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Teaching GIS Principles Through Multimedia Based GIS Tutor

P. Venkatachalam P.Venkatachalam, B.Krishna Mohan, J.K.Suri, Aarthi T. Chandrasekar and Vikas Mishra
Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering, IIT
Powai, Bombay – 400 076, India
Email: [email protected]

Benefits of harnessing the new developments in high technology areas like space technology and information technology for sustainable development have been well recognized and many developing countries are looking towards assimilating these technologies as part of their developmental plans. Satellite remote sensing integrated with GIS technology provides a tool for addressing the issues of spatial reference in enhancing the quality of life and sustainable development. India is one of the developing countries, which is undergoing radical changes on the socio-economic front. The administrators and planners understand the need for efficient planning and optimal resources management. They are aware that Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System technologies can play a vital role in urban and regional planning, resources monitoring and allocation and environmental management. India is one the few countries in the world, which has made remarkable progress in space technology. India has launched a series of operational remote sensing satellites providing high quality remote sensing data to several parts of the world. By integrating remote sensing and GIS methodologies, India has carried out a number of operational projects at national level in the areas of resources planning and management. In response to rapid developments in computer hardware, graphic display systems and spatial theory, GIS technology is achieving wide spread popularity among the administrators, managers, line department personnel and academia. The inevitable accompaniment of such extremely rapid growth of technology is considerable shortage of trained manpower at all levels. Especially in the case of GIS technology, the problem is so acute that many organisations do not come forward to implement GIS technology just because of the shortage of skilled manpower to handle their systems. India has taken a few steps to introduce GIS and Remote Sensing as a subject in the undergraduate and graduate level degree programs in a few universities. Still the required number of skilled manpower is very high.

The requirement of GIS education has shown over the years that there are three categories of people who have to be exposed to this technology. The first level deals with people who are administrators and decision makers who have to get a general awareness of the potential of GIS technology. The second level categorizes to the personnel from user departments who must understand the conceptual basis of GIS operations and analysis. Third level deals with technical manpower that will work in the systems and implement the applications in GIS environment. The main hurdles in imparting GIS technology are the technical complexity of GIS concepts and the compulsion to work in a computing environment. Although public investment in GIS research such as the Regional Research Laboratories in the (U.K.) and the National Centre for geographic Information and Analysis (NCGIA) in the (U.S.A.) has added to the pool of skills there is still a considerable unmet demand for GIS education. (Raper and Green, 1992). In this context, we find now that several new technical books written by eminent authors and self-learning demonstration tools built around commercial packages are available to strengthen GIS education. This article illustrates the development of a multimedia based GIS tutor, the structure adopted, the contents covered and the hands-on exercises provided around GRAM++, an indigenous software package.

Development of GIS Tutor
One of the early GIS tutors was ARCDEMO developed at Birkbeck College, London, U.K. (Green, 1987). This demonstrator worked around Arc/Info GIS package and illustrated the capabilities of map editing, projection changes, map overlay, buffering and network analysis. Map Analysis Package MAP (Tomlin, 1983) was one of the earliest simple GIS tools demonstrating the raster based techniques in GIS. Many enhanced versions of MAP were released subsequently. IDRISI (Eastman and Warren, 1987) developed at Clark University, USA provided simple techniques to handle raster maps along with tutorials. IDRISI became one of the best training tools internationally for raster based GIS with recent upgrades to Windows platform. With the availability of PC based GIS packages in the Nineties, vendors started releasing self-learning demonstrators around commercial GIS products.

