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Introduction to GIS: Geospatial Technologies for the Social Sciences

Viktor Lagutov

Central European University

Viktor Lagutov is a Professor at CEU and Head of the Environmental Systems Laboratory.

He coordinates several global communities of the Eye on Earth initiative, focusing on using the latest information and communication technologies for better decision-making in societal and environmental management.

Viktor has been teaching at postgraduate level, and running ICTs and GIS courses for non-technical audiences at professional and executive levels.

Building: N13, Room: 615

Thursday 14:00 - 17:30 (03/08/2017)

Tuesday 14:00 - 17:30 (01/08/2017)

Friday 14:00 - 17:30 (04/08/2017)

Wednesday 14:00 - 17:30 (02/08/2017)

Monday 14:00 - 17:30 (31/07/2017)

Course Dates and Times

Monday 31 July - Friday 4 August


Please see Timetable for full details.

Prerequisite Knowledge

There are no specific theoretical knowledge and technical skills required as prerequisites to attend the course. However, overall computer competency (e.g. Windows OS, archive file formats) is essential and expected. Desktop Windows PCs will be used during the course.

Short Outline

The course aims to introduce geospatial concepts and methods to policy researchers through practical application of relevant modern technologies. Popular geospatial software packages (Google Earth Pro, Google Maps, Quantum GIS) will be used to showcase the current techniques of geospatial data collection and visualization. Course participants will get acquainted with basics of Geographic Information Systems and the ways to utilize GIS software for own research. Citizen Science (data crowdsourcing) will be covered as one of data generation techniques using services available online. In addition, practical usage of satellite imagery for social studies will be briefly introduced and discussed.

Computer lab-based presentations by instructor will be accompanied by participants’ individual work on practical hands-on exercises and course projects.

The course will utilize only free software packages, so participants will be able to use their own laptops and continue working with software after the course is over.

Long Course Outline

Geospatial technologies have become important tools in social studies and political research. Availability of numerous tools for geospatial data inquiry, phenomena mapping and pattern analysis have not only enriched research methods used by policy researchers, but also stimulated easy and direct communication of study results. However, high potential of these tools is often being underutilized and neglected by researchers. The course aims to introduce basic concepts and practical applications of geospatial technologies to policy researchers. The most widespread basic geospatial software packages will be used to showcase the modern techniques of geospatial data collection, generation and visualization. Course participants will learn basics and common features of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the ways to utilize them for own research. Both desktop and online packages will be considered.

Though all stages of geospatial data-based research will be discussed, the primary attention will be given to data inquiry and data visualization. Several file formats for storing vector geospatial data will be introduced (kml and shp). Data analysis and manipulation will be limited to illustration of some simple techniques.

Alternative ways of collecting geospatial data will be considered, including both online data mining and datasets development by researchers. In addition, Citizen Science (data crowdsourcing) will also be included as one of data generation techniques. Potential practical usage of satellite imagery for social studies will also be discussed.

Geospatial data visualization will be conducted using free software packages: GoogleEarthPro, Google Maps and QuantumGIS. The course covers both specific features of each software package as well as combining packages into a single workflow in order to achieve the desirable mapping outcomes.

Computer lab-based presentations by instructor will be followed by participants’ individual work on practical hands-on exercises. Discussion of theoretical foundations will be limited to the minimum level essential for practical work.

The first day is devoted to the overview of mapping concepts, introducing GIS basics and software discussion.

GoogleEarthPro, well known, yet often underestimated and underutilized geospatial package will be considered at the second day. Some neglected features and functions will be presented (historical imagery, map layout development, etc). Numerous thematic datasets in Google Earth format (kml) are freely available for researchers online, yet, as a rule, they are not widely known and used. Participants will learn what kind of data can be stored in these datasets, how to obtain, develop and share such datasets. Basics of mapping process and geospatial data will be introduced here.

The practical sessions next day focus on online mapping tools using Google Maps as an example. Participants will develop and publish maps online using the datasets developed during the previous days.

QuantumGIS package (qGIS) will be introduced on the following day, building up on the skills and knowledge obtained. QGIS is considered to be the most popular Freeware Open Source Geographic Information System. During this session participants will learn the basics of a typical GIS package and mapping principles. A simple map will be developed going through all stages of map creation from data collection to map layout design. Being a typical Open Source package and a result of collaborative work by large community of contributors, qGIS is constantly evolving software and participants should be ready to implement “learn-by-doing” approach while working with it. The basics received during this session will lay the foundation for further independent work and exploration of other mapping packages.

Participants will be asked to complete several small homeworks and develop course projects. Projects should feature maps developed by participants and show potential application of the discussed methods and packages in individual policy research.

The course utilizes only free software, so participants will be able to use their own laptops and continue working with software after the course is over. However, the course instructions are tailored for PCs available at CEU labs.

Day Topic Details
Monday Geographic Information Systems
  • Mapping basics
  • Software packages
  • Case studies
Tuesday GoogleEarthPro
  • GoogleEarthPro functions
  • Satellite imagery
  • KML/KMZ files: downloading and developmen
Wednesday Online Mapping tools
  • Embedded maps
  • Crowdsourcing
Thursday qGIS Package
  • qGIS basics
  • Maps development
  • Vector (Shp) datasets (finding and visualizing)
  • Plugins
Friday Course project development and presentations
  • Supervised Individual work on course projects
  • Project presentations

In addition, participants will be requested to complete small homeworks after each session and to develop a course project.

Day Readings

Hands-on instructions will be distributed during the sessions. When required software manuals and other reference materials, including links to online video tutorials, will be provided. There are no other mandatory readings for the course.

Software Requirements

The course will be conducted at CEU computer Lab equipped with required hardware and software. Only free software packages will be used.

Participants can install the below mentioned software at their personal laptops in advance. The laptops could be used both for individual work on course project as well as class work. However, no time will be allocated to checking and fixing potential software problems at personal laptops.

GoogleEarthPro v7.0 (

Google Maps online (

QuantumGIS 2.14 (


Hardware Requirements

Desktop PCs in computer Lab - Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7;

Personal laptops can be both PCs and Macs. All packages used are cross-platform software.


There are no mandatory readings apart from the course materials to be distributed during sessions.

Optional readings

Smith, M., Goodchild, M., Longley, P. (2015) Geospatial Analysis. The Winchelsea Press, Winchelsea, UK. Free at

Shellito, B. A. (2012). Introduction to geospatial technologies. New York, NY : W.H. Freeman and Co.

Additional Information


This course description may be subject to subsequent adaptations (e.g. taking into account new developments in the field, participant demands, group size, etc). Registered participants will be informed at the time of change.

By registering for this course, you confirm that you possess the knowledge required to follow it. The instructor will not teach these prerequisite items. If in doubt, please contact us before registering.