Open GIS for the Developing World

As a GIS Teaching Fellow at Middlebury, I developed a methods course using entirely free and open source GIS software and data around the theme of studying population and environmental change in developing countries.  We used SQLite, GRASS and QGIS to diagnose and fix errors in downloaded data and to analyze and visualize population density and change. We used SAGA, Google Earth, and QGIS to classify land cover from Landsat images, assess accuracy, and detect change over time. The worked examples in the lab manual are for Tanzania.

Two lectures each week helped deliver technical knowledge and methods.  During the third lecture each week, we read and discussed GIScience theory on spatial data infrastructure, social construction of GIS methods and data, challenges and ethics of using GIS in development, and open source GIS and its potential in developing countries.

In the open source spirit, I self-published the laboratory manual with creative commons licensing. You may download it here:

The course ran in spring 2014 and spring 2015.  In 2015 we used a GitHub page to troubleshoot problems and experiment with collaboratively editing and visualizing a GeoJSON of their favorite places in Vermont. Each student ultimately completed an independent project for a developing country of their choice, and many of them have gone on to use open source GIS in their research, jobs, and businesses.