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No walking required: NIU launches virtual tour

June 20, 2012

A guided excursion of the NIU campus is now only a web click away.

NIU’s Web Communications department, in collaboration with Enrollment Management and Admissions, launched a virtual tour Monday, June 18, complete with a friendly escort, panoramic images, videos, photos and an interactive map.

The university’s Facebook page also offers an app that provides another way to access and engage with the tour content. Meanwhile, work is under way to deliver a mobile version of the tour later this year.

Screen capture of NIU virtual tour

“Having a virtual tour provides prospective students and their families a way to explore our campus – anytime, anywhere,” said Rachel Xidis, assistant director of Web Communications.

“It’s a way to share the NIU experience with people worldwide, making a ‘campus visit’ possible, even for out-of-state and international students,” she added. “Visitors can take a closer look at what Northern Illinois University has to offer and begin to determine if NIU is a good fit for them.”

Xidis worked with the Aventura, Fla.-based YouVisit (previously called YourCampus360), a well-established industry leader in university virtual tour development, to create the online stroll through NIU.

Planning began in February with identification of tour stops and charting out a tour route.

In coordination with Admissions, the team wrote tour stop descriptions and made a list of possible panoramic images to photograph at each location.

“On this initial iteration of the tour, we had to limit the number of stops and panoramas, so we selected key buildings on campus – focused primarily on representing NIU’s range of academic programs and campus life,” Xidis said.

“With the help of contacts across campus, we finalized the tour route and scheduled the panorama shoots. A photographer from YouVisit was on campus for much of the first week in May to take photos for the walking tour and 360 images.”

Photographs and video created by NIU Media Services also were uploaded to appear with corresponding tour stops.

Screen capture of NIU virtual tour - Facebook versionUpdating and expanding the tour will be an ongoing process, Xidis said.

“We will be posting new videos and photos associated with the current tour stops on a regular basis. We also plan to continue adding more tour stops to reflect the diverse range of academic opportunities and campus life experiences available to students on the NIU campus,” she said.

When the mobile version launches, Xidis said, the same modules seen in the full web version will become available in a streamlined mobile interface, optimized for faster download and smaller screen sizes.

The video tour guide will be replaced with a mobile-friendly audio version. The panoramas, which use Flash technology in the full tour, will be swapped out for an HTML5 version designed to work on both iOS and Android devices.

Meanwhile, the Web Communications department can monitor hits to the various pages within the tour and collect data about visitor trends to enhance the tour in future iterations.

Visitors also can easily inquire about more information, schedule campus visits or apply to NIU from any screen during their virtual visits.

“We can track these inquiries, applications and visits,” Xidis said, “and follow-up accordingly to help generate leads and increase conversions throughout the admissions process.”