The reality of virtual reality
When you work in technology and have done so for a while, you read a lot about future technologies and they seem like a long way off. And then once in a while one comes along where you can see practical benefit for its use in whatever market sector you work in. It seems to happen almost overnight – it goes from prototype and blue sky thinking, to a real application that’s being adopted at speed.
Virtual reality is one such technology. It’s long been a staple of science fiction, but of late it’s received an inordinate amount of column inches across a huge number of sectors, whether it’s testing new cars, viewing houses or gaming. And now it’s being used in higher education too. Students can actually use a VR app to look around their choices of university amongst other things. With the use of a free Google cardboard headset in which to place a smart phone, it’s possible to gain a virtual tour of a campus and experience what it would be like to attend a specific place of higher education.
Oxford Brookes University is one such institution that is already using the technology to do just that.
Far from the tour being a substitute for visiting in person, it’s there to complement it, to revisit it virtually and go back over areas you may want to take a deeper look at. And for those students who live further away and maybe aren’t able to attend in person, virtual reality offers an opportunity to do something that otherwise may be impossible. Students will also be able to view places to eat, socialise and study – like the library for example. Giving a rounded view to the student and delivering it to a smartphone when they want to engage with it. Such virtual tour apps will be downloadable to any smart device and can be consumed at any time of the night or day to suit the viewer – putting the student firmly in the driving seat. As new content comes along, it can be added to the app and updated for new viewing.
There’s a lot to thank the gaming industry for - technology to simulate physically realistic environments – where objects drop and bounce as you would expect them to – has already been developed, and so the most obvious use of VR is in subjects such as engineering or architecture, where headset-wearing students can design and manipulate virtual structures, hold objects and rotate them as you would in the real world. It is even possible to build a car out of virtual components and have it run based on laws of physics modelled into the environment – this is being researched at Penn State University in the US.
The applications are seemingly endless. But as our millennial generation continues to consume information digitally, technology provides the medium through which our higher education institutions can engage with students earlier in the admissions process and keep them hooked. It’s a known fact that our school leavers begin searching through university and college information a good 12-18 months prior to needing to fill in any application forms, and virtual reality provides a medium via which they can be enticed to engage earlier in the process and information be delivered directly to them as though they were there in person.
Virtual reality is a powerful marketing medium for our higher education institutions and it’s no longer science fiction.