For new and prospective learners and their families, one of the best ways to gain an appreciation for what sets the University of Lethbridge apart from other post-secondary institutions is to visit the campus in person. The University's relatively small size, accessibility and quality are readily apparent to anyone who has spent even a day here, but visiting the campus isn't always an affordable option for learners from other provinces and countries. Language barriers can also make the process of selecting a university difficult for prospective international learners and their families.
In response to this challenge, the University of Lethbridge has produced an innovative multilingual online virtual campus environment that will allow anyone with web access and a free copy of Google Earth to experience the Lethbridge campus in a way that mirrors an actual campus visit.
Visitors to the RAVE (Reaching Audiences through Virtual Entryways) virtual campus site will be provided several options for exploring the University, its services and facilities.
"Instead of finding out about a club you would have liked to participate in when you might be in your final year, new students have the opportunity to know it all before they even arrive on campus," says Jeff Bingley, a RAVE production member and videographer. "It has the potential to really streamline your University experience."
Navigating the RAVE world can be accomplished through 3D virtual campus tours, whereby visitors can get a look at the University's facilities and services, all described in a number of different languages.
Users can also access the RAVE web environment through traditional hyperlinks on the University's website. Each link on the RAVE web page will take you to specific locations – such as department offices, the Students' Union Building – in the virtual U of L environment. Another click on that office will connect the viewer to a relevant YouTube video describing the resources that the office provides.
The third method of navigating RAVE is as an unguided explorer of the 3D buildings and their contextual information links.
In summer 2013, the U of L will release the first stage of the 3D RAVE virtual campus environment.
"RAVE uses a combination of advanced video game and Google Earth technologies to produce highly-detailed, interactive 3D environments," says professor James Graham of the Faculty of Fine Arts Department of New Media, RAVE's lead designer and production manager. "These feature architecturally accurate campus building models using the University's CAD drawings, interactive video components, photographs, audio, web-interactivity and pre-programmed animated camera sequences."
The release of RAVE this summer will focus initially on student and administrative services and clubs for new learners who will be arriving at the U of L.
"The Students' Union partnership has been critical in delivering the learner interest components, and the Faculty of Fine Arts partnership has provided RAVE with a secure production lab and equipment," says Graham.
The RAVE project grew out of collaboration between Mike Spiteri (IT), Graham and Heather Mirau (director, Integrated Planning). RAVE is a Recruitment and Retention Project with one-time seed funding from the U of L Strategic Enrolment Management Committee.
A team of eight new media learners (including six undergraduates, one co-op and one master's student) worked on the project. The Department of New Media also loaned computer and camera equipment, while use of the RAVE lab is by loan from the Faculty of Fine Arts Dean's Office. Close to 90 per cent of the RAVE project costs are paid to the production team, allowing learners to offset educational expenses and continue with their studies.
"This student, faculty and staff collaboration drives the project," says Mirau. "James is masterful at building in the latest technical applications with a solid focus of growing an online community for the recruitment and retention of our learners."
RAVE has also been designed and constructed using a layered approach, allowing it to grow organically and logically moving forward. This gives the project the ability to serve multiple functions, such as showcasing our faculty research to interested audiences.
This story first appeared in the May 2013 edition of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.