Spring 2023 - GEOG 457 D100

Geovisualization Interfaces (4)

Class Number: 2527

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Jan 4 – Apr 11, 2023: Mon, 10:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Apr 19, 2023
    Wed, 3:30–6:30 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Nicholas Hedley
    1 778 782-4515
    Office: RCB 7229
  • Prerequisites:

    GEOG 356.



The concepts, theories, and technology behind interactive and immersive interface technologies used for geospatial visualization. Applications and implications for GIScience and spatial knowledge acquisition. Combines GIScience, spatial cognition, and virtual environments/interface research perspectives. Students with credit for GEOG 457 (STT) Geospatial Virtual Environments in fall 2005 or fall 2006 may not take this course for further credit.


There is an emerging ecosystem of interface technologies (such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and extended reality (XR)) that can deliver unprecedented ways to view, explore, manipulate, query, and experience multidimensional visualizations of data and spatial phenomena. These spatial interface technologies are going to transform the way we interact with spatial data and phenomena.

GEOG 457 explores and demonstrates the capabilities of cutting-edge 3D geospatial interfaces, and their significance for geovisual analysis and spatial information experiences in 21st Century GIScience. The emphasis of this course will be on exploring a compelling range of interface technologies for 21st century spatial data visualization – some in everyday space, some in virtual space, and some which may change the very nature of practice.

Students will embark on an exploration of emerging technologies, including: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), extended reality (XR). We will consider how they have been (and could be) used for 3D/4D geovisualization, geovisual analysis, simulation and 3D GIScience, across a range of applied contexts (such as archaeology, earth science, coastal and marine science). We will explore the use of interfaces, interaction design in experiential 3D data/simulations from Dr. Hedley’s various research projects, including: coastal dynamics: rapid-onset hazards: fluvial geomorphology: rigid-body slope mechanics; AI crowd simulations; 3D ecological monitoring on the seafloor; and off-planet field sites such as Mars.

Students will get hands-on experience of 3D geovisualization development, using: serious game engines; 3D physics-based geo-simulations; mobile and single-user virtual reality (VR); room-scale immersive VR; tangible augmented reality (TAR); mobile augmented reality (MAR); augmented GIS and geovisual analytics; 360 VR for geographic narratives. These demonstrations will use: HTC Vive; Oculus Quest; mixed reality using mobile devices; Hololens.

We will include consideration of interfaces that can deliver meaningful in-person and remote information experiences, teleporting distance physical spaces into a user’s current location, or teleporting the user to distant worlds.

Activities in this course will incorporate 3D capture technologies, including LiDAR, Structure from Motion (SfM), structured light sensing, and emerging ways to simulate complex spatial processes, using 3D physics, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and artificial intelligence (AI).

Students will be introduced to the technology, methods, concepts and implications of interface research and HCI – applied to 3D geovisual analysis and spatial interface design and implementation. We will explore interface research concepts and interaction design in order to explore new ways to enable users to interact with geographic data representations of phenomena in 3D geospatial interfaces.

We will consider how emerging technologies may fundamentally change the way we explore and experience geographic data representations, and the spaces in which people interact with, and consume spatial information. We will consider their implications for GIScience, geovisual analytics, human-computer interaction, interface design and spatial cognition. We will explore radical ideas emerging from these possibilities, including extended reality, mixed reality GIScience and geovisual analytics, metaverses, mediated realities, cyborg theory, and using everyday space as a spatial computing interface.

This course provides students with direct experience and practical knowledge of many interface technologies, their application to geospatial problems, the perceptual/cognitive experiences they enable. Students who complete this course are uniquely prepared to design future spatial information interfaces, to contribute to the future of interface-mediated GIScience, and forms of spatial computing beyond mainstream GIScience.

The typical prerequisite is GEOG 356. However, I will consider requests to waive this requirement, on a case-by-case basis – based on student’s skills/experience. Students will not be trained in conventional GIS in GEOG457. That background is assumed.

Students will be guided through knowledge- and skill-building activities – focused through applied problem-solving contexts, which may include: environmental change; social science; human dynamics; urban development; archaeology and cultural heritage; Earth science; natural hazards; data from Mars; and many more! A key aspect of this course, are a set of hands-on experiences for students to use a range of VR, AR, MR and XR interface technologies throughout the semester.

Course organization
Weekly lecture and lab meetings will be used flexibly to introduce concepts and methods, and provide hands-on demonstrations of a range of interactive spatial interfaces. All students will be gain first-hand experience with these technologies. A collection of applied research examples (by your instructor and his team) will also be used to illustrate the application of these technologies. Discussion is encouraged in lecture.  Lectures and labs will be used flexibly to introduce and demonstrate 3D concepts, data, methods, visual analysis, and spatial interface technologies. Students in this course will be supported by assigned readings, discussion, position papers, hands-on exercises, demonstrations of 3D methods and interface technologies, and applied examples. Students will be polled so that content and activities can be tuned to the specific interests and objectives of the students enrolled.

