When Brett Shigley looked for dental schools throughout the country in 2009, he wanted to feel like he was at those campuses.
But he didn't get that experience from the virtual tours and information he found online. After he started going to the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina, he presented an idea for a virtual tour to the academic dean.
"I really wanted current students to kind of portray what it is really like to be on campus and be a dental student at that school," Shigley said.
Between his first and second year in dental school, the college let him create a virtual tour for his summer work study project. And that tour earned a Best of the Web award from the Center for Digital Education last week.
He spent the summer teaching himself HTML, CSS and Java online. With his background in taking and editing home videos, he produced videos in a sort of MTV Cribs style. And he also learned from a few groups on campus that did video production and website development.
In an online forum for prospective and current dental and medical students, Shigley asked students what kind of content they were looking for. Many of them wanted to hear from current students, so he created videos of students who acted as tour guides.
The dental school has new state-of-the-art facilities and an international student body. And the virtual tour helps prospective students decide whether they want to go here, and shows patients where they need to go.
"This gives us a tremendous vehicle to introduce our campus to students from all over the country and all over the world," said Tariq Javed, associate dean for academic and student affairs.
When Shigley graduates in two years, a webmaster for the dental school and a senior faculty member who oversees the website will continue his work, Javed said. And that work includes a new app.
The university just launched an Explore MUSC app in the Apple store that has much of the same virtual tour content as the website. Shigley worked with Charleston-based Slicker Interactive to create the app.
By the beginning of next year, they hope to add augmented reality to the app. With a camera or video function, students could hover over a door and see what's inside the building.
Since last November, education specialist Lindsey Morrow Hamil has helped Shigley copy edit, worked with him on the app and given encouragement. Because of her communications and technology background, she has been impressed by Shigley's work and the support he's received.
"This is actually student run, edited and led, which I think is remarkable," Hamil said.
Shigley encourages other students to present interesting ideas to the administration and not be afraid to do so. Now that the other five colleges on campus have seen what he's done, they're developing similar sites.