2006 Campus Technology Innovators: Web Tools

2006 Campus Technology Innovators

TECHNOLOGY AREA: WEB TOOLS
Innovator: Tufts University

 


 

2006 CT Innovators: Tufts University

THE CAMPUS COMPASS project sprang
to life in a collective "ah-hah" moment during
a brainstorming session.

Challenge Met

In early August 2005, with the tide of incoming freshmen just a few weeks away, Tufts University (MA) needed to provide more than just driving directions to campus: Once there, the students would also have to find their way to all the services and features the school has to offer. The Campus Compass project sprang to life in a collective “ah-hah” moment during a brainstorming session at which Department of Web Communications staff connected this need for campus information and navigation with the new, freely available Google Maps API. After only a couple hours of discussion, the group had a plan of attack. Two weeks later, they had the Campus Compass website.

In the true spirit of Web 2.0 (the second generation of the web, characterized by shared information and interoperable services) Tufts leveraged Google’s sophisticated mapping technology and coordinated it with university information as a “mashup,” complete with satellite images, informative links, category searches, and cool icons. Web content creators and application developers had efficiently produced a resource that enables prospective and current students, staff, faculty, campus visitors, community members, and others to explore the campus online and locate buildings and services from WiFi hotspots and ATM machines, to Zipcar locations and more.

How They Did It

Campus Compass was a grassroots initiative of the Department of Web Communications, directed by Pete Sanborn with the encouragement of the University Relations division and other administrators at Tufts. Senior Web Applications Developer Teresa Loftin led the technical development.

Content specialists and web developers worked side by side. The content team collected and organized data. Student interns armed with handheld GPS units combed the campus seeking out every bike rack, pingpong table, vending machine, and tennis court they could find—plus a long list of other “mappable” items and points of interest. The technical team created the database and the application that is used to overlay data points on Google Maps. It wasn’t long before 586 items were mapped across the Medford/Somerville campus.

Developers chose PHP and MySQL to create the data backend for Campus Compass because it’s a coding environment they’re familiar with, and one that they could customize to their specific needs. They built a management application to store Campus Compass data (e.g., categories, data points, GPS coordinates, and so forth), and using the Google Maps API, they were able to render the data points on the Campus Compass application. While the Google Maps API only requires data points and coordinates, the Tufts team built an application that could be rendered and updated dynamically through an easy-touse web-based interface rather than forcing non-technical staff and students to update multiple XML files.

Finally, the Campus Compass team invited coordinators of special events, including Homecoming, Parents Weekend, and Commencement to promote their events through tailor-made maps targeting each of their audiences.

Next Steps

The team will expand the amount of information in the Campus Compass database and extend mapping capabilities to its downtown Boston and Grafton campuses. They also hope to integrate the university-wide events calendar more closely, to create a dynamic tool for finding out what’s going on “when and where,” and to aid campus visitors.

Advice

Google Maps “mash-ups” are still in relatively uncharted territory, but don’t be afraid, says the Campus Compass team—and use online discussion groups as a resource.

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