GISSA meeting focuses on academic and research programmes

September 25th, 2014, Published in Articles: PositionIT


A recent GISSA meeting, held at the University of Pretoria and attended by some 110 members, focussed on academic and research programmes in GISc and remote sensing, with several educational institutions represented. The institutions presented some of their research projects and information on their training programmes.

 S’lindi Mhlongo, Gina Weir-Smith, Fritz van der Merwe, Prof. Gregory Breetzke, and Dr. Stefania Merlo.

Slindi Mhlongo, Gina Weir-Smith, Chris Vlok, Prof. Gregory Breetzke, and Dr. Stefania Merlo.

GISSA Gauteng chairperson Slindi Mhlongo facilitated the meeting. She reminded all GISSA members that the PLATO attendance register will from now on be scanned and uploaded to the GISSA website, and will replace attendance certificates.

It became clear that although most institutions have dedicated GIS-related fields of study, GIS research and projects often take place amongst a variety of disciplines at the institutions, as it is often used as a tool within these fields. Many of the institutions present acknowledged that their courses are not PLATO accredited, but consider it a topic for further discussion with PLATO.

UNISA representatives, Chris Vlok and Prof. Gregory Breetzke, spoke about the academic programmes and research projects at UNISA. Vlok said the university offers non-formal (NQF level 5) as well as formal (graduate and postgrad) courses, at their new science campus in Florida, Johannesburg. He explained that the work has a strong theoretical focus, complemented by short course practical workshops. According to Breetzke, UNISA has recently focused on a more research driven programme and has established the Geo-information Research Group.

Gina Weir-Smith from the Human Science Research Councils (HSRC), a parastatal research institution, spoke about the socio-economic driven research that the HSRC conducts. She explained that their focus is on applied research as opposed to pure GISc, and explored some examples. HSRC’s unemployment research for example has found unemployment to be spatially persistent, while research into service delivery unrest has shown water problems to be a more prevalent issue than housing, the latter of which is often believed to be the main concern. She also added that there is an option for others outside the institution to buy modules from the HSRC’s research surveys.

Dr. Stefania Merlo presented an overview of the University of the Witwatersrand’s GISc and remote sensing academic programmes, and then gave an overview of some of the university’s current research projects. These courses are offered across undergraduate and post graduate levels. She also announced that from 2015 Wits will be offering a Masters course in GIS and remote sensing (NQF level 9), which will admit students from other disciplines too. Some of the research projects currently underway at Wits include the tracking of sand dune movement in the Sahara Desert; detection and classification of tree species using machine learning algorithms, and 3D analyses and archaeological excavation in an open source context. Dr. Merlo also highlighted the work of two dedicated research centres at the university, the Gauteng City-Region Observatory (GCRO) and the Global Change and Sustainability Institute.

James Magidi, Prof. Serena Coetzee, Sanet Eksteen, Queen //, Graeme McFerren, Fritz van der Merwe, and S’lindi Mhlongo.

James Magidi, Prof. Serena Coetzee, Sanet Eksteen, Queen Mofokeng, Graeme McFerren, Fritz van der Merwe, and Slindi Mhlongo.

James Magidi spoke about academic GIS programme offered by the Tshwane University of Technology’s (TUT) Geomatics Department. These include a diploma in surveying (NDip), B.Tech Surveying, B.Eng. Geomatics, and Short Learning Programmes (SLPs) in geomatics, with some of these customised for specialised fields.

Graeme McFerren from the CSIR’s Meraka Institute gave a brief overview of the CSIR, and explained that the Meraka Institute is a support unit within the CSIR, which focuses on directed research in the ICT, modelling and sensors fields. The institute works on big data management and signal processing, remote sensing, pattern recognition, and machine learning. He also expanded on the various career paths at the Meraka Institute. There is the researcher career path, and the engineer and development path. Researchers have options such as internships, vacation work and studentships (with MSc and PhD as outputs); while the engineering and development options include internships and vacation work opportunities.

Fritz van der Merwe from the University of Pretoria (UP) offered an overview of the UP Geoinformatics programme, providing the background to the course which was started in 1996, and then explained the name difference of Geoinformatics as opposed to Geomatics. UP’s course focuses more on information and analyses than on the capturing of information (such as through photogrammetry and remote sensing), although data capturing is also covered in the course. He also spoke about the critical fields and associated subjects that make up the course, such as maths, applied maths, statistics, geospatial information science, coordination systems and map algorithms, photogrammetry and remote sensing, and various others.

Prof. Serena Coetzee, also from UP, spoke more about the course structures, such as the two-year MSc Geoinformatics degree and the PhD in Geoinformatics that the university offers. She also highlighted a range of shorter courses on offer. Continuing Education (CE) courses include a 7-month introduction to GIS course, and a 9-month Advanced GIS course. There is also a GIS professional practice course on offer, along with shorter few-day courses, such as the Introduction to geoinformatics standards course and others. Prof. Coetzee also encouraged GISSA members to become guest lectures, stating that they can earn PLATO CPD points this way.

The event was concluded with a presentation by Esri South Africa’s Sanet Eksteen, who spoke about the company’s educational map work software for high school students, Funda Lula. The software is based on the school curriculum for geography, and combines map work and GIS. Although developed by Esri South Africa, Funda Lula’s lessons are based on mapping and GIS principles, and are software independent. It also comes preloaded with printable exercises and teacher notes, and is not internet dependent. Esri South Africa’s Queen Mofokeng, added to this details of Esri’s training programmes on offer.

View photos from the event in the gallery here.

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