Over the last number of years we have been running a very successful ‘Data for Decisions’ Mapping workshop. This workshop is based around improving knowledge of spatial data in Ireland and then works through some practical examples using a desktop geographical information system (GIS). Participants leave the session with a good grounding in basic GIS techniques and can develop their own high quality mapped outputs. We have had hundreds of people through our doors at this stage and it has always been encouraging to see the level of enthusiasm that participants have towards spatial data and mapping.

Following some requests from secondary school teachers we have just launched a new pilot Transition Year (TY) ‘Data for Decisions’ mapping course. We are testing the process and module with the Colaiste Muire secondary school in Ennis and hope to make the course available to all TY courses in the country in early 2017.

On Wednesday we had a visit from the 47 TY students from the Colaiste Muire in Ennis to get started on the testing. To our amazement, the class absolutely breezed through everything we threw at them and we completed the workshop with little or no interruptions. The most interesting aspect to the entire session was the ability of the class to easily grasp the overall context of what we were doing and navigate their way through the GIS routines to create the final output. It was a sure sign that the next generation of mappers, at least from the Colaiste Muire, will certainly be technically capable when it comes to engaging with mapping software. 

The Introduction Workshop:

We kicked off the workshop with an introduction to AIRO related activity and then spent some time discussing the basic principles of GIS, mapping and spatial data. As usual, our Canadian hero Dr Roger Tomlinson featured as the Father of it all! Much of this talk was about the importance of data within decision making and how it was becoming more and more common practice within policy making and planning.


To introduce the students to modern day mapping viewers we had a look at our All-Island Atlas and did a little bit of analysis and inspection on the religious background of the island. This provided a nice introduction to how useful maps can be to illustrate social trends across a wide geographical area. Zooming in and out of different areas between the Republic and Northern Ireland, clicking on pop-ups and looking at the statistics started to bring the data and the class to life. It was a good test for our server too with 50 computers putting it under pressure simultaneously – we may need to upgrade!


Now that the students had more of an appreciation for census data and the power of mapping we undertook a short TY Census of our own. Using the excellent Survey123 for ArcGIS product we asked each of the students to complete a couple of questions on home location, mode of transport to school and travel time. We also asked a migration question and students had to state where their parents/guardians came from. Capturing this data was useful and using the spatial element of Survey123 we also picked up on the geography. After about 2 minutes we had some amazing live survey results on the big screen showing the distribution of students across Clare, how they got to school and where their parents/guardians came from – the spatial spread here was from Miltown Malbay to Manilla!  

This proved to be a fantastic exercise for the students and really got the group talking about the maps (see below - students mode of transport and origin of parents/guardians) and looking at the results. One thing we all agreed on was that we need to see a lot more cycling and walking to school!

Travel to Work - Survey123

QGIS workshop:

With the fun stuff out of the way it was time to get down to the nitty gritty and to see how a real desktop GIS works.

We began with an introduction to the software (QGIS) - demonstrating how the various windows worked, looked at the make-up of a .shp, browsed the attribute table, selected and de-selected features and saved some projects. With the basics covered we started on the first part of their 8 week assignment!

The task for the TY students over the coming weeks is to imagine they are working as a mapping consultant for Clare County Council and to develop a series of maps that will be a key part for a new Local Economic and Community Development Plan (LECP). The required maps are on socio-demographics (population change, nationality, religion, education and broadband), crime statistics, tourism and the environment.

Following some tips on map making and guidance on symbology, colour schemes and final map layout the students were busy working on the production of their first map - population change across Clare Electoral Divisions (EDs) between 2011 and 2016. All of this was done using open data from both the Central Statistics Office (CSO) and Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI) on Data.Gov.ie.

Within a two hour period it seemed that all students had got the hang of the software and were up and running with map making. Bringing in some background imagery such as OpenStreetMap and the fantastic StamenMaps in QGIS was also a big hit and the simple technique of adjusting the transparency caused a great stir amongst the audience.

The next steps for the TY class is to work through the course assignments in the computer lab in the Colaiste Muire. With data set up from the CSO, An Garda Siochana, the EPA and Failte Ireland we are all looking forward to seeing results.  An important part of the assignment is to provide feedback so we can fine tune the module before it is available to other TY classes in schools across the county.

Campus tour and Lectures:

On completion of the morning workshop and lunch in the Student Union the class went on a campus tour or the University. This was followed up by three excellent short lectures on what is like to study geography at Maynooth University, on-going climate change research at ICARUS and then some insight into the amazing work at the National Centre for GeoComputation (NCG) on mobile mapping, drone and thermal imagery.

We will be doing a follow up post later in November on the progress of students, taking a look at some of the best maps and getting some of their insights on the usefulness of GIS and mapping.

All in all it was a great day out for the TY group – the next generation of mappers! Hopefully we will see some of them join the GI community in Ireland in a few years.

Any TY classes or schools in Ireland that are interested in doing this module please contact the team at AIRO – airo@nuim.ie or 01-7086157