The first comprehensive computer aided learning tool for GIS was created in the Department of Geography, Birkbeck College, London, U.K. (Raper and Green, 1989) and was named GISTutor. This tutor ran standalone on a PC without the need for a full fledged GIS package, presented an overview of GIS functions, provided illustrations through animations and had a flexible structure for all types of users. Detailed descriptions of GISTutor version I and II are given in (Raper and Green, 1992). GISTutor II is a hypertext based system allowing a user to explore a series of linked screens of information covering the basic and advanced topics. A review of GISTutor II has been given in (Stuart, 1995). Geocube 1.5 is one of the well-developed GIS tutors in Frace by Michel Bernard at SIAGE SABM, and Frame and Phillipe Miellet at Ted-Aliter in 1996. It provides an interactive introduction to GIS and gives a clear understanding of GIS technology. GeoCube is an application developed with Tool book version 3.0 hypermedia authoring system. (Tool Book is a product of Asymetrics Corporation and a run time version of Tool book is provided along with GeoCube.) GeoCube runs on MS DOS and Windows. The topics are categorised under Geographic Information, GIS functionality, GIS Implementation and GIS Technology. GeoCube is very well organized with graphical illustrations, icons and help functions. Clicking on a cube and moving it along the panel to a desired level can control the speed of the illustrations and animations. Some of the texts contain hyperwords, which are highlighted. By clicking on them one can get detailed information on these words. The hypertext approach used in GeoCube provides a framework in which a range of tools can be used to create dynamic teaching material to educate users about GIS.

Geocal is a Windows based GIS tutor developed by Roy Alexander and group at CIT, Centre for Geography, Geology and Meteorology, Dept. of Geography at the University of Leicester, U.K. It is a good tutor for the beginners in the field of GIS. The tutor comprises four units – Introduction to GIS, GIS for utilities, GIS for business and GIS in agriculture. The number of illustrations and examples are very few but self-explanatory with hypertext links for detailed information. After every unit/subunit a simple quiz is provided on important aspects of the topic. Introduction to GIS is given in detail but the other three application units do not provide complete understanding of GIS capabilities.

GIS Tutor Around GRAM++
A number of GISTutors working standalone or built around commercial GIS packages are available internationally. Keeping into view the need for imparting GIS education in India and also the availability of indigenous GIS tool GRAM++, steps have been taken to build a multimedia based GIS tutor around GRAM++.

GRAM++ GIS Package
Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India launched a project entitled Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS) to generate computer compatible, spatially oriented data bases of natural resources and socio-economic parameters to facilitate area specific micro-level planning. The project has emphasized the development of comprehensive spatial databases at district level encompassing all the resource sectors. During the project execution, a PC-based user-friendly GIS tool – GRAM (Geo Referenced Area Management) was designed to handle both positional and non-positional attributes involved in resource management. In order to handle remotely sensed images, a module for processing remotely sensed images is also provided in the package. Considering the recent developments in the PC hardware and software technology, and standardization of graphical user interfaces and the feedback received from users of different categories – government, academia, and NGO, GRAM was upgraded and a new version GRAM++ was built in Windows 95/NT environment. The package has been designed following software engineering principles and object oriented approach. While developing the package, specific features available in Windows such as multi-tasking, clip-board and drivers for input and output etc. have been used and visual programming methods are adopted so that the entire use is through dialog boxes and menu selections via icons. An online support is provided at every step. The modules in GRAM++ include Import/Export of different format data, Map Editing, Raster Analysis, Vector Analysis, Network Analysis, Spatial Query Language support for combined attribute and map based queries, Digital Image Processing, Watershed Analysis, and Map Layout.

Fig 1
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Structure of GIS Tutor
The structure of our GIS Tutor (Fig. 1) has been designed in such a way that it can address the requirements of decision makers in need of spatial inputs, personnel from line departments who handle spatial data and the academic community. The users need not have a previous knowledge in computers or GIS. While designing the system, it was kept in mind that the total system must be highly interactive so that the users can proceed step by step. The concepts and theory of GIS are explained through graphical illustrations, supported by brief textual descriptions. Context sensitive links are provided by clicking on technical words that also enable moving to anywhere by the selection of icons. Macromedia Authorware 5 Attain has been chosen to develop the tutor as it facilitates the hyperlinks between topics, display of graphical images and text, and embed animations. The text material has been organized under various topics and links have been provided to select technical words for cross- referencing. The functions are graphically illustrated with examples and the executions are shown through animations. The user can control the speed of the animations. After each topic, a quiz is provided to test the understanding of that topic by the trainee. Uniqueness of this GIS tutor is that in addition to technical coverage of the concepts with illustration, a set of hands on exercises are provided with test data sets around GRAM++ GIS package.

