preparing to include both high quality telephone and directory features in Windows XP, scheduled to be released on October 25, 2001. This will improve Internet telephony, which till now has not been of high quality and conversations are plagued with static and delays.
Table 5: Availability of On Line Supporting System

S .No Web sites as supporting system
(1) WWW.ESRI.com
(2) WWW.Geoplace.com
(3) WWW.GIS.about.com
(4) WWW.GISdevelopment.net
(5) WWW.GISPortal.com
(6) WWW.ISPRS.org
(7) WWW.Microimages.com
(8) WWW.Spacedaily.com
(9) WWW.Spacedaily.com
(10) WWW.Spatialnews.com…(the list is quiet long)

There are innumerable challenges that need to be sorted and solved before implementing GIS in colleges. Clear objectives need to be illustrated for the GIS, and the advantages of introducing a system needs to be considered and evaluated. Challenging questions that need to be addressed at every level of academia hierarchy include: cost-benefit analysis of introducing a GIS in colleges; its help in improving the course curriculum at the undergraduate level and emerging interaction within changes in job specification further complicates the real issue.

In this context, there are common difficulties that need to be overcome before academic contingencies. These need to be reasoned at two levels.

  1. In terms of practical issues relevant to society. By constructing artificial environment with the help of technical and normative principles one finds solution to the problem thrown up in human society.
  2. In terms of theory formulation as an abstract system of hypotheses and relationship.

The conflicts in introducing GIS in academic environment become clear when one compares residual structures deriving from the traditional way of life of the scholar on the one hand, to institutions with a complete division of labour on the other hand. Comparison of College management with that in private industry brings out three features. First, in the University or College Department one is dealing with a set-up that are mostly controlled by University Grant Commission. Affiliated colleges are governed by the rules and regulations framed by the University. Management cannot introduce anything on their own. The clearance and ratification of new syllabus further complicates the issue. This means that many of those things that are essential for the continued existence of a firm in the private sector, such as advertising and market research into the interplay between producer and consumer are so weakly developed that market response is often poor or absent in UGC’s maintained colleges.. A second feature emerges from analogy with the private sector. It is usually assumed that as firm grows a functional division of labour between different tasks to be performed in GIS, will occur, producing well known economies of scale that give big firm the advantage over the small one. However, colleges today are in a schizophrenic situation. Academician who are highly qualified in any specialization (for e.g. GIS in the present case) have not only to teach different subjects (fulfilling UGC norm of 18 periods a week), but also to undertake tasks such as administration and development work. The quality of teaching in due course becomes a contingency. Third, however is that planning in the economic sense is totally absent from college set-up and most other university departments. An important part of the production process, namely ordinary and extraordinary expenditure is outside the scope of college decision making. Otherwise too, the higher education is passing through a phase of financial crunch. All this comes in the way of infrastructure development before introducing a course like GIS.

Apart from the financial constraints associated with adopting GIS there are other reasons why an academic institute decides not to implement GIS.

  • There may be lack of internal support.
  • There may be organizational mismatch, where because of lack of knowledge and awareness about advantages of GIS, even the very thought of introduction of GIS supposedly does not meet the needs of the organization.
  • Existing narrow perception of it being tool requiring only skill development and not education.
  • There may be concerns about the technology and data conversion problem vis-à-vis traditional practices.
  • There may be internal disputes or constraints with regard to some papers more tilted towards GIS to others. User acceptability thus may suffer and result in resistance to the system.
  • There may be a fear of non-usability, especially in non -technical subjects like geography, geology, etc. It gets more highlighted where teachers feel they will face technical difficulties when trying to use the system.
  • There may be concerns about the time needed to implement a GIS system.

In conclusion, a stage has now come when initiatives must come from those who are in Colleges and Universities. In line with familiar dictum, that “discipline is what disciplinarian do”, separate customized GIS labs ought to and could be set-up within existing Departments (Geography, Geology, Economics, Statistics, etc.) The theoretical foundation has already been laid. Trained personnel also exist, albeit in small number. It is now up to the present academic generation, to introduce new and applied courses; to introduce viable GIS infrastructure and research applications; to formulate new goals for spatial technology and also to improve information and communication networks between academics and the field of applied research.