The virtual realm of technology took off during COVID-19’s outbreak in early 2020.
Iowa State University (ISU) provided a breakdown on its website of virtual meetings via the three platforms used by the school: Cisco Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. ISU looked at the three weeks leading up to the campus’ spring break — February 24 through March 13 — and the three weeks after spring break — March 23 through April 10 — for its data.
The change in virtual meeting averages per week were as follows:
With the above data showing a growth in virtual meeting platform usage, one can’t ignore COVID-19’s impact on current technology trends. Mike Warren, the director of Recreation and Wellness at Purdue University, said the first half of the year’s tech trends differed greatly from the second half.
“In the first half of the year, we were focused on finding ways to integrate technology to improve member experience, member retention and utilizing wearable technology to help our members better track the intensity of their workouts,” said Warren. “The second half of the year, we changed focus as the result of the impacts of COVID-19. The shift, as it relates to technology, was to take everything we offer for in-person programming and deliver it all virtually, bringing about the creation of Virtual RecWell.”
Virtual RecWell launched 15 programs in less than a week after the physical Purdue recreation facilities closed. Program options included virtual personal training, live Zoom Group X classes, one-on-one financial, wellness and nutrition virtual coaching, esports, etc. In fact, Warren shared they partnered with the Hall of Music in the week after closing to record a large amount of video content for the shutdown.
At The Ohio State University, the shutdown brought about Zoom classes as well. Marci Shumaker, the senior associate director of Programs and Administration for Recreation Sports, said the virtual classes were well-received, despite having to do the videos from home.
With such success, Shumaker doesn’t see the virtual class trend going away. In fact, it might be more comfortable for some students to join a program online, as well as safer when it comes to social distancing rules.
Warren agreed virtual programming is not only here to stay, but it is continuing to grow. Using Zoom and social media-based platforms — like Instagram’s IGTV, YouTube Live and Facebook Live — participants keep showing up. “It will complement our in-person programming to break down the walls of our reach, granting us an opportunity to connect with current students — especially those who have yet to step into our facilities — as well as online virtual students, prospective students and alumni,” he said.
Esports is another trending technology. Mark Spellmire, the director of Sports and Wellness at Mount Saint Mary’s University (MSMU), said the number of institutions with esports has grown exponentially. In fact, there are plans in place for hosting internal esports competitions at MSMU in the 2020-2021 academic year. “These will be across a variety of platforms, including PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and PC,” said Spellmire. “We hope this will build enough interest to create an official esports competitive team for the following year.”
Shumaker shared she has seen a trend toward competitive and intramural online gaming competitions, as well as trivia offerings. And thankfully, it doesn’t take much technology — an iPhone will do just fine — to put on a virtual class.
Another group of technology trends deals with class reservations, check-ins, facility counts, etc. MSMU had a no-touch check-in process already in place — patrons scan their ID card — and Ohio State also had installed gates a year ago for members to self-swipe. But, Warren said Purdue is redesigning entry and exit points, and heavily marketing the FusionGo App to have patrons use the barcodes to scan into the facility. Plus, he said InnoSoft Fusion is updating its software to allow people to swipe as they leave. “We need members to swipe out of the facility as we control how many people can be in the facility at once,” he said.
Shumaker noted they are using InnoSoft Fusion as well, but for reserving time and spaces throughout the facility. Warren mentioned IMLeagues also has some interesting features Purdue is looking into for reservations.
Spellmire said he’s seen other facilities using tracking software to find out which areas have the most traffic, something that’s become a must after COVID-19. “This information is highly valuable as we need to minimize grouping and ensure all areas are properly sanitized for our patrons’ safety and well-being,” he said.
In terms of keeping areas clean, technology can help with that as well. Shumaker explained they’ve created checklists for staff when it comes to sanitation protocols in the facility. Using Connect2Concepts, she said managers on duty will have an iPad that will send cleaning schedule reminders. It has more uses as well: it can give managers access to incident reports or even a video on how to put up a basketball hoop, it can help with taking counts of students in a certain area of the facility, and more.
As seen through COVID-19, technology trends can change even mid-year. Shumaker said there is so much out there that has yet to be explored. She suggested talking to vendors when it comes to technology trends, as they want to be helpful.
Perhaps the most important tech trend lesson this year is to no longer ignore the power of the virtual offering for your rec center.