Many colleges and universities tout that they are their students’ perfect “home away from home.” Can you say the same?
In a time where student expectations have skyrocketed and retention rates are plummeting, it’s time to re-evaluate how you foster community at your school. The best way to do that? Through a virtual map tool.
Here’s how you can use an interactive campus map to keep students of all ages happy through strong community building at your school.
1. Keep students in the know
A great way to show students you are invested in their time at your school is by giving them all the information they need in one spot, at the tap of a screen. Of course, depending on how they use your interactive map, students will look for different things. A clear information architecture, using categories that make sense for your students, can help them easily find event locations, points of interest, or even relevant study spots when they need it.
You can create any number of categories within your interactive map, including (but certainly not limited to):
- Buildings around campus, such as lecture halls, classrooms, the library, the bookstore, dining halls, and everything else your school has to offer.
- Construction sites, to provide alternative routes and show what the future campus may look like.
- Points of interest, from meditation areas to campus artwork, local city attractions, and walking paths.
- Transportation information, like bus stops, bike racks, or car services.
- Food and dining areas, including both on-campus and off.
- Meeting Spaces, such as offices, meeting rooms, or conference rooms.
- Restrooms, including handicap-accessible and all-gender options, baby changing stations, lactation areas, and more.
- Phone and device charging stations, ensuring that your students always know where to keep their battery 100%.
- Emergency services, from Campus Police to the locations of blue light phones.
- Event locations, making any venue easy to find.
Keep in mind that your categories can shift and focus on specific events, as well. A category for Move-In Day, for instance, provides new students and family everything they need to know at that point in time. And of course, each category and item within that category has unique links, allowing students to use your map not just to navigate themselves but to easily meet up with others.
2. Give students updated information about campus
A standard PDF map most likely looks pretty static. That’s okay for giving prospects a peek into a bird’s-eye view of campus, but doesn’t provide the best functional information.
Fortunately, the right tool can help students see updated information at any time. For example, with an interactive campus map, you can create map overlays to display what a dark or snowy campus looks like. With this functionality, students can better understand which routes may be more easily accessible during winter or which paths are the most well-lit after sundown.
Live data feeds are another option that can turn campus maps into real-time hubs of relevant information. With live data feeds that keep you map up-to-date in real time, you can feed in any information for your students, including the following:
- Live bus tracking that allows students to understand just when they need to catch that shuttle to get to class.
- Up-to-the-minute event updates from calendars used across your organization.
- Video live streams from events, webcams, and more.
- Current capacities of amenities, like parking or computer labs.
With these real-time data feed capabilities, students can use the interactive map not just to navigate from point A to point B, but also to gain valuable information that helps them plan their day within their community at your school.
3. Provide accessible resources to all students
In modern higher education, designing your campus for accessibility is not optional. In addition to the many regulations built on the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s simply a good idea to make sure all of your students feel welcome and able to navigate from building to building. After all, more than 40 million Americans live with some type of disability.
How can an interactive campus map help students with disabilities navigate your school easily? That process starts with keyboard accessibility, which allows users with motor disabilities to access the map using only their keyboard. But it doesn’t end there. For example, you can use your interactive campus map to highlight important resources like lactation rooms and all-gender restrooms. You can showcase the parking lots offering accessible parking, mark accessible building entrances, and other resources for all student groups.
Have students who use a wheelchair? Clearly label wheelchair-accessible paths, ramps, elevators, and more around campus through wayfinding (we’ll get to this!) or an accessibility category.
And of course, you can make sure that your map complies with WCAG 2.0 and 2.1, the broadly accepted web accessibility guidelines. In other words, your map can both highlight your campus accessibility and be accessible in its own right, creating a more welcoming environment that all students can benefit from.
4. Help students easily get around campus with wayfinding
Of course, a big part of building community is simply removing the uncertainties that especially new students may have when navigating your campus. The more confident they become in the surrounding environment, the more naturally they will acclimate to it.
That’s where wayfinding capabilities of digital maps enter the equation. With the right tool, you can easily create wayfinding paths for your students that allow them to find their way. As we mentioned above, you can even create custom paths, like wheelchair-accessible walkways, to ensure all students feel confident getting around.
Some interactive maps now allow you to take the same wayfinding capabilities inside of buildings, with interior mapping that smoothly transitions from any exterior views.
When most students have to look to Google Maps to find directions around campus, they may not feel like the school has taken time to invest in them or the community. This is where interactive maps can level up your community game. When you provide students with a resource at their fingertips that tells them detailed instructions on where exactly their classroom is in that big lecture hall, which roads to avoid, and which paths are actually wheelchair accessible, it can mean a world of difference.
5. Emphasize your commitment to sustainability
All the above can be powerful reasons to build a comprehensive campus map online, and integrate it into your regular student communications. But, if you’ll hang with us for a second, it’s time to get meta: the existence of an interactive map itself can also help you gain the goodwill of your students and make them feel more attached to your institution.
We’ve written in the past about how effective interactive campus maps can be to showcase your campus sustainability. However, the existence of a mobile-friendly interactive map itself is also a signal that your college or university cares about avoiding waste.
That message is especially effective given that today’s college students are more environmentally-conscious than any generation before them. One recent research report even went so far as to call Gen Z the “sustainability generation.” Any credible messaging to showcase your campus sustainability has the potential to make a significant impact.
In this case, that means communicating exactly how much less wasteful your virtual map is compared to a print map. It could even be a note on the map itself, outlining how many pieces of paper (and trees) are saved by using the map. Doing so makes students feel good about themselves and the university they attend.
Tell your community’s story with Interactive Campus Maps
The foundation for building a community among your students is creating an inclusive and welcoming environment. Once that foundation is in place, implementing an interactive campus map can help to bring that same community online, and make it easily accessible for all students.
That’s what makes interactive campus maps such a powerful admissions tool. And, as it turns out, the same maps are just as relevant and valuable for your current student audiences.
With Interactive Maps, you’ll be proud of the “home away from home” you’ve created for your students in no time.
Ready to learn more?
And of course, you can always contact us with questions.