How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    3D and virtual reality in university admissions: an interview with CampusBird

    As higher education becomes increasingly global, CampusBird's Andy Hawkes explains how 3D maps and virtual reality tours can impact university admissions
    Last updated:
    December 3, 2021

    As the number of international students increases internationally and higher education becomes ever more global and competitive, it’s more crucial than ever for universities to highlight what makes them special. The campus is a huge selling point for many, but one that a great number of prospects just aren’t able to see in person.

    Many universities are finding 3D maps are a solution. This technology provides an interactive look at the campus and its distinctive features without the need for a ten-hour round-trip.

    Virtual reality is becoming more popular, too. Earlier this month, Oxford Brookes became the first UK university to offer a virtual reality campus tour. In the US, University of Notre Dame just launched virtual reality highlights of it’s football team’s matches, which form an integral part of the institution's culture and a huge USP for prospects.

    As the momentum behind these interactive technologies grows, we speak to Andy Hawkes, Director of Marketing at CampusBird, a Colorado-based company which harnesses both 3D and VR for universities around the world.

    How would you describe CampusBird?

    CampusBird creates interactive maps of large university campuses. We provide a 3D rendering of the entire campus. We take Google Earth satellite imagery and overlay SketchUp, so all the graphical features of the campus are represented in great detail: from the actual buildings down to trees, cars and curbs.

    CampusBird also allows clients to create virtual tours. For example, a school might have a beautiful new building they want to show off. As viewers click pins on a campus map, up pops an image or a video of, for example, a historic building. Every school gets to promote what makes them unique and get across their personality.

    Our US clients include Arizona State University, All Saints K-12 Episcopal School and Claremont Graduate University. We also work with several UK schools, including De Montfort University in Leicester [see CampusBird's map for De Montfort here].

    A 3D map of Boise State highlights everything from lecture theatres to Pokémon

    Why does higher education, in particular, need these technologies?

    In the US, higher ed is becoming such a competitive environment, chiefly because there’s so many students. Prospective students come from all parts of the world. The first place they go to learn about a school is online, and that first impression is so critical.

    One of the primary goals of admissions and marketing departments is to drive more campus visits. If they can get somebody to walk around their campus and see the energy of the student community, their conversion rate is likely to be higher. But visiting a campus far away from home isn’t an option for everyone.

    That’s where we come in. We pack our 3D maps and virtual tours with as much detail as possible to make them immersive and really show off the distinctive features of the campus.

    The maps have a functional side as well. When a road on campus is closed for a certain period, a 3D map can reflect that. Arizona State University has integrated real time parking lot data, so their map shows which parking spaces are available. And we’ve integrated with a third party provider that tracks the urban bus routes through one of our universities.

    Virtual reality can really help a university show people what makes it special. As an example, at some of these large public universities in the US, football is really something that sells a school. If a university can use technology to allow prospective students to virtually experience what it’s like to go to a game, that can prove incredibly important.

    How was CampusBird founded?

    We started in 2009. We were founded by people who used to work for SketchUp, a company which makes 3D modelling software and used to be owned by Google. They decided to launch their own company around the 3D modelling tool. Within the first few months, Disney asked them to make a 3D map of their amusement parks. So they were the first client, which we consider that to be a feather in our cap.

    In 2010, the recession hit. We thought, where is this service still needed and where are the budgets for this? We decided on higher ed. We realised many stakeholders at these higher ed institutions were using old-style maps that were flat and very static.

    What’s next for CampusBird?

    We want to go from an interactive mapping company to an immersive media company. We want to continue to innovate and move into other verticals: from university campuses to convention centres, retirement communities, resorts and amusement parks. We want to provide virtual experiences for all sorts of large properties who need help selling their product.

    How is your university using 3D or VR? Leave a comment or send us a tweet.


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