Universities are always strapped for cash. It’s the reason why Canadian tuition has been jacked 40+% in the past ten years, leaving students with monumental crisis-level student loan debt, and it’s not enough. They know they’re one democratic swing away from putting a government in power that will further gut their funding, so some universities go to great lengths to secure cash beyond tuition and reliance on fickle governments.

If you’re an alumnus from one of the many British Columbia universities you probably know this quite well. The dinner-time phonecall from the cash-strapped student working at a university-sponsored call centre, trying to drum up money through alumni contributions. They play on your fond memories of your school in a non-obtrusive way, and mask it like a friendly conversation. Most of us are pleasant and will humour these folks until the pitch out of fear of being rude. They need $50. If you can’t do that, how about $20? $5? The rest of us hang up.

It doesn’t work. Nobody wants to give money over the phone when trying to watch Jeopardy over dinner with their family.

Enter YDX Innovation Group (YDX.V) and their alumni UBC VR video virtual reality experience.

The YDX virtual reality experience gives alumni the chance to revisit the campus. The notion here is the same as the dinnertime phone call. You recycle the good feelings from your time on campus, and presumably want to give money to the institution so someone else can have those same experiences—because you’re a good person. Awww.

Yeah. There’s still some problems with the approach, but not with the technology.

The multiplatform experience can be viewed on Oculus Go Headsets, the website, mobiles or general VR devices. The alumni UBC VR was intended to be used online, but also as an experience that the UBC Development and Alumni Communications team could bring to special events. The idea was to generate positive sentiment on social media, and give people the chance to experience the campus without having to actually be at UBC.

It’s won some awards—taking home gold and bronze at the Best of CASE VIII Canadian Awards. The project was honoured in the “Multimedia for Special Events” and “Fundraising or Alumni Relations Videos” categories. It also received the 2020 CCAE Prix D’Excellence Gold award for Best Use of Multimedia.

Here’s what those rewards are according to the press release:

“The winners of Best of CASE VIII Awards competition were announced and recognized for their excellence in advancement services, alumni relations, annual giving, marketing and communications, and philanthropy.

The Prix D’Excellence is the annual awards program of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education, recognizing outstanding achievements in alumni affairs, public affairs, communications, marketing, development, advancement services, stewardship and overall institutional advancement.”

The PS4 virtual reality system retails at $300. The Oculus Rift at $600. The HTC Vive is about $800. If these prices don’t come down (and the quality of them come up) then it’s unlikely that we’re going to see mass-adoption of virtual reality anytime soon. For those of us patiently waiting for VR to hit the mainstream since The Lawnmower Man came out in 1992 – that’s kind of a bummer. But it’s got more uses than keeping your kids entertained for a few hours.

For example, we were sent a walk-through virtual tour of Organigram Holdings (OGI.V) operation last year, which ostensibly offers the same experience as the UBC alumni program.

“In terms of results, we have exceeded our goals and greatly enjoyed working with the YDX team. We have created a custom platform and have been able to work with partners across campus to generate and include existing and new content – and as word has spread, we have had many requests to add videos. From our initial concept to delivery, we have far surpassed our initial vision, and given the scalability of the project, we will be able to keep building it to maintain amazing experiences for our alumni,” said Juliana Fridman, director of integrated marketing and communications for UBC development and alumni engagement.

The virtual reality video now features prominently on the UBC alumni website, and was among the top pages during the launch, having been seen by approximately 4,000 monthly viewers in its first month, with the web version and VR headset versions getting the same audience volumes.

There’s no reason other universities couldn’t adopt the technology, and even though virtual reality might not work for UBC’s alumni fundraising efforts, it’s a good look for YDX.

—Joseph Morton

Written By:

Joseph Morton

Joseph is a Vancouver-based author and journalist with both a communications degree and journalism diploma (and a few novels) under his belt. His joie de vivre is to spin difficult technical topics into more human-centric narratives. Buy him a coffee and he'll talk your ear off for hours about privacy issues, blockchain, cryptocurrency and martial arts. Don't talk to him if you're either a tomato, a bully, or if you're not a fan of either 1984 or Tender is the Night. No. You can still talk to him. Just be prepared to be told why you're wrong.

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UBC VR video virtual reality experience
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virtual reality
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