The future of virtual reality has already arrived for universities and colleges

Last month, October 21st 2015, marked the date to which Marty McFly and Doc Brown travel to in the incredibly popular 80s movie Back to the Future II. Discussions on social media and in forums on this historic day saw the vast majority of us lament the future of our reality. Where is the future Doc and Marty promised us and why are we still getting the bus to work and not taking off in our flying cars or for shorter journeys, our very own hover-boards?

OK, so technically hoverboards exist and we do have other technology imagined in the movie such as video calling, drones, large flat screen TVs and biometrics technology.But what about virtual reality?

In the movie, Marty’s future kids sit around the dinner table wearing headsets that they can watch TV on, as well as receive and make calls. While the technology might not be as accessible in the real 2015, we are catching up. Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset looks set to hit the market in the coming months.

There are strides being made in virtual reality all the time. We have even got some examples of universities of universities using virtual reality to reach out to and engage with students.

First up, Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona California has opened a virtual reality learning center designed to allow students from every program learn through virtual reality. The center features four different VR technologies, including a virtual dissection table which allows students to rotate the human body in 360 degrees, take it apart, identify specific structures, study individual systems, look at multiple views at the same time and look at holograms. Technology such as this engages with students and pulls them into learning. Similar to playing a video game, the student must take responsibility for succeeding in their environment. It’s also an incredibly fun way to learn and a fantastic way to hone new skills.

In the UK, the University of Hull have been using virtual reality to give thousands of prospective students a glimpse of some of the latest gaming and virtual reality technology being developed in Hull. As part of their open day visitors were given goggles which brought them into a virtual world to experience the Brynmor Jones Library as well as being on stage during the University’s WelcomeFest.

Savannah College of Art & Design has also used virtual reality to engage with a broader audience. The college manufactured 10,000 cardboard virtual reality goggles and sent half of them to prospective students and invited them to take virtual tours of its campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, Hong Kong and Lacoste. The students simply had to fold the flat piece of cardboard to form a headset, load the virtual tour on a smartphone, pop it in and strap it to his or her face.

For colleges and universities, using virtual reality to engage with prospective students is a perfect fit. Virtual reality is being lauded as the next major technology and teenagers are always the first to embrace new technology. For campus tours, virtual reality makes perfect sense. Anyone who can’t make it to an open day can have a similar experience from their own homes.

Would your university consider using virtual reality to engage with students or will you wait for hover-boards to hit the shelves first?