Advanced Diploma in GIS Applications Practicum Overview

(Face-to-Face Students Only)



Practicum Overview

The Face-to-Face Advanced Diploma in GIS Applications is an intensive, eight-month program delivered over two terms.  The first four months will take the form of coursework on-campus in Nanaimo.  All students are required to complete a nine-week GIS project in the second term of the program.  The project is intended to provide students with an opportunity to apply GIS knowledge and skills learned in the first term.

Each student will be required to select a potential sponsor and negotiate a project proposal with the sponsor. The project proposal will define the nature, scope, budget, timeline and deliverables of the project and will be reviewed by the program instructors.  This ensures students take on projects which can be completed in the allocated time and that the nature of the project allows the student to gain experience and skills in a variety of GIS-related areas. The student, host sponsor, and institution will be required to sign a Letter of Agreement that outlines the responsibilities of each party for undertaking and completing the practicum. Graduates may, with the permission of the sponsor, include the project as part of their portfolio when seeking contract or employment opportunities.


Suitable Projects

Faculty can work with students and potential sponsors to identify a suitable project, however, some general guidelines are presented below:

  1. The project should have a definable, achievable scope, with
    • clearly defined goals, start and end points; and
    • an expectation that it can be completed satisfactorily in 9 weeks.
  2. Where possible, the project should include a variety of tasks of varying complexity, so projects
    • should not merely be one task repeated for 9 weeks; and
    • might include several different tasks such as locating relevant data, data integration, digitizing, analysis, cartographic production or writing a final report.
  3. The project should improve the student’s ability to gain employment, by giving students
    • contacts in the GIS field, by either working in the sponsor’s office or by interacting with external agencies;
    • relevant work experience, perhaps with a tangible product students can show to potential employers in future; and
    • potential for future employment, either with the sponsor’s organisation, with other agencies involved in the project or with other agencies doing similar work.


Sponsor Support

Ideally, students will work in the offices of the sponsor, exposed to all the other related work which goes on around him/her and interacting with other professionals in a workplace setting.  This situation maximizes the gain in experience and contacts for students.  However, we recognize that this is not always possible due to space and time limitations on the sponsor’s part, or due to the geographic location of sponsor and student.


  • The minimum requirement of a sponsor is to help clearly define a project which students can then work on in isolation.  It should be recognized, however, that the more involvement a sponsor can accommodate, the more the final product will meet the sponsor’s needs.

  • Sponsors need not be GIS experts, merely knowledgeable in the problem area.

  • Projects are supported by three full-time GIS faculty at VIU, so sponsors may not be required to directly oversee students if they cannot accommodate the time commitment.

  • Students and sponsors do not need to be in the same city.  We have successfully completed practicums where sponsor and student are geographically separated on a number of occasions.


Facilities and Workspace

While there are benefits to the student in working at the sponsor’s place of business, students have their own laptop computers, and all necessary GIS software.  Sponsors do not need to supply computers or workspace if these are not readily available.


Faculty Involvement

Three full-time GIS faculty are available to assist with projects as necessary in several ways:

  • Faculty will try to provide assistance to students in finding an appropriate project both by providing a choice of pre-defined projects, or by providing potential contacts for them to pursue their own interests.
  • GIS faculty are available if assistance is requested to help define the extents of a suitable project.  Often students and sponsors agree that they would like to work together, but can’t necessarily sort out a suitable project scope.  In such cases, faculty can meet with sponsors or discuss remotely via phone or email as necessary.
  • During the execution of the project, faculty can be involved as the need arises to assist with recommending technical approaches, resolving technical issues or assisting in redefining the project scope as it unfolds.
  • Faculty will contact project sponsors, usually after the student has been working for 3 weeks or so, to see if the project is proceeding in a reasonable way.  Other than that, we will rely on students and sponsors to contact faculty if assistance is necessary.  We want to allow students to work independently wherever possible, but the “safety net” of faculty assistance is there if the need arises and both student and sponsor should feel free to request additional help at any time.  This situation is very common, and shouldn’t be viewed as a last resort.



We have tried intentionally to leave the issue of payment up to student and sponsor.  There may be many exciting projects for which there is no funding, and students may wish to take these on to gain specific experience in the project area.  Other students may simply be financially unable to take on a 9 week project with no income at all.


  • Projects with funding may be more attractive to students, making it more likely that the sponsor will be able to run their project, and perhaps choose from several candidate students.

  • Payment may be full-time wages or a small honorarium, as funding allows.

  • To date, just over 50% of student projects have involved some form of payment.  Roughly 15% of students are paid a full-time wage, with another 35% paid an amount ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.  So in general terms, sponsors should not feel that funding is a necessity; many interesting projects have proceeded with no funding at all.


Sponsors Proposing a Project

As noted elsewhere in this document, it is common that the majority of students cannot find their own projects. In anticipation of this, faculty will try to put together a variety of projects in the term so there is a reasonable chance that students find a project that is of interest to them.   Early in the fall term, faculty will contact potential sponsors requesting suitable projects. 

