Using Geospatial Information Systems for Strategic Planning and Institutional Research for Higher Education Institutions

Using Geospatial Information Systems for Strategic Planning and Institutional Research for Higher Education Institutions

Nicolas A. Valcik
DOI: 10.4018/jsita.2012100103
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This article discusses the implementation and use of Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) at The University of Texas at Dallas in the Office of Strategic Planning and Analysis (OSPA). Many institutional research offices primarily focus on traditional statistical and analytical tools to provide data for assessing, developing, or modifying institutional policies. However, by adding an additional facet such as location, more in depth analysis can be provided on a wide array of research topics. The article focuses on how the Office of Strategic Planning and Analysis utilizes Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) for a wide array of tasks. GIS is used currently by the department for facility information, tracking logistics through the university, benchmarking and for operational information for the university. In addition GIS can be used for admissions and recruiting, alumni giving, emergency management as well as homeland security purposes. In this article the requirements for using GIS in an institutional research or strategic planning office is addressed as well as some pitfalls and advantages to using such applications to perform institutional research in addition to providing data that can be used for institutional operations.
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Geospatial Information Systems

GIS is a set of tools that can use and layer multiple data sources by geographical location. Developed in the mid-20th century, GIS is primarily used in cartography, urban planning, emergency management, resource management and navigation to name a few. The roots of GIS can be traced back to a graphic developed by John Snow in the 1840’s plotting cholera deaths onto a map of London, thus demonstrating to city officials that a contaminated water pump on Broad Street was the source of the outbreak (Crosier, 2009). GIS uses an object called a GIS layer file (referred to as coverages, shapefiles or geodatabases) that provides an overall framework where the analyst can overlay multiple data streams into one massive dataset, often called a geodatabase. B. Grant McCormick of the University of Arizona notes:

A presumption is that key benefits of GIS are to be realized with a system that permeates the enterprise, links divisions, integrates data sources to create new understanding, and creates efficiencies by overcoming territorial boundaries. With this in mind, the term GIS should be seen not solely as the use of GIS software, but rather as a technical framework for integrating disparate datasets, bridging software formats, and responding to a plethora of administrative needs and goals. (McCormick, 2003, p. 63)

A geodatabase can contain several layers of data. For example a geodatabase can utilize a satellite photo that is geo-referenced to a particular location, a data file of addresses or zip codes, and a computer-aided design (CAD) file. All of the images and data would constitute one geodatabase which could then be used to provide a variety of data analysis. The ability to effectively use massive amounts of data (or utilize a database) with imagery is why GIS can provide powerful analytical capability. In addition, GIS can be used to provide campus planning departments with overlays of future construction. Buildings, infrastructure and transportation routes can be “constructed” by a GIS analyst as a layer on top of an existing satellite image. Furthermore, ArcGIS has the ability to render and/or capture landscape features as well as any other object in a three dimensional context.


Gis At The University Of Texas At Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas is a research intensive university that became part of the University of Texas System in 1969. The institution emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM) as well as business administration, developmental and cognitive sciences, public affairs and unique and growing programs like Geospatial Information Sciences and Arts and Technology. The university enrolls nearly 20,000 students and is currently undergoing expansion in faculty, staff and facilities (2012). The university’s Office of Strategic Planning and Analysis (OSPA) compiles state and federal reports, fulfills external data requests, provides analysis and benchmarking for university administrators and has developed unique software packages like the Logistical Tracking System (LTS). LTS utilizes GIS to accurately account for facility information as well as enable other departments to track assets for operational use, federal reports and state reports.

LTS was originally created to accurately record facility data in the university’s mainframe-based space management system (SMS) and to replace an older, interim system based on Microsoft Access called the Space Inventory Database (SID) (Valcik, 2003). University personnel wanted to create highly accurate and detailed campus maps and floor plans from the room and building dimensions already stored in SMS and SID. Existing software products that managed facility information through Computer-Aided Design (CAD) files were evaluated but were neither robust enough nor had the functionality needed to meet the university’s requirements because CAD lacks the ability to tie in large amounts of data to the image files. Therefore, the Assistant Director and a team of three individuals developed LTS for the university and have consistently evolved the design since 2001 (Valcik, 2003). The current LTS design utilizes GIS, is developed on a Microsoft SQL.Net Server database and employs Microsoft Visual Studio.Net for the web interface. Originally, the web interfaces were developed with Microsoft Visual Studio and the database was Microsoft SQL Server 2000. (Valcik & Huesca-Dorantes, 2003).

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