What is GIS?

GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems. As a “system” it includes the data, hardware, software, and people that, when combined, allow us to visualize and analyze geographic data. When people refer to GIS, they often actually are referring to a suite of GIS computer software like ArcGIS. At Oberlin, we teach students GIS by using ArcMap and ArcCatalog, but other programs such as ArcScene, and ArcGlobe are also available on campus.

GIS is used to capture, display, manage, and analyze geospatial data. In other words, GIS let's us plot and manipulate our data, identify patterns and relationships within our data, and present our data in the form of maps and charts. Using ArcGIS software we are able to interact with our data in a very different way from a paper map.

We can use Arc to overlay many different sets of data, plot our data in 2D or 3D, visualize our data based on temporal or spatial attributes, share our data with others in a digital format, or perform complex, repetitive analysis with high precision and accuracy.

GIS Overview

Who uses GIS?

Geographers, geologists, biologists, ecologists, anthropologists, environmental scientists, sociologists, archeologists, economists, military analysts, historians, city planners, epidemiologists, and many, many more people regularly use GIS in a professional capacity.

A variety of organizations ranging from private businesses to nonprofits to government agencies hire GIS technicians. In addition, if you’ve ever used GoogleMaps or GoogleEarth, you’ve used GIS. The people who designed your mail delivery routes or created your town’s natural disaster evacuation plan all used GIS on your behalf.

Why should I learn how to use ArcGIS?

GIS has a wide variety of applications. Being able to use GIS is a highly sought-after job skill. Despite varying economic shifts, the demand for GIS professionals has continued to rise and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Having GIS experience will make you a more competitive job candidate. GIS is also a powerful tool for both presenting and analyzing spatial and temporal data. Paper maps often answers such questions as where is something” or “how far is this from that?” GIS can answer these basic spatial questions, but it also can answer questions such as “how has it changed over time,” “do patterns/trends exist in my data,” and “if I change one landscape feature, what other features will be effected?” 

GIS allows us to apply different conditions to our data and resolve complex problems.