A tour de force

A long time ago, when I first started out in design, it was all the rage to develop online virtual tours. This basically consisted of us purchasing a fancy camera plate for our tripod, snapping photos of our fancy facilities in 360 degree intervals (ensuring that we duck out of the way of the shot) and then crudely stitching it together in a bespoke piece of software. The next step would then be to upload it to a static HTML page whilst ensuring the file size was capable of loading on a 56k modem (anything above 2MB was not recommended!)

Artist's impression of an old virtual tour!
For a while these were pretty popular with clients and senior management but didn't see much of a return on the investment of time required to make them. Things then stood still for a while and the popularity of new tablets and smartphones meant the old Shockwave Flash or Quicktime VR technology either looked very dated or didn't work at all. This left room for video to take the lead again - with the advantage of working on any device and the human element of a smiling tour guide.

Then, in 2012, the government introduced rise in HE tuition fees to £9,000. This had a lot of very interesting side effects (some of which were hard to predict). One of the big winners of this initiative was to be the construction industry, with 96% of universities beginning to drastically improve their buildings. In order to attract fee-paying students these shiny new buildings became essential and the skylines or university towns are now littered with every type of modern monolith.

At Bedfordshire we're no exception with new Campus and Postgraduate Centres opening over the last two years. We're also in the process of building a new library in Luton and this week has seen a brand new £25m redevelopment (called 'The Gateway') open at our Bedford campus. Can you see where this is going? All this investment now needs to be showcased online!

Portsmouth's impressive virtual tour
Therefore, a recent task of our has been to work with lots of different departments to collate content for our new 'Campus Works' microsite. Now this is completed we've moved on to look at some Virtual Tour solutions. I've been extremely impressed with how the technology has evolved with the best examples combining interactive maps with galleries of images, videos, student testimonials and social media integration.

We're now doing a bit of competitor analysis to choose the avenue which we'd like to go. We've already found some lovely examples from the likes of Robert Gordon University, Birmingham and Portsmouth so the next stage will be choosing a platform and then mapping out the content.

The new Bedford 'Gateway' building
I was fortunate enough to attend Friday's opening of the Gateway and the building (built on time and to budget by Bedfordshire based Kier Construction) is extremely impressive. Hopefully it will enhance the learning experience of our current students and attract new ones who are eager to have access to the latest technological environments. I took the opportunity to film and edit a video of the day whilst I was there:



Finally, before the opening I was given the opportunity to bang my drum and wheel out my old Social Media presentation for the Senior Leadership Team. I've updated the slides a bit and, as I only had 20mins, the focus was the importance of engaging with current student issues. I then finished off with a 'What would you say?' task. The presentation is below and I was really pleased with how it went down. Hopefully it went some way to ensuring that the student/customer voice is at the forefront of all of our future business development strategies:

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