September 19, 2017

Putting UMW On The Map: Goals, Results, and Challenges

It is no secret that UMW is growing. Each year, campus finds itself with exciting new buildings, innovative new programs, and in many cases, a combination of both. In order to keep up with the times, we must track these changes. There is no better platform in the current technological atmosphere than Google Maps; it is accessible, spatially accurate, and verified by active, current users on open-source software. With the integration of a Geographic Information System and the Google Map Editor Interface, UMW’s Office of Digital Communications, with the help of the Geography Department, has updated and restored UMW’s presence on Google Maps. This makes it easier and more accessible for students, parents, and faculty to get basic and necessary information about campus.

Goals & Results

We’ve all been there at one point or another—wandering blindly as we search for an elusive academic department, or trying to give mom and dad good walking directions from the Parking Deck to Seacobeck. This information hasn’t always been easy to find in the past, but times are changing. By more heavily integrating an updated Google Map database into UMW’s web system, problems like these will be more easily solved than ever before.

At the beginning of the 2015 spring semester, the Google map of UMW was missing several key features, from new buildings to footpaths to landmarks. It was devoid of detail and not easily navigable within campus due to lack of detail. Google’s Map Editor program allows missing features like these to be updated by drawing points, lines, or polygons with Google satellite imagery as a reference.

Since the start of the project, more than 100 edits have been made to the UMW Google Map. Staple landmarks such as The Amphitheater, Jefferson Square, the James Farmer memorial, Ball Circle and more have been added. In addition, new buildings like the Anderson Center and the ITCC have been drawn. With the aid of the Geography Department’s campus topology dataset, there is now an accurate network of walking paths that will allow users to actually plug in walking directions from, say, the Bell Tower to DuPont Hall, and get the fastest walking route through campus.

We intend to integrate this new map into the main UMW website. Its purpose is to replace the old interactive map and generate a useful set of sub-maps to help with anything from labeled parking lots to learning more about what’s inside Lee Hall. With these updates, users—from both a mobile and desktop setting—will find information about UMW infinitely more accessible.


The project thus far has had its fair share of hurdles. As a student learning the interface for the first time, I will note two main challenges that I encountered and had to solve.

First, as with any new program, there is a learning curve to the Google Map Editor. That learning curve goes beyond simply how to draw the polygons—it includes issues of naming conventions and proper protocol in updating Google Maps. Google Maps is a sort of cartographic Wikipedia that anybody with a Google account can edit. Therefore, it has a strict set of rules that must be followed and are enforced by administrators. Many of these administrators will deny your edits, even if they are correct, because they don’t conform to Google guidelines. Learning the guidelines involves reading and posting questions in the Google Forum pages, and realistically, getting a few denials before you understand what it is you’re doing.

A second challenge was the imperfect satellite imagery. The satellite imagery is ca. 2013, which is a bit outdated and inaccurate considering UMW has embarked on various construction projects since then. It was also taken in the spring, which meant that foliage covers up buildings and paths in some parts of campus. Getting around these issues required some guesswork and the overlay of KML data from the Geography department’s topology of UMW.

These challenges were an easy fix. The next step is the fun part—personalizing the map and getting it ready for specialized uses.