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Higher Education Profiling using Open Source GIS - A Primer on OpenStreetMap Data, Mapnik & OpenLayers
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Higher Education Profiling using Open Source GIS - A Primer on OpenStreetMap Data, Mapnik & OpenLayers



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  • DCSF – attainment. CLG – IDACI. HEFCE – POLAR. HESA – school-to-university flows. ONS - for census information, from which are derived the Output Area Classifications. Widening participation is also known as Access to Higher Education.
  • Using ArcGIS as an example here as it is the dominant GIS application, however there are numerous other such as MapInfo, GRASS, Quantum GIS. Some are easier to use, some harder, but almost all require skills beyond that of the average web browser.
  • Slow – on-the-fly vector display, so slow on the client, or on-the-flyrasterisation, so slow on the server.Unattractive – produced by a GIS rather than a cartographical application, so generally no anti-aliasing or generalisation techniques applied.Difficult/expensive to build – May require delivery of vector data – licensing issues, as the client has a “digital copy” of the vector data, rather than a degraded raster.
  • Because they are popular, users don’t need “special skills”
  • Flash is popular, but not available on the iPhone.
  • If data supplied includes only National Grid References and not latitude/longitude, there is a good chance that it has been derived from Ordnance Survey data. Therefore, in theory, placing that data on a Google Map “mashup” would allow Google ownership of that data, which Ordnance Survey forbids.Ordnance Survey sent a letter to all district councils in the UK recently, advising them of the derived data problem.
  • Note the added “Parks” symbols roughly correspond to some (but not all) of Google’s own “Tree” symbol for public parks. It would be better if we could choose not to show Google’s own one. Also, you are stuck with Google’s colour scheme – here, the green is different to the green of the main website.
  • OS OpenSpace have built their own version of OpenLayers, which can be used to display Ordnance Survey mapping imagery. However you cannot directly use the OpenSpace maps in a standalone version of OpenLayers.
  • OS OpenSpace have built their own version of OpenLayers, which can be used to display Ordnance Survey mapping imagery. However you cannot directly use the OpenSpace maps in a standalone version of OpenLayers.
  • The data sources are on the left. The intermediate systems are in the middle. The systems used in the final map are in the box on the right.


  • 1. Higher Education Profiling using Open Source GISA Primer on OpenStreetMap Data, Mapnik & OpenLayers
    Oliver O’Brien & Alex Singleton
    Department of Geography
    University College London
  • 2. Contents
    The Problem
    The Solution
    OpenStreetMap Data
    Data Sources
    Putting it all Together
    The Completed Atlas
  • 3. The Problem: Presenting the Data
    A large amount of education-related spatial information available from various governmental bodies but not in a readily accessible graphical form (i.e. maps) for non-technical users.
    Dept. for Schools, Children and Families
    Communities and Local Government
    Higher Education Funding Council for England
    Higher Education Statistics Agency
    Office for National Statistics
    “Widening participation” initiatives require effective ways to view such data, to make decisions on target schools and areas.
  • 4. Requirements I. Straightforward
    Standalone GISes
    Hard to use (Haklay, 2009a)
    Often expensive
    Require delivery of data to the client
  • 5. Requirements I. Straightforward
    Web GISes
    Difficult and/or expensive to build
    May require delivery of vector data to the client
  • 6. Requirements I. Straightforward
    “Slippy Maps”
    Simple to use
    Very popular
    Simple to build
    Powerful API (e.g. Google Maps API)
  • 7. Requirements II. Accessible
    Software installation
    Requires time and skill
    Constrained by platform
    Generally require a fast computer
    Still some platform issues
    A solution without installation or plug-ins is most accessible
    PNG images
  • 8. Requirements III. Self Contained
    No dependencies on third parties with constraints
    Ordnance Survey “tile limits”
    The “derived data” problem, Google and Ordnance Survey
    Can’t put Ordnance Survey derived data on a Google Maps “mashup”
    Government departments often provide data that has been geolocated from Ordnance Survey mapping (e.g. using National Grid References)
    Ordnance Survey is being very active at protecting use of its data at the moment
  • 9. Requirements III. Self Contained
    Full control over what’s on the map
    Google’s colour scheme and branding can be distracting
  • 10. The Solution: An Education Atlas
    Static tiles of choropleth maps
    Minimal computer requirements
    Makes “beautiful” raster maps
    OpenStreetMap data
    Easily available data source to create background maps
    Full control over what is included
    Provides the “slippy map” interface familiar to users
  • 11. Using OpenStreetMap Data
    For a background map to provide context
    Will include roads, town names, coastlines
    We don’t want all the data – just what we need
    Ways to obtain the data
    Directly from as XML, requires converting
    Shapefiles produced by CloudMade or Geofabrik
    Data quality and completeness
    Improving rapidly (Haklay, 2009b)
    Now pretty good for England (Reed, 2009)
    Can always obtain a very up-to-date dataset
  • 12. Using Mapnik
    “Mapnik is a Free Toolkit for developing mapping applications. Above all Mapnik is about making beautiful maps.” –
    Data Sources
    PostGIS databases
    Direct from OpenStreetMap
    Can be configured to systemically create square tiles at different zoom levels for the whole country
  • 13. Using Mapnik
    Stylesheets for the cartography
    e.g. minor rivers and canals
    or [waterway]='canal'</Filter>
    <CssParameter name="stroke">#88c
    <CssParameter name="stroke-width">3
    <CssParameter name="stroke-linejoin”>round
    <CssParameter name="stroke-linecap">round
    face_name="DejaVu Sans Book" size="10"
    fill="#666" halo_radius="1"
    placement="line" min_distance="200"/>
  • 14. Using OpenLayers
    A way to display maps on a website
    Just a simple web browser is needed
    Accepts “layers” from many sources
    Google Maps
    Microsoft Bing, Virtual Earth, Yahoo
    ArcGIS 9.3 Mapping Services
    Ordnance Survey OpenSpace
    More powerful (but more complex) than the popular Google Maps API
  • 15. Other Data Sources
    New Popular Edition Postcoding
    Government Data
    Combined with UKBORDERS boundary data, to create choropleths of each educational metric
    Includes the National Pupil Database with postcode, for Key Stage 4 (GCSE) and Key Stage 5 (A-Level)
  • 16. Putting it all Together: Tile Generation
    OpenStreetMap API
    Geofabrik Shapefiles
  • 17. Putting it all Together: The Website
    Web Browsers
    The layers in OpenLayers
    Top: Schools (pins)
    Middle: Network (B&W)
    NPEMap Postcodes
    Bottom: Choropleth (colours)
  • 18. The Completed AtlasIDACI in Hampstead vs. Willesden, London
  • 19. The Completed AtlasA-Level French Popularity in S.E. England
  • 20. Putting it all Together: The Completed AtlasA-Level Geography Popularity in England
  • 21. The Completed AtlasOutput Area Classification in Manchester
  • 22. The Completed AtlasIDACI in Manchester
  • 23. The Completed AtlasGCSE Performance in Manchester
  • 24. Problems
    • No spatial data for independent schools or further education colleges – hence no A-Level metrics for Manchester
    • 25. Tiling process is quite slow and requires ~1GB of storage space for each choropleth set
    Next Steps
    • Bring in higher education flow data
    • 26. Incorporate individual school metrics
  • Further Information
    Haklay, 2009a: Neo and Paleo GIS – is the difference in the usability culture?
    Haklay, 2009b: OpenStreetMap and OS Master Map – Beyond good enough–-beyond-good-enough/
    Reed, 2009: More on OSM Coverage