In recognition of the growing importance of GIS in careers, students of subjects including biology and forensic science will learn valuable GIS skills.

Giving GIS skills to new audiences through multi-disciplinary teaching

The Applied Sciences School of Bournemouth University is breaking new ground by incorporating GIS training into many more of its courses.  For the first time, students of subjects including biology and forensic science will learn valuable GIS skills alongside students of geography and ecology, in recognition of the growing importance of GIS in many careers.

– School of Applied Sciences –

Case study – Higher Education

The Customer

As one of the six schools within Bournemouth University, Applied Sciences contains three academic centres. One focuses on archaeology, anthropology and heritage, another covers ecology and geographical science while the third deals with forensic science. Teaching both undergraduate and postgraduate courses, the school has an International reputation for delivering high quality education while also pursuing excellence in research. Areas of research expertise include: Forensic archaeology and crime scene science where, for example, staff are currently investigating genocide in Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda and the implications of unearthing 40,000 year old human footprints in central Mexico.

The university has been able to take advantage of an educational licensing agreement with Esri UK to expand its teaching of GIS cost-effectively

Forensic science students now use Esri’s ArcGIS platform to identify where snipers might hide and where murderers might conceal bodies

Many more science students will leave university with a practical knowledge of using GIS, adding to their employability skills

The Challenge

In the past, only Ecology and Geography undergraduates were taught GIS for all three years as undergraduates, while Archaeologists attended GIS lectures in their third year. Recently, Forensic Science students also joined the GIS sessions from their second year onwards and other disciplines are soon to follow suit. Biology will be the next subject to take advantage of learning GIS skills from the second year on, for example.

Andy Ford, Lecturer in Geoinformatics, explained: “The growing relevance of GIS in various industries means it’s becoming ever more applicable to other subjects here at Bournemouth. Our aspiration is to make GIS available to all students within the school, giving them the benefit of learning new skills which are now in demand in the workplace. This means GIS will be accessible for Environmental Sciences and Biology students – in addition to those studying Archaeology, Geography; Forensic Science and Ecology.”

“ Our aspiration is to make GIS available to all students within the school, giving them the benefit of learning new skills which are now in demand in the workplace

Andy Ford – Lecturer in Geo informatics

The Solution

The main driver behind the new GIS initiative is that it can easily be applied to the various disciplines, to help solve relevant challenges and tasks and Bournemouth therefore believes it should be taught, to a wider audience.

The school is also set to benefit from greater economies of scale, as students from all disciplines will attend the same GIS sessions, rather than additional tailored modules which would not be economically viable. This gives staff more time to devote to research and generate the valuable income all universities need for long-term growth.

Bournemouth uses a mix of GIS software as part of its teaching programme, including Esri ArcInfo and ArcView. The campus-wide Esri licence acquired via the Eduserv CHEST programme supports the spread of GIS to new subjects, as it allows an unlimited number of users at no additional cost.

“ GIS is the glue that holds all the disciplines together, or will be in the future. We’ll be teaching GIS to all three centres for all three years

Andy Ford – Lecturer in Geo informatics


Bournemouth’s GIS teaching is already breaking new ground in the field of Forensic Science, where the capabilities of GIS are being realised for the first time. A prime example involves current Masters students, using Esri ArcView to create predictive models to help identify dump sites for murder victims.

Examining a range of spatial criteria, the models help users consider the type of decisions murderers make when hiding a body. This normally involves a thought process to find the right kind of landscape and vegetation, not too far from a road or car park and walking downhill rather than uphill. Using GIS, students create the different data layers and are able to understand all the different factors in context, to quickly reduce the area to be searched for a body.

Future plans for GIS-Forensics include students evaluating the vulnerability of 2012 Olympic sites to sniper fire, in a similar way in which proximity and viewsheds were used to identify the sniper’s locations in the Beltway shooting in Washington DC, which led to the individual’s capture.

The main benefit from increased exposure to GIS: The new skills being gained. “Graduates will be more employable and can consider jobs which specifically involve GIS. In Forensics for example, they will be able to apply emerging techniques which are relatively new to their discipline. In Europe this area of science is not as mature as in the US and is currently a growth area.” explains Ford.

Increasing the number of students being taught GIS across the School of Applied Sciences is no easy task but the benefits of students developing critical thinking skills through spatial analysis, outweighs any initial logistical challenge for Bournemouth. “As more students start to understand the concepts and potential power and utility of GIS, so other areas of science and industry will benefit. Soon there’ll be a lot more Biologists, Archaeologists Forensic Scientists or Geologists – not just Geographers – able to apply the power of spatial analysis in the real world,” concluded Ford.

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