Every year universities and schools compete against each other, not only on results and range of courses but also on their physical USPs – the best classrooms, halls of residence, grounds, gyms, drama facilities and cutting edge technology centres. Not so long ago, a glossy prospectus was the key asset in any school or universities marketing arsenal – helping to increase enrolment, improve perception, attract different types of students, both at home and abroad- and communicate strengths and character. But static imagery is no longer  enough to attract and retain the attention of a generation accustomed to dynamic, immersive and interactive content.

In the US, with so many schools to choose from across 52 states, virtual campus tours have started to play an important role in the marketing mix for students before they visit a campus and for those who simply can’t afford to travel thousands of miles to visit several schools. Just as technology has revolutionised teaching and communication, the internet has given institutions at every level a platform that offers parents and students a much more interactive and deeper insight into school life.

CTC Kingshurst Academy in Birmingham for students aged 11-18 years, is one of the UK schools that is using new technology to offer prospective parents and students a much more visually informative and interactive experience, from the comfort of their own home – 24/7. A 360 degree virtual tour takes them inside and enables them to virtually explore unique learning environments and laboratories as if they were actually there. They wanted to give prospective students the chance to see what the school can offer without restricting them to Open Days visits. Like most schools who have worked hard to build strong links with the local community, the academy also wanted to show how the facilities were used during out of school hours through their Extended Services programme.

James Howell, E-Learning Coordinator for CTC Kingshurst Academy, said: “We have built an underground potholing system and can conduct history lessons inside a barbed-wire-lined replica WW1 trench; we wanted to show off our rather different approach to learning. We have recently  developed an Outdoor Education and Adventure Centre as well as a 3G all-weather flood lit football pitch. When we heard about virtual tours, we knew this would be a perfect way for students and parents to see these fantastic facilities.”

Not only does the tour enhance the school’s profile on Google but it is actively engaging parents who are in the research and discovery phase of choosing a school. Anyone using Google search, Google Maps, Google+ or browsing at street level on their tablet, mobile or PC, can step inside from anywhere in the world. The Academy’s website, ww.kingshurst.ac.uk, serves over 100,000 pages to over 15,000 visitors, generating over 35 GB of bandwidth. At various points within the virtual tour, visitors are also able to find out more information via links to parts of the website and this drives more traffic. They can also send parents a link to the tour or to particular rooms or views by email or social media and the tour is embedded as a “live” window on the school’s website. James Howell added: “Feedback has been really positive – we know that students will still want to visit us before they make a decision but we hope that the tour will dangle a very tempting carrot.”

1st Place nursery in Burgess Park is also using Google Business View to help them reach out to new  parents. They recently built a new website and wanted the virtual tour to enhance the user experience by adding an element of interactivity.

Director, Nicola Howard said “As an early education provision, we believe it is important for parents to see the rooms where their children will spend their first years  and understand how our facilities will help them reach their full potential. “The virtual tours are embedded in our new website and provide a great visualisation of our nurseries and children’s centre as well as rooms for hire. This memorable and sharable experience will not only allow us to reach  broader audiences but will also increase awareness of the 1st Place offer, helping us to stand out from competition and give parents and potential customers the opportunity to explore our facilities.”

In the UK, awareness of Google Business View is continuing to grow and businesses are seeing remarkable results. Recently, new added interactivity called TourDash has opened up exciting new opportunities – by simply creating information hotspots within the tour, contact information can appear at key moments and you can add links to direct your online visitors to your contact information web page. For Kinghurst, the filming process itself was very easy. Howell said: “With over 60 rooms/areas to capture as part of the virtual tour, it was simply a matter of making sure everything was tidy and how it should be. The photographer from the company shooting the video tour – Aardvark 360 – made things very simple for us. Our school is a big place; we have three separate buildings plus our outdoor facilities. The TourDash overlay will help the user navigate through our virtual tour without the need to find their own way around; the option to find out more information about a particular room using hotspots will also be hugely beneficial.” Marketing is essential in today’s competitive environment. A good interactive tour grabs attention. Ultimately, it will drive students to come visit your school in person by grabbing their attention!

One university reported that last year alone, 89 per cent of the students that took their physical tour had actually taken a virtual tour first. The virtual tours help students in. The process of selection and elimination, and schools are seeing a huge increase in campus visits, all thanks to these virtual tours made available to prospective students.

Did you know that:

■ 90% of all internet searches in the UK start with Google (statista.com)?

■ 55% of UK adults regularly use Google StreetView technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views?

 

E-Learning Update – Virtual tours of schools – Article only