Introducing Mapping, Spatial Data and GIS (Online)


Investigate the power of maps and spatial data to document and illustrate local and global issues. Learn how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to explore the world around you and share ideas. Apply GIS principles and tools to create your own maps from freely-available online spatial data.

Please note to complete this course you will need to be a reasonably competent and confident computer user. You will also need a computer that conforms to our minimum spec as outlined in the Your computer, section of the online support site, with one additional requirement for 1GB of free hard disk space (rather than the usual 500MB). Note you must have a broadband connection to study this course as you will be asked to download files over 100 MB.

This course requires downloading 1 item of free software as below, please note you cannot study the course without this.

  1. Quantum GIS (QGIS)

To the best of our knowledge you should be able to study this course using a MAC, PC or Linux OS. Full instructions are provided for all activities in the course materials. However it is worth noting:

  • not all activities on this course are possible using the Safari browser. If this is the browser you currently use we recommend using Firefox which can been downloaded for free from

  • you will required to download .tar files for some activities, standard windows zip software does not open this file type so you will need to install 7-zip

As before full instructions are included in the course materials.

While TALL IT help will make best efforts to offer assistance as usual, it is unable support using the GIS software itself. Some technical support is available from your tutor and fellow students, but this is not their main purpose on the course and so this should be considered when consulting them. Technical queries beyond the expertise or time constraints of the tutor and fellow students can be addressed to the broader QGIS user community, who may respond at their discretion – instructions on how to engage with this will be provided in the course.

Discover the diverse uses of mapping, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial data, and how they underpin decision-making in every aspect of our lives. Explore and critically appraise maps to gain a better appreciation of the world around you. Learn how to use free open-source software (Quantum GIS) to import, display and analyse spatial data. Collect and integrate spatial data from a variety of sources. Experience realistic tasks in the context of international case studies, which range from resource management, wildlife conservation and leisure hiking to archaeology and disaster relief. Apply your learning to create maps which illustrate your own interests or hobbies, based on sound cartographic principles.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. What are spatial data and Geographic Information Systems?
Explore how maps and spatial analysis pervade our world, and consider the use of maps in the media. Install the GIS software and take your first steps in displaying spatial data.

2. Who uses spatial data, maps and GIS, and what for?
Consider how GIS is used in different industries and leisure activities. Encounter the power and versatility of maps and GIS to illustrate patterns, exploring osprey migration routes in a wildlife case study.

3. Understanding spatial reference systems
Learn how to refer to the spatial location of objects on the earth’s surface, and understand how this translates to locations on a flat map. View and overlay data from a range of spatial reference systems, based on an archaeological case study of Stonehenge artefacts.

4. Representing spatial features
Grasp the difference between discrete spatial objects and continuous surfaces, and learn the characteristics of the two primary data formats (vector and raster) which represent them. Practice working with both data types in a resource management case study on an English farm.

5. Interpreting maps
Interpret the symbols, contours and scale on a topographic map, and learn how to navigate using a compass. Plan travel routes and camping locations for a wilderness hike through Monongahela National Forest, USA, as part of a leisure case study.

6. Working with raster layers
Experience the power of remotely sensed imagery to visualize environmental patterns. Manipulate raster layers in a disaster relief case study, to assess the extent of catastrophic flooding in Pakistan.

7. Working with vector layers
Generate and edit your own vector data by hand-digitizing, and add non-geographic information to your new layers. Extend the Pakistan disaster relief case study by calculating the area affected by flooding.

8. Introduction to symbology and cartography
Explore the art of cartography, and discuss how to communicate your message to a specific audience. Change the way map features are displayed to identify spatial patterns in health risks in Togo, an international development case study.

9. Making maps
Learn how the key elements of a map (scale bar, legend, graticule) allow viewers to interpret your map and understand your message. Apply cartographic principles in a tourism case study to create and export your own map of tourist attractions in Melbourne, Australia.

10. Introduction to spatial analysis
Discover how the utility of GIS extends far beyond map-making. Explore concepts in spatial analysis that will allow you to create new data, identify patterns, and support future decision-making. Propose the location of a new recycling facility in an urban planning case study.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


If you are in receipt of a UK state benefit, you are a full-time student in the UK or a student on a low income, you may be eligible for a reduction of 50% of tuition fees. Please see the below link for full details:


Concessionary fees for short courses


Mr Oliver Burdekin

Through his work on tropical conservation expeditions since 2006, Oliver saw GIS to be a perfect opportunity to tie together his interests in conservation and all things map. With a background in environmental science, a masters in environment and enterprise and a post grad diploma in GIS, the launch of burdGIS was a natural progression.


Dr Varina Delrieu

Varina studied at UCL, gaining a BA in landscape archaeology, MSc in GIS and Spatial Analysis in Archaeology, and a PhD in Urban Planning / Geography where her thesis explored how GIS can support the decision-making processes related to the social impacts of mega transport projects. Her post-doctoral research as a geographer on a sociology project with Leicester & Manchester Universities explored the spatial dimensions of everyday interactions of people and their neighbourhoods in six locations in the UK using GIS and a variety of geospatial and ethnographic data. Having completed a PG Cert in Ecological Surveying at Oxford ContEd she volunteers with a river charity, mapping the impacts of a variety of interventions to improve an urban waterway.

Course aims

This course aims to:
Introduce students to the basic concepts and diverse uses of mapping, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial data, and equip them with the knowledge to create robust, well-documented spatial data and maps for their own purposes.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • The diverse ways in which spatial data and GIS analyses are applied to help people better understand the world around them.
  • How they might source, edit and use spatial data in their own context.
  • Good practice for managing spatial data.
  • The definition of projections, datums and coordinate systems, and how knowledge of these allows different data sources to be mapped together.
  • The importance of metadata to record the source of data, and the degree of precision and uncertainty of spatial or attribute data.
  • The difference between raster and vector data formats, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • The difference between a GIS layer and the data it represents.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • Locate and acquire online data relevant to their personal interests.
  • Import their own data into a GIS from: GPS, hard-copy maps, digital imagery, shapefiles and XY coordinates.
  • Manage the spatial references of different data sources to align them within a GIS.
  • Manipulate and interrogate layers in a GIS.
  • Create basic maps with the elements necessary for readers to interpret them.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.