Virtual school experiences – a fad or here to stay?
Covid forced all schools to explore virtual school experiences, many choosing various forms from interactive maps, through to virtual tours of the school campus. But post-pandemic are these digital experiences petering out or are they here to stay?
Even schools that hadn't invested much in their website previously, now prioritise the channel as they recognise the value it can add.
Carly Magnavacca-Ptaszek Performance Manager
Whilst many organisations had to unwillingly halt operations at the height of the pandemic, unfortunately schools did not have that liberty.
It was very much a case of ‘the show must go on’ as, after all, children still needed their education, even in a covid ravaged world.
As such, schools were forced to explore virtual school experiences in lieu of face-to-face interaction, as restrictions required.
These digital experiences took many forms, from online classrooms to interactive maps and virtual campus tours, to digital learning resources.
Such innovations truly shaped a pandemic education!
But even now, with restrictions lifted, we still find these experiences still very much a part of a school’s online experience.
So, in this blog, we look at virtual school experiences and discuss if they’re a fad, or here to stay?
During the pandemic, normal lessons took the form of online learning, in the format of live or pre-recorded sessions via video conferencing platforms.
And offline learning, which consisted of work sheets, assignments or other learning medium such as educational videos.
This format was a necessity during the pandemic, but students missed out on opportunities to effectively interact with the teacher and their peers face-to face.
This dynamic proved especially challenging for active debate, participation and group learning that would be commonplace in a live classroom setting.
But why? Well, there are many factors that can contribute to a potentially negative online environment.
Whether that be connectivity issues, lag in audio or video or simply a lack of self-discipline on a student’s part – there are a plethora of factors that define the success of this digital experience.
The implications of this digital divide were particularly stark.
So perhaps online classrooms still have a place in the post pandemic world, for the inclusivity and accessibility that they provide, but not so much in lieu of face-to-face learning.
Interactive maps generally take an aerial view of your school or campus and provide an engaging way to help users to identify key locations.
They take many forms, from sophisticated illustration like The Leys School website, utilise aerial photography of the grounds and campus like St Edmunds College, or more graphical animation such as WSP.
Each location generally has its own content associated with it, varying from text, images or video content.
Some even include a panoramic or 360 degree view of a particular area such as a sports hall or classroom.
In the pandemic world, interactive maps allowed prospective parents and students an extensive glimpse into the school and its facilities.
Post pandemic, they still serve an important purpose, which is to provide prospective students and their families an efficient and easily accessible way to give an insight into what your school has to offer.
It is for this reason that we believe Interactive Maps are well and truly here to stay.
“There’s always a stigma around costs when it comes to Interactive Maps, but it’s more accessible than you think.
We have the ability to create something graphically here at mso, or can utilise assets that schools already have available, such as aerial shots or drone footage.
It really can be as ‘entry-level’ or ‘advanced’ as it needs to be and with WordPress, can be developed in such a way that it is scalable and can be grown by the school’s team in an easy and intuitive way.
And the benefits of an interactive map in our opinion are vast. Not only does it allow an engaging glimpse into the school and facilities, but often we find that users perceive this functionality as innovative and high-end, which is an emotive, positive reflection of the school as a whole.”
Virtual Campus Tours
Virtual campus tours build upon the premise of showcasing the school and its facilities offering a more dynamic and immersive experience.
Ultimately, the tour could either be a pre-recorded video showcasing facilities, staff and testimonials from current students or a diarised event whereby prospective families join a stream for a live walkthrough of the school campus (more like a Virtual Open Day).
Many schools invested in this medium during the pandemic, which is hardly surprising.
Regardless of the uncertainty in the world, one thing was certain – that September would continue to bring the dawn of a new school year and a new wave of students.
As such this particular digital experience was embraced. because schools saw a discernible benefit to its offering.
For example, parents who lived outside of the local area, who lived overseas and were looking to relocate, or would have found it challenging to attend a face-to-face event perhaps because of a disability, were now able to take part.
It opened up a whole new potential market.
So Virtual Campus Tours, in our opinion, are here to stay. We can even see them expanding in the future.
“Virtual tours are a really convenient way to get the school’s personality across, even before prospective families have crossed the thresh-hold.
Much like interactive maps, Virtual tours don’t need to cost the earth.
It really is a culmination of assets that the school has likely already accumulated, such as images, video, reviews, testimonials etc.
Taking these assets and then packaging them into a single engaging and personable experience that encapsulates the essence of the school and takes prospective families on a journey is key.
It’s also scalable, start small with an MVP (minimum viable product) and then grow it overtime as you build up a library of media.
If done correctly, there’s no reason why this can’t be an ongoing, versatile and scalable function on your school website that can be reused for years to come.”
Virtual School Trips
Do you remember the excitement as the coach pulled up to the school, ready to take you on an adventure?
And the benefits of school trips are vast.
Not only do they help students gain real-world experience and strengthen their knowledge of the world around them, but they also provide an exciting and engaging learning experience which is memorable.
But being largely restricted during the pandemic, schools were recruiting third-parties to provide this experience – risk-free.
Whilst this is another of the lockdown digital experiences that we feel borders on ‘fad territory’ it can be utilised circumstantially.
Whether to make trips more accessible or to support face-to-face learning.
Whether an on-site shop, recommended stockist or online store, school shops, if not only for the purchase of branded uniform are often commonplace in the industry.
But during the pandemic Online school shops provided the gateway for parents a caregivers to purchase stationery supplies or educational aids in a safe and permitted way.
From a simple page on the website that listed available products, to a more encompassing school shop experience with an online-payment gateway, school shops were a great benefit to the school’s community.
And beyond the pandemic, school shops can provide an efficient solution to time-poor school admissions teams and busy parents or carers alike.
“Online school shops, once again, aren’t as costly as people think.
Utilising something like WooCommerce alongside WordPress (both free open-source software options) is an efficient investment option for all schools.
Whilst there are some costs associated, like hosting and domain fees, it’s highly customisable enabling you to share your schools brand and can be as simple or as involved as it needs to be.
The majority of features also come as standard and can be utilised if required, so anything from a simple product list to a bespoke designed shop with shipping tables and an online payment facility is achievable – it really is very scalable.
A huge benefit is that it’s really intuitive and easy to manage your school’s product catalogue and far more efficient than drowning in paper order forms, emails and other ad-hoc shop requests”
The education sector is still recovering from the aftershock of the covid pandemic.
But if we look for a positive that can be taken from this experience, it is the knowledge that schools can adapt and embrace innovation even in cases where digital may have previously been intimidating!
Even schools that hadn’t invested much in their website previously, now prioritise the channel as they recognise the value it can add and as advocates of digital ourselves – this makes us very happy!
And whilst we’re very hopeful that we won’t see a repeat of the events of the last couple of years – schools have proved themselves technically capable of how best to apply digital strategies.
Here at mso, we can only continue to thank our teachers for all of their hard work and their dedication during the pandemic and beyond, even when they too were learning about our worlds ‘new normal’.
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