Technical Design of GIS Tutor

Fig 2
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The technical topics of GIS technology (Fig. 2) were grouped into main sections and each section is provided with a series of subsections. The text materials are supported with illustrations and examples to improve the presentation and understanding. The topics are organized sequentially starting from technical items, understanding GIS functionality, application studies, references and glossary. The idea of preparing a multimedia tutor is not to load pages of text materials for each subsection like a book. Under each section, the subsections are explained briefly with examples and highlighting of technical words for cross referencing. Following the technical topics, application studies are provided as show cases to make the trainee understand the use of this technology in the real world scenario.

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The technical layout part starts with a brief introduction about the tutor and GRAM++ GIS package followed by sixteen technical sections. Introduction section gives the definition of GIS, data integration by Geography, GIS components and why to use GIS. The topics on representation of the world in GIS explains the map model concept, layers, objects, nature of spatial data, coordinate systems, scale, projection and basic map design (Fig. 3). Section on attributes of spatial data introduces the types of non-spatial attributes associated with spatial features, records, fields, keys and building of queries on tables. Spatial data models, section talks about raster data model with examples, advantages and limitations, vector data model, examples, topological structure in vector data features and advantages and limitations. It also covers encoding in raster data model using run length method (Fig. 4) and quadtree.

Fig 4
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Data Input covers input devices and methods, various existing data sources in spatial and non-spatial forms. Data conversion section talks about various raster and vector exchange formats, interoperability, raster to vector and vector to raster conversion, combining raster and vector in soft and hard copy and the geo registration of maps.

Data editing shows with illustrations the onscreen digitization of vector data, cleaning, topology creation, rasterization, creation of tabular data, attribute data verification and projection transformation. Data viewing and tabular analysis explains the analysis of non-spatial database, viewing attributes of spatial data objects, generation of maps on attribute query and statistical map generation. Spatial analysis functions section gives elementary analysis functions, classification functions, measurement functions, overlay operations, neighbourhood operations, connectivity functions and cartographic modeling. Digital Terrain Model explains representation of terrain, spatial interpolation, Triangulated Irregular Networks (TIN), visualization, intervisibility and watershed generation. Spatial Statistics section explains descriptive Statistics, point based and area based statistical measures, spatial pattern and gravity model. Network Analysis illustrates network model, attributes of network, connectivity, routing, location and allocation and applications.

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Role of Remote Sensing talks about principles of Remote Sensing, Data Sources, preprocessing, enhancement and classification algorithms and integration of Remote Sensing with GIS. GIS output section describes output devices, map design principles, interactive output, tables and charts and generation of thematic maps. GPS in GIS explains the role of GPS data in GIS application studies. Data quality section narrates the components of data quality, sources of errors, accuracy test and the concept of meta data base. Spatial Decision Support System gives the definition and explains the concept with examples. Each of the above technical section is assisted with graphical presentations and quiz (Fig. 5). Some of the functionality is explained through animation (Fig. 6). ).

Fig 6
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Following the technical part, a series of case studies are given as show cases explaining the objective of the study, data used, flow chart of analysis and the results generated. This section also refers to OGIS standards, WWW GIS Resources, Internet GIS, a bibliography and Glossary on GIS terminology. The uniqueness of this tutor is the provision of a GIS package GRAM++ with hands-on exercises, test data sets to run the exercises and user documentation explaining the steps to be followed while carrying out the exercises.

This article illustrates an attempt made in the Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering, Indian Institute of technology, Bombay, India to develop a multimedia based tutor around GRAM++, an indigenous GIS package. The tutor is one of the deliverables under the ongoing UNDP assisted project on “GIS Based Technologies for Local Level Development Planning”. The tutor is expected to be a useful teaching aid for spreading GIS education across different level of users in the developing countries.


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