Remote O&M instruction for students transitioning to college: Building a mental map

A graduating high school senior builds a mental map of Elon University using a digital map and a virtual O&M lesson.

Victor is a high school senior who will be attending Elon University for a week this summer for the Odyssey Scholars program and will start full time in the fall. Due to the current COVID-19 Stay-at-Home orders, he has not yet received O&M lessons on campus. However, Victor is learning about and virtually exploring the campus with the help of an accessible digital map created with Google Maps and SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps. I had the pleasure of providing Victor’s O&M instruction from preschool – middle school and will be providing his orientation to Elon University over the summer. Due to the Stay-at-Home order, I have personally not been on the Elon campus. However, I created a customized accessible digital campus map and shared it with Victor.


Learning to use the SAS Graphics Accelerator map tool

Victor, like all rising college freshman, is a “native” to technology and his teachers frequently ask him for tech help! As a true native to technology, he did not need instruction on how to use a new application. Here is what I emailed to him:

“These SAS Graphics Accelerator maps are fully accessible digital maps the can be used to explore what is around, build a mental map and understand spatial relationships. The accessible digital maps do NOT look like standard Google Maps and are not intended to give step-by-step directions!

I know you are tech savvy and used to reading the “manual” like all computer geeks! Here is the SAS link to the the instructions.

For sighted COMs who have the expectation of a visual map and do not understand how an auditory map will provide information in a different manner, here is a post to help COMS understand non-visual map concepts and to introduce young students to SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps. Activities that Build Digital Map skills.

Here is a post on how to download the map file and open it in SAS Graphics Accelerator. SAS Graphics Accelerator Maps: Student Uploading and Accessing Maps post.

Here are your two Elon Maps, starting with a  Elon University Basic Map to learn the software and the Elon University Detailed Map to virtually explore the campus.”

And . . . Victor was off and running!

Note: This map software is brand new – literally released three weeks ago. What perfect timing for Victor and others like him who are unable to receive physical orientation to college campuses because of COVID-19! 

Fast forward one week: Victor and I had an O&M lesson via Zoom meeting to review the map software and to use the map information to build a mental map of campus. It is obvious in this video that Victor completely understood how to use the SAS Graphics Accelerator mapping software and that he remembered and actively used the commands to efficiently and independently explore the map. In the process of demonstrating his tech skills, Victor is gleaning basic information about Elon campus.


SAS Graphics Accelerator Commands

Below are the commands used with SAS Graphics Accelerator maps:

  • Sweep virtual cane: Page Up or Page Down (Windows computer) or Fn Key + Up Arrow or Fn Key + Down Arrow (Mac)
  • Zoom in: +
  • Zoom out: –
  • Reset location and Zoom to default: 0 (zero)
  • Cycle through direction settings: I (clock, cardinal, bearing)
  • Cycle through sound settings: S
  • Cycle through Speech Settings: C (terse, verbose, label off)
  • Jump to dialogue: J (brings up menu window)
  • Repeat current focus: Spacebar
  • Move location to focused Point: Enter
  • Change the Distance Unit: U (metric or imperial system)
  • Help menu: H
  • Announce your current location: / (forward slash)

Using the Map to Build a Mental Map

For the summer Odyssey Scholars program, Victor will be in the Colonnades Neighborhood. The campus map shows a Colonnades Dining Hall which serves a number of nearby dorms. Victor does not yet know which dorm he will be in or which academic buildings he will need to know. Victor used the Jump command (J) to bring up the menu to quickly locate Colonnades Dining Hall. Once his Virtual Cane was on the dining hall, he pressed Enter to move to that location. Now, the center of the map (Victor’s “starting place”) is Collonnades Dining Hall. Now as he sweeps his virtual cane, the locations, bearing and distance are from Collonade’s Dining Hall. The next video – which was part of the same Zoom O&M lesson – focused on using the non-visual map to develop a strong mental map of campus.


When the Speech setting is on Verbose, the label (name of data point), Bearing (cardinal direction or clock face), and Distance for the data point is announced. (Use “C” to change the Speech setting.) Victor has a strong sense of direction and terms; he uses the “bearing” to establish where various buildings are located in relationship to one another. Note: Victor has his bearing set to cardinal directions; some students may prefer using clock face. However, the Distance information has little “real” meaning to Victor. While Victor uses “time and distance” when traveling familiar routes, he does not think of the distance in terms of yards or feet; therefore, receiving information such as 620 yards has no meaning to him.

In this very quick video clip, Victor shares what he does/does not know about using measurements such as yards or feet for orientation purposes.

Teaching Hint: An average person’s stride is 2.5 feet. 3 feet equals 1 yard. For a tall person or a person with a big stride, one stride is equal to 1 yard. To help put that in perspective, a football field is 100 yards long and a high school basketball court is 28 yard long.

Boundary roads

Initially, Victor focused on the building names, groups of buildings, and general layout; while he heard the road names, he did not pay much attention to the roads. Victor was then asked to find the roads. Note: A data point is just that – one point along the road. With the non-visual map, points are given; to determine the line that the road travels, you must connect multiple points together. From the O&M perspective, roads around and through campus are important landmarks as the student travels on the university campus which is mostly crisscrossing sidewalks. Knowing the “boundary roads” (the roads along the edges of campus) will help cement the mental map of campus; knowing the roads through campus will help anchor various campus buildings and will provide critical landmarks when traveling through campus.

As Victor explored the map again focusing on the roads, he began to build a more robust mental map and began to draw conclusions about the direction of the road (line the road travels) not just one specific point on the road. He used the clues such as North O’Kelly Ave (O’Kelly runs north/south) and East Haggard (Haggard runs east/west).

In the video below, Victor explored the map to find the streets and is guided through how to build a grid-like mental map with streets that run north/south and streets that run east/west.

Next step

Stay tuned for Victor’s next step – physically using the information he learned through the non-visual map as he physically walks around campus!

AFTER Remote Instruction for Students Transitioning to College: On Campus post

Victor’s campus maps are below, if you want to try them!

Elon University Basic Map

Elon University Detailed Map

Want to try a large university map? Here is the non-visual University of North Carolina map:

UNC Campus Detailed Map 

By Diane Brauner

Back to Paths to Technology’s Home page

Building a mental map Pinterest pin

Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner


Remote O&M Instruction for Students Transitioning to College: Getting Started

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Getting administrators on board with virtual tech instruction

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Preparing Middle School and High School Students with VIB for Remote Learning