Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are software packages used to analyze spatial information and produce maps, 3D visualizations, and interactive maps distributed online. GIS is an important tool for planning professionals and CRP-UTSOA offers students a sequence of courses to develop different levels of GIS proficiency depending on their career goals. Incoming MSRCP students are exposed to the fundamentals of GIS through an optional Professional Development Week. More in-depth introduction to GIS is provided in the required core course “Introduction to Viz-Com and GIS” offered in spring semester.  Finally, those wishing to become proficient GIS professionals attend the course, “Introduction to Urban GIS,” which is a rigorous and comprehensive course taught in a lab format that emphasizes urban GIS and spatial visualization. More specialized GIS training is also available in practicums or project-oriented courses, where students learn to apply GIS tools to specific planning issues. GIS instruction in CRP-UTSOA is provided using the latest version of ArcGIS, which is freely available to all registered students in the UTSOA Computer Classrooms.

Exposure to GIS

All incoming CRP students are offered a 6-hour training program in GIS during Professional Development Week, held the week before the beginning of fall semester. Students learn to add and overlay GIS data layers, select spatial features, and make basic map layouts. They also learn the basics of Microsoft Excel, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe PhotoShop. As their final assignment, they develop a poster that includes their GIS maps and also photographs, charts, and text elements. Professional Development Week does not teach students comprehensive proficiency in GIS or how to apply GIS to planning issues. The training program is designed to prepare students with no previous GIS experience for future GIS training in subsequent CRP classes.

Proficiency level: Exposure to basic GIS tools and analysis methods.

Introduction to GIS

Introductory-level training in GIS is provided in the required core methods course, “Introduction to Viz-Com and GIS,” which is offered in the spring semester of the first year of the MSCRP program. This course incorporates instruction in SketchUp and other 3D modeling software, web-based design and visualization solutions, Adobe Suites tools, as well as introductory-level training in GIS. In addition, 2-3 week intensive short courses in GIS are occasionally offered and may be required for admission to some courses.

Proficiency level: Introductory-level training in principal GIS tools.

Comprehensive GIS Training

CRP 386: Introduction to Urban GIS, offered each fall semester, provides students with comprehensive, individualized training in primary and secondary spatial data collection, analysis and visualization. This rigorous course goes beyond the introduction to GIS offered in the core course, “Introduction to Viz-Com and GIS.” Students learn to project geospatial data files, georeference image files, conduct vector and raster-based suitability analysis, collect GIS data in the field and create their own shapefiles, conduct basic 3D analysis, develop and integrate 3D design models using SketchUp, and create online visualizations using GoogleEarth. Students also consider the social, political and ethical dimensions of GIS technology and develop an independent final project, where they use GIS to document and critically analyze a planning-related issue. The class is limited to advanced graduate students in the School of Architecture and the LBJ School of Public Policy. First-year CRP students need instructor permission to enroll.

Proficiency level: Rigorous, comprehensive training and preparation for GIS-related employment in planning, policy and design fields.

Specialized Training in GIS

Training in specific GIS applications may be offered in any of the 6-credit practicum courses, depending on the project and planning problem being investigated. Students should inquire with instructor about the type and depth of GIS instruction in each practicum before enrolling. In addition, CRP 386: Applied GIS and CRP electives in housing, transportation and environmental planning may also provide specialized training in GIS. These courses and their content vary from year to year, so students should read course descriptions carefully and also inquire directly with instructor. In spring 2007, students conducted primary data collection of children’s perceptions and knowledge of environmental hazards in East Austin and developed an interactive GIS and a Google Maps/Google Earth mash-up available on the course website. In spring semesters 2008, 2010 and 2012, students collected geospatial data through mental mapping, field assessments, and problem identification workshops in an informal settlement in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Depending on their interests, CRP students may also attend specialized GIS courses offered in the School of Engineering and in the Department of Geography. Admission to these elective courses is sometimes restricted to students who have attended CRP 386: Introduction to Urban GIS or who have equivalent GIS and/or fieldwork experience.

Proficiency level: Specialized training in selected, advanced GIS methods and applications.