Purdue University is the first to experiment with virtual reality graduations

While many graduates attend commencement ceremonies in person, the rapidly changing education environment means that institutions are seeking new ways to bring the graduation ceremony experience to life online.

Leading the charge is Purdue University, in Los Angeles, which has become the first university in the world to use a new virtual graduation ceremony format.

purdue branded VR headset

The initiative is particularly timely, given the rising global impact of coronavirus that could significantly disrupt ceremonies throughout this year's cycle and into the next.

How Purdue University's virtual reality graduation works

Each of the graduates participating virtually received a branded headset to use during the ceremony and a detailed program, tassel and honor cord.

Meanwhile, the university employed a camera operative using an Insta360 Pro 2 camera, streaming to YouTube's 360-degree video platform. A standard video feed was also sent to Facebook Live for any other viewers without virtual reality to watch the proceedings.

"The graduates saw and heard everything as if they were sitting in the Cultural Centre", Patti Pelletier, Director of Learning and Leadership community for Purdue Global commented. "Virtual graduates 'walked' onto the stage, heard their name announced and saw their picture displayed before returning to their 'seat'."

"We are proud to be the first university to offer students who otherwise would not be able to attend, the opportunity to share the excitement of graduation in a virtual setting," said Patti Pelletier.

Creating a graduation experience in VR

This hasn't been a quickly released idea at Purdue University in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but moreover the outcome of over two years of research and planning.

The project was conceived with help from Purdue's Research Computing Envision Centre. A team of Purdue students researched options to help create the virtual opportunity for their counterparts at Purdue Global.

Heather Bagshaw, senior graduate program coordinator with Purdue Online, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communication from Purdue Global. She was one of the students that participated in the virtual commencement with family and friends so they were are able to watch her 'walk across the stage'.

Mike Schlang also participated in the virtual reality graduation from his home in Raynham, Massachusetts, nearly 3,000 miles away from the ceremony.

Opportunities for innovating the graduation experience

We talked earlier in the year about how universities are using technology to enhance the graduation experience.

There are some great ideas here, from designing rich, engaging landing pages, adding some mystery by gradually revealing a creative speaker, using social media feeds, crafting emotionally engaging video footage, and connecting graduates with alumni using Chatbot technology.

With the now accessible capabilities of VR and and undoubted commitment to AR capabilities we're seeing from both Apple and Google in their recent products, this could be a great time to hone in on your graduation experience and introduce a range of offline and online measures that delight students in these challenging times.

After all, graduation will continue to be an important bridge between student life and alumni. And another great place to enhance the student experience and respond positively to the growing movement in online learning.

We'd love to hear your feedback. Has your institution considered virtual reality or online graduation ceremonies this year?