I read an interesting article in the New York Times this week – titled “M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree“, the article describes how M.I.T. (and other colleges and universities) is leveraging student blogs as a recruiting tool. The idea is that the blogs allow prospective students to get a glimpse into life on campus – and help them determine whether they’d like to apply for admission.
The dean of admissions at Haverford College was quoted in the article: “High school students read the blogs, and they come in and say ‘I can’t believe Haverford students get to do such interesting things with their summers. There’s no better way for students to learn about a college than from other students.”
While I’m certainly a big fan of blogs, it occurred to me that virtual world and virtual event technologies could extend this concept to a whole new level.
3D Virtual Worlds
Hundreds of colleges and universities have a presence in Second Life (and other 3D virtual worlds). Professors have been using 3D virtual worlds to complement their real-world classes – and in some cases, classes have moved entirely into a virtual world. Universities who created 3D replicas of their campus (in Second Life, for example) could leverage the existing island(s) as a recruiting tool. One could provide links from the student blogs, inviting high school students (who are so inclined) to enter the virtual campus for a real-time and interactive experience.
Recruitment activities you could facilitate in a 3D virtual world:
- Student-led virtual campus tour – the same exact concept as the real-world – prospective students meet the student guide at a designated place and time and the guide takes visitors (and their parents!) on a tour of the campus. Of course, in a 3D virtual world, visitors would be required to download the client (if needed) and familiarize themselves with the user interface – they’d also need to teleport to the tour site and learn the basics of navigation / walking. For colleges who built extensive campus replicas, however, the virtual tour gives prospective students a great feel for the real-world campus. Later, prospective students can return at their own leisure to explore the campus at their own pace – and have random encounters with enrolled students or other prospective students.
- Student blogs -> 3D virtual dorm rooms – existing student bloggers can create “in-world content” to complement their blogs. How about an in-world replica of your real-world dorm room? It would come complete with in-world residents (you and your roomates), along with renderings of your wall posters, unwashed clothes (strewn across the floor), collection of beer cans, etc. What better way to give a taste of campus life than taking prospective students into some 3D virtual dorms?
Virtual Event Platform
While the 3D virtual worlds facilitate outreach from enrolled students to prospective students, virtual event technologies could be leveraged by admissions and administration (of the university). Instead of an immersive 3D environment, admissions and administration could utilize a 2.5D rendering of the campus in a virtual tradeshow fashion:
- University Departments as “booths” – Admissions, Administration, Law, Chemistry, Mathematics, etc. – each department could have a “booth” in the virtual environment, where they provide information on the department – and, representatives can staff the booth to greet and interact with prospective students via text or webcam chat.
- University Resource Center – a convenient one-stop-shop for all content placed in the department booths, allowing students to find the documents, web pages, videos, podcasts, etc. that interest them.
- Auditorium – allows your administration and departments to put a face and voice to your university – by way of live (or on-demand) video, podcasts, etc. How about a monthly live videocast from your University president, provost or dean of admissions? Prospective students would get a lot of value from that.
- “Lead” and engagement tracking – by requiring prospective students to provide a minimum amount of demographic information, you can use activity reports (provided by the virtual event platform) as a gauge of applicants’ interest level in your university. This type of data may be quite relevant to the admissions department.
I don’t think that virtual worlds and virtual events will be adopted by all prospective students – there will still be quite a few who prefer the simplicity and low-overhead of browsing blogs. That being said, those who are so inclined to participate virtually may signify the more “engaged” of the prospective student base – and next Fall, they’ll be the ones leading the virtual campus tour.