MCCS 0516: Essentials of Open-Source GIS

GIS, GPS, satellite imagery, and mapping have become essentials in the toolboxes of researchers, natural resource managers, and conservationists.  Yet these resources are often not readily accessible to practitioners around the world.  Most restricting are the limited access to specialized and expensive commercial software and the lack of training opportunities targeted at conservation applications.  Open source tools are freely available, can be modified and freely redistributed.  In recent years, several powerful open source tools for geospatial analysis have emerged, among them QGIS and R.  The latter is a statistical programming language with considerable geospatial analytical capabilities.  Similarly, much satellite data is now freely available from major Internet sites and can be used for analysis and modeling.  Examples include Landsat, as provided by the USGS, and NASA’s MODIS data.  The one-week training course focuses on the use of specialized open-source software, frequently requiring the writing of analysis code and the execution of scripts developed by course participants. 

The course combines lectures with computer tutorials, where participants work through GIS examples that illustrate the use of open-source GIS for everyday mapping tasks and key geospatial analysis skills.  The one-week course covers all major concepts to get practitioners quickly and effectively started at working with open-source geospatial analysis tools, including:

  • Introduction to open source software
  • Downloading and installing open source software
  • Creating maps
  • Creating and importing spatial data
  • Database and spatial queries and joins
  • Projections and georeferencing
  • On-screen digitizing
  • Creating basic suitability models in QGIS
  • Home range analysis in QGIS
  • Basic intro to R
  • Satellite image classification
  • Home range analysis in R


2018 course dates not yet announced


Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia, USA

Application Procedure

The Essentials of Open Source GIS training course is offered through the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation as a professional training course for 3 Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Applications should be submitted using our Online Application Page. Before beginning our online application, please have .pdf or .doc versions of your updated CV and a Personal Statement of Interest and Qualifications (maximum 350 words). You’ll be asked to attach these with your application.

Course Costs

The total cost for this course is $1,881 (Course fee of $1500 +  Housing (shared double room) and Dining Package of $381).  Those applying as citizens of “less-developed” nations qualify for a reduced course fee of $850, making the total cost including Housing (shared double room) and Dining package $1,231. Click HERE to check if your country of citizenship qualifies you for the reduced course fee. Your total course payment includes:

  • Registration fees
  • Instruction, course manual and other course materials
  • Airport pick-up and drop-off shuttle service at Dulles International Airport (IAD), the only Washington, DC-region airport for which SMSC provides ground transportation shuttle service.
  • Transportation for course activities.
  • Daily full-service buffet at the SMSC Dining Commons – Dining begins with dinner on day of arrival and ends with lunch on day of departure.
  • Housing at the SMSC Residential Facility, including a shared room with bathroom (single rooms available at extra cost)


With course coordinator’s written approval in advance of registration/payment, local participants may elect to stay off campus, waive the housing and dining package, and commute to this course. Meals in the Dining Commons can then be purchased individually as needed.

For more information