VIRTUAL CAMPUS TOURS
Online multimedia technologies deliver the sights and sounds of college, without the cost and inconvenience of traveling
The excitement of a new school year quickly gives way to panic as college-bound seniors scramble to narrow college choices and complete applications. This anxiety-laden process may involve last-minute visits for open-house weekends and interviews that cost time and money. As the parents of one senior told me recently after a disappointing trip, "The best part of that college was the brochure."
Little wonder that experts say the Internet has become the preferred medium for browsing colleges and universities, and the Art & Science Group (www.artsci.com) marketing firm found more than 78 percent of high school seniors use Web resources for college information. Online searches are easier, faster, cheaper and more powerful than just two years ago, and this progress helps students cast wider nets for schools that fit their criteria.
ADDING VIRTUAL VISITS
However, while almost every college and university has a Web site for text information that could be secured through catalogs, brochures or guidebooks, the look and feel of a college experience for most high school students is unknown. They have little idea of how higher education institutions are organized, or what to expect from classes and life on a campus. For this reason, growing numbers of colleges are adding multimedia "virtual campus tours" to their sites, to give prospective applicants real-world flavor.
Such tours enable visitors to view filmed or even real-time lectures, hear students talk about their college experiences, attend music and theater presentations, and see sports teams in action. They may also include interactive maps. Visitors mouse-click their way around campuses in any sequence, and make narrated film and photo visits to academic buildings, auditoriums, bookstores, dormitories, dining halls, laboratories, libraries, museums and sports facilities. Many schools also offer 360-degree panoramic views of selected locations, live campus shots through Web-linked cameras, and streaming media options so visitors can participate in scheduled question-and-answer sessions with admissions counselors and academic advisers. While complex online campus tours typically require high-speed connections for optimal success, many colleges also offer low-bandwidth versions for dial-in users.
There are several useful online guides to virtual college tours, such as eCampusTours.com (www.ecampustours.com), which links to panoramic views of hundreds of college campuses in 16 states. Related directories are also available at sites including CampusTours.com (www.campustours.com), CollegeNET.com (www.collegenet.com) and CollegeView (www.collegeview.com/college/collegesearch/online_tours).
For example, "Virtual Duke" at Duke University (www.duke.edu) offers tours of the university's most distinctive sites, including 360-degree views of 10 locations including the east and the west "quads," the main library and the gym. An interactive campus map links to views of every campus building, with opportunities to see a video of Duke Chapel services, hear the chapel carillon, and take a specialized tour of the Pratt School of Engineering. Similarly, Harvard University (www.news.harvard.edu/tour) offers a guided tour through America's oldest university, with opportunities to hear from students and faculty, walk virtually to buildings throughout the famous Harvard Yard and look behind doors that are normally closed to public view.
Although virtual online tours are not substitutes for actual campus visits, they add powerful new dimensions to higher education Web sites, and can enable your students to winnow their choices of colleges without spending any money or missing days of school.
Odvard Egil Dyrli, firstname.lastname@example.org, is senior editor and emeritus professor of education at the University of Connecticut.