University Business - September 2008 - (Page 26)

A Virtual Visit T FIRST, COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES WENT ABOUT IT all wrong. In the mid-1990s, special versions of the campus walking tour began appearing online. Featuring a map with arrows, they often followed the same route and offered a peak into the same buildings, explains Chris Carson, president of CampusTours. Panoramic images, with real estate industry roots, began appearing in these tours before long. Then, around 2000, came a key realization: In person, sharing the school’s story through its facilities, with vignettes from tour guides peppered in, works well in providing prospectives with a sense of the campus. Online, not so much. In the virtual translation, “you got the facilities information but lost all the ambiance of the physical tour. What you were left with was buildings. Not many students are making decisions based on buildings,” says Carson, whose website has provided links to camBy Melissa Ezarik pus tours since 1997. Now the company sells software to help higher ed institutions manage their own virtual tours and has worked on about 450 tours directly. Missing from virtual tours was the student experience. Through audio, video, and other effects, as well as features such as multiple tour guides and tours geared to specific audiences, the online campus tour is evolving to entertain and engage virtual visitors. WELCOME A Ensuring the online campus tour opens the enrollment door By Melissa Ezarik The Case for Tours with More Most IHEs, however, have miles to go with their virtual tours, at least from Ron Reis’s vantage point. As co-founder and digital dean of YOUniversity, a new (and free) provider of campus video tours for invited institutions, Reis estimates that 90 percent of online campus tours are stuck in Web 1.0, with static text links, still photos, and no allocated resources. “Schools are proactive about teaching their students with the latest technology and about having the latest technology, [but] they’re not using that technology,” he says. Reis sees the tour as “singlehandedly the most important element” of a college website. Research has shown that tour-related buttons get the most clicks, which is not surprising. “Those looking at college now were 13 when the iPod came out,” he says, adding that viewing streaming video is part of their everyday lives. A bad tour is a barrier, says Carson. Students will “get frustrated very quickly if they can’t get the 10,000-foot view.” The web helps students narrow down potential schools to consider further, and frustration during an online visit leads to abrupt goodbyes. Or, as a tip sheet on the CampusVT website puts it, “If they find your tour boring, what do they think of your school?” The company, which offers a tool for online tour development and maintenance, advises making visitors feel as if they’ve had an experience, not visited a website. Reis says the slow, monotone narrations in school-produced videos lose not just students but their parents, who are themselves of the MTV generation. Besides being fun, he believes virtual tours should show everything from the traditional tour—and more. One mistake, he says, is thinking, “We need to save a bullet for when they do make their official visit. We need something up our sleeve to show them then.” With many families finding traditional college visit road trips cost prohibitive, that chance may never come. 26 | September 2008

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - September 2008

University Business - September 2008
College Index
Company Index
Advisory Board
Editor's Note
Behind the News
Sense of Place
Human Resources
A Virtual Visit Welcome
Development Directors Speak Out
NACUBO in the Windy City
Facilities Focus
Money Matters
Financial Aid
Endowment Management
What's New
End Note

University Business - September 2008