Virtual Reality Campus Tours with Oculus Rift
Higher Education Marketing

Virtual Reality Campus Tours with Oculus Rift

Date posted: July 31, 2014

Recruiting fairs will be a bit different this fall with the introduction of virtual reality campus tours to the repertoire of a few lucky admissions reps whose schools have taken an early plunge into virtual reality with the Oculus Rift.  The use of virtual reality for recruitment marketing remains unproven but would appear to hold great promise. Simply based on the VR buzz factor, I would bet these schools will be the hit of their local fairs, with prospective students lined up to try out this new technology, while of course at the same time, getting an immersive tour of the school’s campus.

But I am getting ahead of myself with this story, so let’s start at the beginning.

Oculus VR is the Seattle-based tech company that has developed the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, that creates a 360 degree 3D immersive graphical environment that you can move through and interact within.  The first version of the headset was released as a developer kit in 2012. In March of 2014, Facebook bought the company for $2 billion dollars. Last week, they released the second iteration of their software developer kit version of the headset in the US, at a price of $US 350. This version is again aimed at software developers who can use it to develop applications that will ultimately drive the retail market, but it can still be purchased by the public to experience the growing number of commercial VR apps. A release of the commercial “retail” product of the headset is rumoured for some time in 2015.

Initially pitched as a gaming platform, there has been lots of media and blogger commentary, musing about whether or not the Oculus Rift would find other useful applications for the technology that would take them more into mainstream commercial and consumer markets. Well, as it turns out the virtual college tour is a perfect application for the technology, allowing prospective students to experience a campus tour in a uniquely immersive and interactive way, while at the same time allowing schools to leverage their existing investment in 360 degree panoramic tours into this new format.

This technology is probably better introduced with an example. Click the image below for a a brief walk through of the technology and a video demo that’s on the Oculus Rift VR website. I tried to find an actual example of a campus tour online but it seems that none are yet publically launched. This demo is a bit long, but will give you a really good overview of what “the Rift” is all about. Of course, it is best to actually experience the headset but there are only limited opportunity to do this at this time.

Oculus rift demo

Pretty interesting right, but I am sure you are asking yourself, how does it really feel when you’re inside the immersive 360 degree environment, wearing the Ocular Rift headset and a stereo headphones?  I had the chance to try it out recently when the Game of Thrones Ascend the Wall Experience came to Toronto, and I have to say I was quite impressed. My very initial reaction within the environment was kind of tentative; that it felt a bit like being inside a surround sound version of Duke Nukem, but it was pretty amazing how quickly you suspend your disbelief of the content and actually begin to feel like you are actually in the environment. (I am also a big Game of Thrones fan so that also helped!) And this was on the DK 1 version of the technology. The company promises some pretty dramatic improvements in experience with DK2, the newest version, released just last week, so I can only guess that it is that much better now.

Game of thrones Experince

So how does that bring us to the Oculus Rift being at recruitment fairs this fall? Well as it turns out that YouVisit , a company that produces virtual campus tours saw the potential in this technology and started working with Oculus Rift and some of its college customers to produce pilots for the VR headsets some time ago.  In various media reports, two schools are referenced regularly, Yale University and Audencia Nantes School of Management in Paris, with another report suggesting up to a possible total of 10 pilots are currently being developed.

So with the release of the new version of the headsets, it will be possible for these early adopters to get their hands on headsets for their recruitment staff to take on the road to high school visits this coming recruitment season. All they’ll need to do is to plug the headsets and earphones into their laptops and they’re in business.

So how will the 3D VR campus tour compare to the real thing?  It is hard to tell at this point and the jury will remain out on the ultimate effect this experience will have across the recruitment funnel.  At the very least, the schools that have this technology in place first will create a real buzz, and attract lots of  top-of-the-funnel prospective students on sheer novelty basis alone.

If you’ve  experienced the Oculus Rift , or even better, experienced one of the early campus tour demos, we’d love to hear your reaction to it and get your opinion on its implications in higher ed recruitment.