Virtual Tour de Force

Campus Technology

October 1, 2011

By Bridget McCrea

Real estate agents have used virtual tours for decades, hoping that buyers who get an online peek inside a home will feel compelled to schedule a live showing. Colleges and universities are now using the same strategy, with the goal of turning curious high school and transfer students into new recruits.

Using online video and, in some cases, a back-end system to track these virtual viewers, colleges are giving prospective students a look at their campuses and amenities before they ever set foot on campus. But the most successful tours go beyond just bricks and mortar--they aim to capture what life is like for students on campus, focusing on the overall learning environment.

Dartmouth College's (NH) Thayer School of Engineering started using 360-degree panoramic tours to show off its campus to new recruits in late 2009. Joseph Helble, dean and professor of engineering, says the idea was born after a group of undergraduate students won a Google SketchUp (3D modeling software) contest.

"The competition entailed mapping part of the campus online in a 3D format," recalls Helble. "The end result was a 3D, photographic version of the campus, and we thought it would be great if prospective students could 'step inside' our buildings electronically to tour our facilities."

Developed by Thayer School's communications group and the IT department, the virtual tour is based on panoramic photography taken by an in-house photographer.

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