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Exploring the Disconnect Between Learning and Campus Orientation

Navigating a sprawling educational environment can be difficult for new and seasoned students and faculty. We might typically imagine a nervous 18-year-old freshman on campus for the first time, but navigating a large area with both interior and exterior locations can be difficult for anyone, regardless of their position or how long they’ve been there. For example, people get new schedules every semester and may get assigned a class in a building or part of the campus they have never visited before. Finding your way to an unfamiliar location, especially when you have to be there at a particular time, adds unnecessary stress that can affect learning or performance even after the student arrives at the classroom.

Improved and inclusive wayfinding in educational environments is necessary to aid student navigation, so they can focus on learning instead of worrying about getting lost.

Current Practices for Campus Wayfinding

There are several methods of wayfinding in development for use at educational institutions, but of course, none are perfect for everybody. These include:

  • Maps and Written Directions. While these tools are obviously helpful, they don’t provide users with a means to determine their location within the space. Some map kiosks might have a “you-are-here” marker, but that only helps the user when they are at that particular point. The user’s perspective changes as they move through the campus, so they will likely still get confused in determining exactly where they are. These methods also exclude the blind and low-vision community and those who speak a different language and can be overwhelming for people with cognitive differences.
  • Signage and Landmarks. In contrast to maps, signage, and landmarks can help a person determine their physical location within the environment, but this doesn’t always help them know where to go next. Signage can inform someone if they are in the correct area or decrease wrong turns once inside, but it is still necessary for the user to locate the signs within the facility. And they will likely still need to search for signs that point them to bathrooms, elevators, or other amenities within the building. Landmarks can be helpful for someone who is already somewhat familiar with the campus. It is, however, not necessarily the same for someone new to the area, who may not immediately recognize a landmark (i.e. a particular fountain or statue may be known to a senior but not a freshman).
  • Tours. Campus tours with a knowledgeable guide can be great for incoming freshmen (or any visitor who is new to the school). However, these are usually only offered on certain days or at specific times and are generally before the semester starts. Information overload coupled with time elapsing can make it difficult for someone to remember specific locations. Tours usually encompass the entire institution and aren’t curated to fit a single person’s schedule, so while a person may know where their dorm room is or the building where their 8 a.m. class is, they may not know (or understand) where those locations are in relation to each other, or the most efficient way to get from Point A to Point B.
  • Asking For Verbal Directions. What may be an easy or obvious solution for many people, for others, asking a stranger for verbal directions is potentially more stressful than getting lost. Someone with anxiety or other mental health differences may be extremely overwhelmed by this option. Getting verbal directions also requires, much like tours, remembering what the person said, which is tricky regardless of the situation, but can be especially difficult if you’re already stressed.

Digital Wayfinding Is the Solution

Almost everyone has used some form of digital wayfinding to navigate the outside world using GPS. This valuable digital resource, however, isn’t widely used indoors but could be vital in increasing campus familiarization for everyone.

According to data from a research study conducted at a university in Ontario, 70 percent of the people surveyed said accessing, understanding, and navigating interiors was the most daunting task when trying to find their way around campus.

Additionally, while many of the main roads on college campuses were accessible via outdoor GPS systems, access to areas like quads or the pedestrian pathways between buildings often wasn’t available.

Digital wayfinding can help everyone find their way in life and make their time on campus stress-free by:

  • Incorporating real-time geospatial maps to orient the user by using their location.
  • Providing turn-by-turn directions both externally and internally to the specific classroom or office they need to visit, as well as amenities such as bathrooms, food courts, or elevators.
  • Offering features such as auditory directions for the blind and low-vision community and providing multiple languages.
  • Gamification of navigation is a tactic often used to engage younger generations who are now entering higher education and the workforce.

Go Beyond Orientation With Wayfinding

Technology is deeply integral to our everyday lives. So, ensuring educational facilities are equipped with the most innovative digital wayfinding technology keeps them competitive and will help their students have a high-quality and low-anxiety experience.

But why is wayfinding so relevant in an educational or research setting?

  • Eases stress and anxiety so they can focus on learning.
  • Improves accessibility for people with different needs.
  • Reduces disruptions during class time (i.e. people walking in late).
  • Alleviates congestion by allowing people to find alternate routes during busy periods.
  • Keeps the flow of the institution on track with less delayed or flustered people.
  • Makes the campus more welcoming and appealing to visitors and prospective students.

Makes the campus safer by allowing users to find emergency exits or services more efficiently.

Digital wayfinding will streamline the structure and navigation of any campus and make it more efficient and accessible to a broader range of people. Schools that adopt a digital wayfinding experience for their students, faculty, and staff will ensure their campus is a welcoming and comfortable place to work, play, and learn.

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