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September 30, 2022

A Coursera GIS Specialization review

The Coursera Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialization from UC Davis is a great way to get introduced to GIS and ArcGIS. I took the online course series as a recent graduate and found it to be a great overview of the field. While learning was convenient because the GIS data was handed to you, I did find that I needed other skills - like understanding spatial data and help files - before I was fully equipped to do GIS for my job.

The Bottom Line (before we get into the full review of the online course series!)

However, I wouldn't recommend taking this class if your sole goal is to look at full-time Geographic Information Systems (GIS) jobs. The class will give you a good foundation, but you'll need to do more than just take the class to really stand out from other candidates. In addition to the knowledge you gain in this class, you'll need to have some portfolio-worthy GIS projects to really show off your skills.

About The Online Course Load For The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialization

The Coursera Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialization is comprised of four courses: Introduction to GIS, Data Handling and Analysis, Cartography, and Applied Spatial Analysis. The first two courses are more introductory and cover topics such as working with data in ArcGIS, creating maps, and doing basic analysis. The last two courses are more advanced and cover topics such as Network Analysis and Modeling. Overall, I found the course material to be clear and well-organized. The assignments were also reasonably challenging without being overwhelming.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Software

The instructor teaches in ArcGIS Desktop, and you will have the most success learning from this course if you use that GIS software. In the first course, free access is given to ArcGIS via UC Davis, so you should be able to use the software for free until you complete the Specialization courses.

You could use an open source software like QGIS to complete the classes, but you'll run into problems simply because the spatial data that are provided are in ArcGIS Desktop specific files: geodatabases, usually. Opening these files in QGIS was tricky last time I tried it. Additionally, you might struggle with spatial data analysis because the two software programs are not a 1:1 match.

Specific Quality: Geospatial Skills

I found in the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class that I got basic knowledge of a lot of topics. We explored machine learning, environmental analysis imagery, data science & computer science, and how to analyze data. In general, UC Davis extension does a GREAT job of generalizing their courses and making a really useful specialization course.

The Geospatial analysis project (capstone)

While I thought the Geospatial analysis project was a great way for me to practice my spatial analysis skills, I also felt like the format was too structured to be useful. In Geographic information systems, we need to spend a lot of time prepping our end products for clients. The brief that they wanted for the project meant that I had to do two projects: one for class, and one for work. That definitely sucked.

That being said, this class was great for applications - geospatial analysis project(s) are multifaceted and the instructor definitely tried to cover all possible bases. We looked at environmental analysis imagery, geographic data, digitizing your own maps, and even ArcGIS online. It was a great set of survey Coursera courses where you touched on a lot of different computer science skills across the four courses.

Although the Coursera GIS specialization is a great introduction to the field, it's important to keep in mind that it's just that—an introduction. If your goal is to get a full-time job in GIS, you'll need to do more than just take this class. In addition to the knowledge you gain in this class, you'll need to have some portfolio-worthy GIS projects to really show off your skills. Luckily, the fourth course in the specialization—Applied Spatial Analysis—gives you an opportunity to do just that. For my final project, I created a network analysis of the public transit system in my city. Not only did I learn a lot from doing this project, but I also had something tangible to show potential employers when I applied for jobs.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I would recommend the Coursera GIS specialization from UC Davis if you're looking for a good introduction to the field of GIS. Just keep in mind that if your goal is to get a full-time job in GIS, you'll need to do more than just take this class. You'll also need some portfolio-worthy projects to really show off your skills.

I really can't recommend UC Davis' work on Coursera platform enough. I love the classes that they make, and in this one, they really created a quality geospatial skills experience. What a great way to learn GIS.

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