Course objectives
This class is designed as an accessible, stimulating and fun course for a wide range of students – organized in a modular format. Lectures and labs will be used flexibly to introduce spatial interface concepts and ideas, demonstrate a range of spatial interfaces, discuss the technologies and experiences, discuss the design and rationale for using different interfaces in applied contexts. At the core of the course, are a set of hands-on spatial interface demonstrations, through which they will build direct experience with these technologies.

Course Components
Weekly ‘flexible lectures’
Weekly office hours for discussion/Q&A
Weekly Lab activities/ introduction and instructions to a range of 3D geovisual interface workflows
Weekly Lab Q&A
Assignments and online mini quizzes (as part of assignment grade)
Take home cumulative course exam
Final project



Flexible lectures
Weekly lectures will allow students to benefit from a narrative of emerging interface technologies, using 3D data, 3D GIScience and 3D Geovisualization ideas, concepts, methods and perspective. Each week, interface technologies, concepts, methods and applications will be introduced, explained, demonstrated, discussed and critiqued. You will also be introduced to applied workflows, through presentation/demonstration of past and current projects, including discussion of ‘lessons learned’, and project management skills.

Once a week you will have assigned lab training activities. Labs are intended as a technical apprenticeship in a repertoire of 3D interface,  data, simulation and visualization methods, running parallel to lectures, and informed by the ideas, concepts and perspectives discussed in lecture. Labs will begin in Week 2. In Week 1, I will poll students to check on resources (including personal/off-campus computing access) to participate in and complete labs, so that we can identify and put in place a plan for maximum student experience, and success.

Each topic/training module in lab will be kicked off with a introduction/presentation. A set of digital notes providing instructions to follow for each training module. Some guidelines will be very step-by-step, while others will intentionally challenge you to figure out solutions to problems. All meaningful training and experience!

Each week, we will hold Q&A in support of lab work, lab section-by-section. Note that this will be conducted in the most efficient way possible – preferably as specific topics/questions presented to groups of students requesting support.

We reserve the right to modify the format of these instructional materials/resources if we perceive there to be more effective ways to maximize student experiences, and everyone’s time efficiency.

A key component of this course will be the production of a small portfolio-quality applied project. The final project enables you to integrate and demonstrate the skills/methods (and thinking) you have learned, focused through one of a collection of applied thematic topics (designed/tuned to the interests of students in the course). Deliverables will be presented/submitted digitally.

PLEASE EMAIL Dr. Nick Hedley at hedley@sfu.ca


Students completing this course, students will be:

  1. a) knowledgeable about how emerging geovisualization technologies (VR, MR, AR, XR) raise new opportunities (and challenges) for representing and visualizing geographic spaces;
  2. b) knowledgeable in the use of several VR, AR, MR, display devices, control systems and interface technologies;
  3. c) experienced in the use of 3D spatial data, using 3D laser scanning (LiDAR); Structure-from-Motion (SfM); and other 3D capture and data processing technologies;
  4. d) trained in how to design and implement 3D geovisualization interfaces of their own, using VR/AR;
  5. e) able to combine 2D and 3D spatial analysis with interactive 3D visualization interfaces;
  6. f) trained in multi-platform workflow to develop 3D geovisualizations and 3D interfaces;
  7. g) trained in spatial project design and management skills;
  8. h) able to integrate 3D spatial data and geovisualization methods and thinking into their future work.
  9. i) able to build and integrate 3D interfaces into their future work.


  • Hands-on lab activities/assignments 50%
  • An applied ‘geoviz mini project’ 25%
  • Exam 25%




97 or higher
































Technological expectations:
We will poll students in Week 1 to make sure everyone has a feasible arrangement with which to successfully access/perform lab work.

Student conduct and integrity:
We expect all students to hold themselves to the highest standards of scholarly practice and integrity. Your work should be completed by YOU and nobody else. We reserve the right to use plagiarism detection software. Here’s why you should not attempt to cheat in this course. Even if you get away with cheating on tests or deliverables now, it WILL come back to bite you in the future, when, despite getting a good grade in this or other courses, you don’t ‘know your stuff’ when it is put to the test in future courses, job interviews, or jobs. Do yours

Recommended familiarity
For maximum benefit, students should be familiar and comfortable with the Windows desktop environment especially using files and folders in Windows and navigating to folders and files from within specific applications; we expect students to have a working knowledge of either ArcGIS or QGIS. You will be using a range of tools, converting data and moving them between different software packages.



Under SFU's Education Site License, SFU students, staff, and researchers may download the following software to home computers for academic use ONLY. This includes teaching and classroom use and research purposes. 

Software available to download/install on home computers

  • Microsoft 365
  • ESRI Applications such as ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, ESRI CityEngine, etc.
  • Matlab with Named User License
  • Adobe CC with Named User License*

* ONLY those who are in SFU payroll are eligible for Adobe CC with Named User License


There is no primary textbook for this course.

Curated reading assignments and support materials will be provided throughout the semester.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html