Reinvent Your Virtual Campus Tour With VR
More students are applying at multiple universities, and it’s becoming more difficult for them to visit multiple campuses scattered across the country. The difficulties multiply for the international student who has to navigate finances, world travel, visas, and other obstacles. All the investment you put in for campus beauty, building renovations, and other experiential amenities are lost if students don’t see your campus firsthand. Enter the virtual reality (VR) campus tour. With VR, students will have the fully immersive video experience they have grown to expect.
But wait—you probably already have something in place, right? A YouTube video, a 3D campus map, or a slideshow? Let’s face it, the video is a walk-through of campus, the 3D map is really a perspective rendering of your campus (and it only works with Adobe Acrobat), and the slideshow has images of faculty members who left the institution years ago. The virtual tour I’m talking about will place the student in the middle of your campus with a full 360-degree view of the environment.
The tail end of millennials and the incoming Generation Z have a different expectation of the term “virtual,” and anything with that label will have a narrow definition—an immersive experience through a headset. You may have heard “virtual reality” being touted as the next revolution since the 90s, but this time is different, as the headsets have exponentially increased in quality and lowered the price barrier to the tune of $10, thanks to Google Cardboard.
Many large corporations are investing heavily in this technology, including Sony, Apple, Google, Samsung, Facebook, and Microsoft. They are all betting this technology will take off with their platforms, and the numbers from Nielsen are beginning to validate their bet.
What does this mean to you? As the VR technology matures in 2017, the university that can deliver a rich campus experience will be the talk of the town. International students who have trouble reading English or understanding the auto-translated pages of your website will feel comfortable experiencing your campus. Students interested in attending an institution out of state can simply view your campus online at any time, unhindered by weather or a counselor’s availability. Add a social media direct messaging system, and you’ll have a truly interactive virtual tour. Your virtual campus tour will be the reference against all other campus tours.
Teens Expect VR. Give It to Them.
Not too long ago, I received a complimentary pair of Google Cardboard from the New York Times to promote their immersive journalism on mobile VR. I installed their app on my smartphone, and I was ready to use the headset in minutes. I could also watch 360-degree videos from YouTube (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and from other apps, such as Etihad Airways’ tour of their first-class cabins in stereoscopic video. If you don’t have the VR headset, you can still watch the 360 video on YouTube, but use your mouse to pan the view.
If you work for the university’s marketing or enrollment department and you are competing for a student at the yield stage who hasn’t yet visited campus, the virtual campus tour is your last chance to capture this segment and will have more impact than a shirt, sweater, hat, or backpack. The promotional merchandise will probably cost you $20 to $60 at retail price, depending on your campus store.
Imagine you send a VR cardboard to the prospective student. They can explore the quad, dining hall menu options, landscaped garden, and renovated computer lab on their terms. Unlike augmented reality, which overlays renderings over real-life scenes, an immersive video allow users to experience their surroundings untethered by the cameraman’s point of view.
If sports are central to your target audience, put them in the middle of the arena and enable them to experience the sensations of being next to the players in the middle of a game. Let the prospective student soak in and feel the campus culture and excitement.
VR Campus Tour
To create these immersive 360 videos, all you need is a handful of GoPro cameras (about five or six of them); spherical mounts for the cameras to capture the full 360-degree view (go for monoscopic instead of stereoscopic); stitching software; and Adobe Premiere—the university library’s media center may already have this capability.
All of this may run you around $1,500. If you’re on a strict budget, you can get consumer-grade 360 Ricoh cameras for this exact purpose but at a lower quality.
Once you have the footage, it’s just a matter of publishing on YouTube and Facebook, both of which support 360 videos natively, and you don’t have to pay them anything for this additional feature.