+1 (978) 744-8828 Email Us  

Recruiting Intelligence

Getting Ahead of the Boom: Collegiate Virtual Reality


Last February, we talked about the intense and growing competition within the EdTech industry and new ways of delivering educational content, like the immersive learning experiences of augmented reality and virtual reality. These simulative experiences as of 2017 garnered $3.1 billion in investments, and those numbers are set to grow.

As reported by EdTech, the “2018 VR/AR in Research and Education Survey,” from Internet2, stated that only 28 percent of higher education institutions are currently employing some level of VR, though half are testing the prospect. These numbers are expected to surge, according to research from Gartner, which predicts VR will be found in 60 percent of higher education institutions in the U.S. by 2021, and Goldman Sachs expects 15 million educational VR/AR users by 2025.

This translates to a huge opportunity for both educational institutions and the companies that are offering VR technology.

With a nod to our colleague Kevin Merges at Rutgers Prep who can’t get enough of this stuff, let’s dive into how and why this is important for your institution. We’ll take a look at how this new-fangled stuff is being used today and what’s in store for the future.

Read on…

Much of the VR used in classrooms is with head-mounted displays (HMDs), like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, which can be found for under $500 each. On the cheaper side, Google Cardboard, a $15 cardboard enclosure that isolates each eye and turns a cellphone into a VR device, uses the phone’s internal gyroscope. These lowering prices—combined with successful student outcomes—are factors in the upcoming VR boom.

Let’s talk about uses and outcomes

Currently, VR is being used in a variety of ways at the collegiate level, within four main categories:

  • Getting students in the door
  • Training students
  • Virtual field trips
  • Opening up new career doors

Getting students in the door

On their websites, universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Rice all offer prospective students the opportunity to virtually tour their campuses from the comfort of their couch or local coffee shop.

The website Youvisit.com offers tours—both in a 360˚ experience and virtual reality (paired with an HMD)—for over 600 colleges. These tours pair you with a virtual student guide who leads you through 360˚ videos of campus walkways, buildings, student centers, dining halls, dormitories, theatres, and athletic events, all the while providing a narrative about the university history and culture. The service also allows you to schedule a campus visit or apply online at any time during your tour.

Some colleges are taking these VR tours seriously. Savannah College of Art and Design even went so far as to mail 5,000 accepted students carboard VR goggles to visit their new potential home and introduce them to the type of innovative design espoused by SCAD.

Hey Savannah, let us know how that mailing went. We’re sure the tracking on that promotion was fascinating. Always difficult to justify new marketing initiatives like this.

Our colleagues at Sunrise are diving into this stuff in a big way.

Training students

In his TED Talk, Michael Bodekaer, founder of Labster, speaks of VR laboratories as a way to revolutionize science education and double the productivity of instructors, citing the success of flight simulations used to train pilots in conjunction with actual flights. He says VR would not only be a cost savings to colleges and universities, but that it improves student outcomes, safety, and enthusiasm, something that occurred when MIT students used VR labs for cutting edge cancer research and other students were able to study salmonella without personal risk.

Medical schools and science departments were early adopters of educational VR, which allows simulations inside the body and replaces some of the need and space for cadavers. The use of VR allows for real-world situations without real-world consequences, better prepares students, and speeds up learning, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

VR has its place among the earth sciences as well. At Radford University, students are using VR labs for the GEOINT Geospatial Intelligence Certificate Programs while interacting with U.S. Geological Sciences topographic maps. Students at Radford can also virtually join their classroom with uploaded lectures and presentations using the HTC Vive.

Virtual field trips

According to Google’s The Open University study on “Teaching in Virtual Reality,” Shailey Minocha, Professor of Learning Technologies and Social Computing, said, “Our previous research has shown that the high degree of realism now achievable in virtual field trips complements the physical field trip experience and in imparting fieldwork skills. Virtual field trips also make it possible to experience activities and locations that may be impossible, or extremely difficult, to arrange in real life.”

The app Google Expeditions harnesses Google Cardboard and offers over 900 VR field trips to locations such as the ocean floor, Mount Everest, Buckingham Palace, and Mars. There are also over 100 AR experiences, such as exploring American colonial farming, a plant cell, and bee pollination. Discovery Education offers a similar app for the Cardboard or Oculus Rift.

Welcoming new careers

Colleges are preparing their students to take on careers within the realm of VR, studying its effects and uses in game design, 3D modeling software, and animation.

SCAD uses their VR not only to greet their new students, but to encourage interactive music and arts.

At Washington State University, the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication is researching how AR and VR platforms are used most effectively, exploring how VR can influence behavior and attitudes in areas such as environmental issues and political persuasion.

The University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication is doing the same thing in their Games and Virtual Environments Lab (GAVEL), investigating VR and motivation, empathy, consumer psychology, and risk communication.

In 2018, Ringling College of Art and Design became the first school to offer a BFA in Virtual Reality Development, where students learn “to design, create, and analyze immersive experiences in countless industries, including gaming, healthcare, architecture, advertising, and education.”

Many EdTech companies are bravely imaging where VR/AR will go in the future with very practical solutions. The opportunities for new careers are burgeoning. The institutions jumping in with both feet are meeting prospective students where they are. Now if we could just come up with the headset that doesn’t make us all feel like total geeks.