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Colleges begin to take virtual reality seriously

By Abi Mandelbaum
November 25th, 2015

From recruitment to distance learning, and from alumni relations to more culturally diverse courses, virtual reality has mass appeal to today’s institutions.

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Virtual reality (VR) is emerging as a powerful technology, projected to grow into a $30 billion industry in the next 5 years. Major brands across various industries have already begun using VR as a marketing tool to get customers to try their product, service, or visit their location. But when it comes to higher education, has VR’s dramatic rise impacted colleges and universities?

Virtual reality: The Ultimate Recruiting Tool

Many schools are already taking advantage of VR technology for marketing purposes; in fact, the vast majority of top institutions are using it to recruit prospective students in a variety of ways. In a sense, virtual reality is the perfect tool for student recruitment, as it allows colleges to effectively reach, engage, and appeal to prospective students through virtual campus tours.

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was an early adopter in utilizing this technology. Last spring, the art school created immersive virtual reality experiences of SCAD sites around the world, allowing viewers to immerse themselves in these environments and feel as though they actually visited the locations in person. SCAD then mailed 10,000 inexpensive cardboard VR headsets to students who had been accepted to the school, but not yet enrolled, allowing them to entice the students, as well as get a leg up on the competition.

“Virtual reality is one way you cannot just see but experience a place,” SCAD’s Vice President of IT, Brad Grant, told the LA Times. “If you’re talking about a painting studio, we can get a camera assembly inside that environment, and when you put on the goggles you can experience what it would be like to be in a painting studio full of students.”

This technology can also be incorporated into off-site efforts, including college fairs. Texas’ Trinity University has used their virtual tours in similar ways to help students better connect with the school.

“We bring VR on admissions events, to conferences, and encourage alumni to use the VR tour to reconnect with campus, see new buildings, and remember their time at Trinity,” said Michelle Bartonico, Trinity’s director of marketing communications.

However, the power of VR goes beyond simply recruiting. The University of Michigan uses the technology as a learning tool, and by instituting a virtual reality “cave” they’ve allowed engineering students to interact with virtual structures as they “come together, buckle and collapse.” Instead of relying on physical models—which tend to be large, expensive, and slow to build—a student using the MIDEN VR cave can fly around a virtual structure to study mechanical connections.

(Next page: Looking to the near future)


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