Choosing between ArcGIS and QGIS in the Classroom

Last October, I co-led a seminar on Spatiality and Digital Mapping. We focused on the conceptual side of digital mapping, going through concepts, theory, and the evolution of the field. Our aim was to expose the audience to the concepts and programs with the intention of following up with one or more intensives on the programs garnering the most interest. Afterwards, there were clear winners: CartoDB and ArcGIS. with secondary interest in Google Earth/Maps.

For anyone who has worked on these programs, do you think it would be worthwhile to teach intensives on each program separately? Or are the concepts close enough? My plan now is to separate them, but to advertise the courses for specific audiences. CartoDB, for example, would be with people who really just need visual analysis and little to no high-level analysis. For ArcGIS, the intended audience would be those less interested in publically-accessable visualizations and more interested in quantifiable analysis. Google Earth could go either way, though I think that course could be taught much more quickly than the other two – certainly faster than Arc.

Does this make sense? and would there be interest in the NYC area for non-Fordhamites to attend these courses?

-David Levine

Response from Jessica Breen:

I’d suggest teaching them separately, with the ArcGIS session followed by a CartoDB workshop. Folks who just want to plug and chug some data into a good-looking map aren’t likely to want to devote the time needed to learn Arc, but just because somebody wants to use the analytic tools of Arc doesn’t mean they don’t want an attractive map at the end…and Arc is useless for making anything even remotely as attractive as what CartoDB makes just by default.

I’d also encourage you to maybe look at QGIS instead of ArcGIS if you’re going to teach a desktop GIS. I switched the intro to GIS course I teach over to QGIS from Arc this semester and it’s been great. All of my students are able to use the program on their home computers regardless of what operating system they run and instead of losing access to the program when their student license runs out, they can keep Q forever since it’s FOSS. It has meant that I had to learn a couple of QGIS quirks…projections are treated entirely differently than in Arc and Composer, the map editor in QGIS, is just as wonky as the editor in Arc, though in it’s own unique way…but that’s the case with any software package.

As for non-Fordhamites who might be interested in attending, you might get in contact with the MapTimeNYC folks. They hold regular community meetups for learning web mapping tools and techniques. They’re on Twitter as @MapTimeNYC.