INFSCI 2460: Spatial Reasoning for GIS

Fall 2017 (2181)
Tue 6:00 - 8:50pm; 501 IS Bldg

Instructor: Prof. Stephen Hirtle
Office: 2B01 IS Building 
Office Phone: 412-624-9434
GSA: tba
Secretary: Mary Stewart, 720 IS Bldg, 412-624-9402
Office Hours: Thurs 2:30 - 4:00 or by appt.

Overview: The ability to reason about spatial objects is fundamental to understanding spatial systems. This course discusses fundamental issues in qualitative spatial reasoning, spatial languages, and spatial decision-making. Applications of spatial reasoning to be addressed in the course include problems of navigation and interface issues for GIS. The course meets the requirements of the Cognitive Systems area in the MSIS program and will also prepare PhD students for the comprehensive exam in the area of spatial reasoning.

Course Objectives:

  1. To understand the conceptual framework that underlies the geographical information science.
  2. To examine models of geographic information with specific application to human-driven behaviors.
  3. To learn about the essential role of uncertainty in geographic information.
  4. To find, discuss and summarize the recent literature in the geographic information sciences.

At the end of this course, the student should be able to deploy a variety of models of spatial information to specific spatial problems, map the relationship between mental constructs and GIS constructs, use spatial interfaces to improve the communication of non-spatial attributes, and both find and summarize relevant scientific articles in the field of geographical information science.

Required Textbook:

Worboys, M.F. and Duckham, M. (2004) GIS: A Computing Perspective, Second Edition, CRC Press, ISBN: 0415283752.

Email: All email to the instructor about this class should contain "INFSCI 2460" in the subject line.  For example, the subject line might read "INFSCI 2460: Question about ontologies".  Email without this information might be deleted by filters or placed in a folder to be read at a later date.  Email with the appropriate identifier will usually be read within 24 hours of receipt, except when traveling.

Readings: The class reading list shows the topics and readings to be discussed each week. You need to read the appropriate readings before the class in which they are assigned and to come to the meeting prepared to discuss them thoughtfully. You should be prepared to answer questions that I pose and to contribute ideas, suggestions, and questions of your own.

Assignments: Your performance will be evaluated on the basis of two exams and a review paper.  Each exam and the the review paper will be given equal weight (1/3) in determining the final course grade. Class attendance and participation in discussion is expected. 

Exams: The midterm and final exams will test your ability to integrate material from the course. Exams will cover the material in the textbook, readings and lectures. The exams will be closed-book, in-class exams. 

Review Paper: The review paper should be on single topic and carefully review five or more related articles published during the past five years (2010-2015). Additional articles, including older background material, may also be covered, if necessary. The final paper will consist of 2000-4000 words (approximately 6-12 double-spaced pages) including references and should follow the formal guidelines posted on Courseweb, using APA format for any citations within the body of the paper and for typing the reference list at the end of the paper.

Late papers will result in a penalty of one full letter grade per week, pro-rated. Thus, an A paper turned in 1-2 days late would be given an A-, 3-5 days late would be given a B+, 6-7 days late would be given a B, and so on. As a result, an incomplete will be given only for extenuating circumstances and might result in a comparable demerit at the discretion of the instructor.  

Plagiarism on the paper may result in a failing grade for the course, so be sure you understand the limitations of using others work and proper methods of citation.  All papers will be checked using Pitt's standard plagiarism software, which compares papers against various on-line sources and previously submitted papers.

Courseweb: The University uses a specialized course management package found at

Special circumstances: If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Disability Resources and Services, 216 William Pitt Union, (412-648-7890/TTY:412-383-7355) as early as possible in the term. DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course. In addition, you should be aware that my office is up a short flight of stairs. If this problematic, I am happy to arrange a meeting in an accessible location at any time.

Readings by Week: Subject to change

  • Aug 29   Week 1: Introduction  
    Sep 5   No Class Meeting - COSIT 2017 Conference  
    Sep 12   Week 2: Spatial Geometries  
    1. Chapter 3, Worboys, M.F. and Duckham, M. (2004).
    Sep 19   Week 3: Cognitive Mapping: Historical View
    1. Hirtle, S. C. (2011). Geographical design: Spatial cognition and geographical information science. (pp. 1-16). San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool.
    2. Egenhofer, M., & Mark, D. M. (1995). Naive geography. In A. U. Frank & W. Kuhn (Eds.), Spatial information theory: A theoretical basis for GIS (pp. 1-15). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
    3. Freundschuh, S. M., & Egenhofer, M. J. (1997). Human conceptions of spaces: Implications for geographic information systems. Transactions in GIS, 2, 361–375.
    Sep 26   Week 4: Spatial Modeling  
    1. Freksa, C. (2015). Strong spatial cognition. In Freundschuh, S. & Bell, S. (Eds). Spatial information theory. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
    2. Chapter 4, Worboys, M.F. and Duckham, M. (2004).
    Oct 3   Week 5: Geographic Interfaces  
    1. Hirtle, S. C. (2012). Models of spatial cognition. In Waller, D. & Nadel, L. (Eds.) APA Handbook of Spatial Cognition (pp. 211-226). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    2. Hirtle, S. C. (2011). Geographical design: Spatial cognition and geographical information science. (pp. 17-41). San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool
    3. Chapter 8, Worboys, M.F. and Duckham, M. (2004).
    Oct 10   Fall Break - No Class Meeting this week  
    Oct 17   Week 6: Volunteered Geographic Information, Review  
    1. M.F. Goodchild (2007) Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography. GeoJournal 69(4): 211-221.
    2. Jones, M. T. (2007). Google’s geospatial organizing principle, IEEE Xplore, 27 (4), 8-13.
    Oct 24   Week: 7: Midterm exam  
    Oct 31   Week 8: Navigation  
    1. Patel, K., Chen, M. Y., Smith, I., Landay, J. A. (2006). Personalizing routes. Proceedings of the 19th annual ACM symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, October 15-18, 2006, Montreux, Switzerland
    2. Hirtle, S. C., Richter, K.-F., Srinivas, S., & Firth, R.  (2010).This is the tricky part: When directions become difficult. Journal of Spatial Information Science, 1(1), 53-73.
    Nov 7   Week 9: Spatialization  
    1. Skupin A. and Fabrikant, S.I. (2007) Spatialization. In: Wilson, J. and Fotheringham, S. (Eds.). Handbook of Geographic Information Science. Blackwell Publishers.
    Nov 14   Week 10: Qualitative vs. Quantitative Spatial Reasoning Bibliography Due
    1. Chapter 9, Worboys, M.F. and Duckham, M. (2004).
    Nov 21   Week 11: Spatio-Temporal Systems  
    1. Chapter 10, Worboys, M.F. and Duckham, M. (2004).
    Nov 28   Week 12: Review and Future
        Kuhn, W. (2012). Core concepts of spatial information for transdisciplinary research. International Journal of Geographical Information Science, 26, 2267-2276.  
    Dec 5   Week 13: Final Exam  
    Dec 12   Week 14: No Class Meeting; Final Paper Due 11:59pm via Courseweb  

  • Last update: August 24, 2017