Sponsors who have projects they would like to have a student work on are asked to complete a 1-page summary of the work which needs to be done.  This summary serves two purposes.  First, it gives students a good summary of what they would be doing and gives them a basis on which to decide which projects they are interested in.  Secondly, it gives faculty an opportunity to discuss projects with potential sponsors where the scope of the project is either not well defined at present, or where the scope seems to be either too large or too small to complete in the 9-week practicum period.

It is important to understand that the process of assigning students to projects is competitive for both students and sponsors.  Students compete in either the interview process or in the classroom to attain the best placements (see the discussion of the matching process for further information).  What may be less obvious is that sponsors are also competing; the more attractive the project is to students, the larger the pool of students interested and thus the greater the likelihood of gaining a talented student.  Thus project proponents should make sure they note positive aspects of their projects on the summary form.  Attractive elements might include:

  • Interesting or exciting work.  This might include chances for field work, opportunities to publish/present project results, or simply involve a topic interesting to students.  This will vary with the composition of each intake of students, but we’ve often found projects with a variety of types of work or those dealing with “hot” topics such as climate change, endangered species, etc. are projects which will capture the interest of students.
  • High-Profile Subject.  Topics which are currently discussed in mainstream culture, such as global warming or endangered species might fall into this category, but less common subjects which might have appeared in the news recently (perhaps a new development of some kind) might qualify.  The general sense is having worked on a project that other people have heard about will have value in a job-interview setting when students finish the program.
  • Opportunities to make Contacts.  If your organisation has a large GIS presence, or if working on the project will allow students to make contacts with other organisations which use GIS, the project will be more beneficial to students when they complete the program and are seeking employment.
  • Available Funding.  For obvious reasons, those projects which have some level of funding may be more appealing to students.

If you wish to propose a project, complete the Practicum Opportunity Summary and submit it for consideration. Submissions may be emailed to:

Dva Cake,

Please don’t feel obliged to provide a comprehensive discussion of your project.  We don’t want sponsors to have to make a significant time investment until we know that there is interest from students.  If we require additional information for students to make final decisions, we can discuss with potential sponsors at that time.

Look at the completed Practicum Opportunity Summary example.  This may give you some idea of the sort of information we’re looking for, and the level of detail which will give students a general idea of what is involved.


Matching Students with Projects

The process of obtaining a project for each student is accomplished in two ways.  First, students are encouraged to seek their own placement in an area which interests them.  Faculty will assist students in locating a suitable organisation and possibly in putting students in contact with specific individuals who work in the field of GIS which the student is hoping to pursue.  For a variety of reasons, however, the vast majority of students are not able to find their own placement.  This may be because they are not from this area and have limited contacts or knowledge of the relevant industry, because they do not have a clear idea of what GIS area to concentrate on, or simply because potential sponsors do not have a suitable project or available time to participate.

For these reasons, faculty will try to put together a number of possible projects for students to choose from.  Early in the fall term, faculty will contact potential sponsors requesting suitable projects.  In late November, those students who could not arrange their own placements will be matched with the projects propsed to faculty earlier in the term.

This matching process can be complicated, as one would expect, since it is a form of job placement.  The placement process is a 2-step process:

  • If the sponsor would like to be involved in the selection of a student, they will be given the opportunity to meet with and choose a student themselves.  This is relatively rare, likely due to the length of time necessary to discuss the project with each interested student.  Most sponsors simply request that a student be selected for them, but in cases where they have significant funding, or where there is a possibility of long-term employment after the practicum period is complete, sponsors will want to have a say in which student works on their project.
  • For those projects where the sponsor has simply requested that a student be assigned to their project (which is likely the majority of projects without significant funding), the assignment process will be competitive.  In order, from top grade to bottom in the class, students are given the chance to choose a project from those proposed.  This is done to try to have a consistent, defensible method for assigning students to projects which doesn’t introduce the prospect of favouritism on the part of faculty.


Practicum Timing

The practicum process will proceed roughly within the following schedule.  Note that timelines may be adapted where sponsors have alternate needs.



September and October

Faculty and students will begin making enquiries regarding potential projects.

Early November

Completed interview process by those sponsors who wish to be involved in the selection process.


Match remaining students with proposed projects.

Late-November to Mid-January

Students will work with sponsors to define in detail the scope, schedule and deliverables of the project.  Faculty may be involved in this exercise, assisting if necessary in defining an appropriate project scope.


Students submit a detailed proposal document defining what they will be doing for their project.  They will also make a short presentation to their class explaining what they will be doing.

Late-January to Mid-April

Students will complete the project they proposed.  If, over the course of the project, the originally-defined project tasks have changed, students will document any major changes in the project scope.  Students are expected to document the work they do and will be evaluated by both faculty and the project sponsor upon completion.

Late April

Students will make a final presentation outlining the work they performed in the practicum.  These presentations are open to sponsors, potential sponsors or students, family members or any other parties interested in these GIS projects.