There’s a lot of excitement about virtual reality (VR)—and there should be. It’s exciting, in its infancy, and reports say VR will be a $38 billion dollar industry by 2026.

But there also seems to be a lot of confusion about virtual reality.

What does virtual reality mean? Do universities and colleges even need virtual reality? And if so, how can they affordably integrate virtual reality? How can they make sure that an investment in virtual reality pays off?

Virtual reality is a powerful tool, and can provide an experience that’s both memorable and influential. They know that it can be a deciding factor in a student’s decision to schedule a visit, and ultimately submit an application.

In this article, I set out to answer the following question: what are three options and costs to integrate virtual reality into higher education websites. But first, what is virtual reality?

What is Virtual Reality?

Virtual reality is the creation of a simulation using 3D images or modeling that can be interacted with using special hardware. We hear a lot about the hardware these days, but the content? Not quite as much! In this blog, Virtual Reality for Higher Education: Beyond the Virtual Tour, CampusBird discusses how higher education professionals across different departments can use VR.

If you’d like a primer on VR (and how it compares to augmented reality e.g. Pokemon Go), check out this short video with Noah Robischon and Mark Wilson from Fast Company HERE.

Three Options for Integrating VR into Higher Education Websites

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Montana Tech 360 Panorama.

1. VR-Enabled 360° Panorama Images (aka “Photospheres”)

Cost: $ to $$ (depends on number of images desired)

What You Need: A 360° camera or 360° camera app, conversion software, and a place to put the images (such as an interactive campus map). There are many companies that specialize in providing 360° photospheres.

What Your Audience Needs: A VR-ready setup to view your images–anything from Google Cardboard ($10) on up to Oculus Rift ($600) will do.

How it Works/What You Should Know: VR-enabled 360° images lets the visitor  explore a fixed area in 3D virtual reality, and allows the user to move the image around in order to view anything captured in the image–up, down, left, right. If you’re a higher education professional looking to get some VR content on your website, 360° photospheres are a great way to start. Pick your most interesting locations–exteriors (e.g. the quad, famous vistas, stadiums, historic buildings) and spacious interiors (e.g. a library, student center, arena, etc.), and capture the 360° image. Also think about what students will want to see–dorm rooms, student center cafeteria, unique and fun aspects of your campus.

For an example from HoloBuilder, an application that allows you to create a VR/AR experience with a 360° photosphere click HERE. There are several applications (including Facebook) where you can convert 360 images to VR.

(Next page: Two more virtual reality scenarios and cost breakdowns) 

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Dorm Room.

2. Virtual Reality Guided Campus Tours

Cost: $$ to $$$$ (depends on length, vendor and number of images used)

What You Need: Software to create virtual guided tours or a company that specializes in creating guided virtual tours.

What Your Audience Needs: The hardware needs are the same as for the 360° photospheres–anything from Google Cardboard to the Google Daydream and Oculus Rift will do.

How it Works/What You Should Know: Think of virtual reality guided tours as a video production that strings together a number of VR-ready 360° photospheres. Many universities have them, and they can be attractive and engaging. A downside is that virtual guided tours limit students’ ability to openly explore your campus, forcing them to stay within the track of the tour.

Another drawback is that, with some vendors, you don’t actually own any of the media or assets that comprise your guided tour, so you cannot use them for other promotional needs online. You may want to negotiate the ability to include several guided tour changes in the initial price, because (following the video production comparison) to make changes to the finished tour can be quite costly.

But guided tours can be influential and enjoyable for students.

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3. Virtual Reality – 3D Immersive Campus Model

Cost: $$$ to $$$$+

What You Need: A company or team to build a 3D model of your campus, buildings and interiors. Like 360° photospheres, these 3D models are then processed through software to create the virtual reality experience. The maps developed by CampusBird are VR-ready 3D-immersive models.

What Your Audience Needs: A virtual reality headset with the ability to navigate.

How it Works/What You Should Know: This is often what comes to mind when people think of virtual reality (imagine Second Life). It’s more expensive because it requires the development of a full 3D model of the area where your audience will be virtually exploring, and it also requires a lot of computing power (on both sides). But this is changing. Gaming is leading the charge on 3D immersive models, and we’re likely to see a rapid acceleration in 2017 as new hardware (and VR content) further penetrates the market. This means that more students, and perhaps even their parents, will be ready to access virtual reality.

[Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on the CampusBird blog here.]

About the Author:

Zack Mertz is vice president of Design and Production for CampusBird http://www.campusbird.com/.


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