When it comes to education, there are always new ideas, methods, and technologies. As we have seen, especially over the past two years, the number of tools available and the advances in technology are increasing tremendously. In our schools, we have to prepare our students so that they understand what these technologies are, how they are being used now, and what the impact might be on them in the future.
For most people, topics like augmented and virtual reality and artificial intelligence may be new. Understanding the differences between AR and VR for example and how these technologies are being used in the world and in education is important, especially with the use of AR and VR in different areas of work. Now enter the term “metaverse” which may be a new concept to many, however, it has actually been around for almost three decades. Neal Stephenson, an American science fiction author introduced the concept of the metaverse in his novel, Snow Crash back in 1992.
For some people, the term metaverse may have been first heard when Mark Zuckerberg announced that he was changing the name of Facebook to Meta back in October of 2021. To help people understand what his ideas were for the metaverse, he released a short video about how the metaverse would work. I recommend sharing this video with students to spark a conversation first.
With these emerging technologies and also with things like blockchain, NFTs, and web3 for a few others, how can educators keep up so that we can prepare our students? With so many responsibilities in our daily work, how do we find time to learn more about the metaverse? What are the best resources and how can we provide opportunities for students to drive their own learning about these emerging technologies?
Understanding what the metaverse is
First, it is important to have a working definition of the metaverse. The metaverse is “a simulated digital environment that uses augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain, along with concepts from social media, to create spaces for rich user interaction mimicking the real world.” A few years ago, I read the book Ready Player One, which has been used to provide a glimpse into what the metaverse might look like. For getting started with learning about the metaverse, having a good based understanding of what the metaverse is would be the first step.
Years ago, people were using Second Life, which was a way for meeting with others in a virtual world. When I first used it in 2015, I was not sure what to think. For anyone who has not experienced it, you would create your own avatar, and communicate and interact with others in a virtual space. It was being used in place of traditional meeting tools like Google Hangouts or Zoom for example. Using this as a comparison, the metaverse would be quite similar, except used for more than just meetings. It would be for all aspects of personal and professional life. Can you imagine spending 24 hours in the metaverse? Think about everything that you do in a typical day and what that might look like in the metaverse? What are the benefits and drawbacks? A good question to ask students and see what their responses are. Check out a video of a young woman who spent 24 hours in a VR headset and what the impact it was on her as a result.
You can check out some of the videos available that provide a simulated metaverse experience. videos
You may be familiar with Fortnite and Roblox, which are platforms that demonstrate the concept of the metaverse. Roblox is even providing lesson plans and activities that are aligned with the ISTE Standards. Engaging in the metaverse experience also does not require the use of headsets as the environments can be accessed through a computer and using a variety of web VR such as Engage VR for Mozilla Hubs for example.
What else do we need to know?
More than just knowing what the metaverse is, we need to understand how it works, what devices and technology are needed, and what other concepts we need to be knowledgeable about. With life spent in the metaverse, everyday tasks like making purchases, working, going to school, socializing, and entertainment will look different. We will need to understand how to buy things and keep track of information, so we also need to understand blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs. Think about the age of the students that you teach or work with. Fast forward ten years, will students be going to school and working in the metaverse? If so, then we have to do what we can to prepare them and ourselves. What are the skills that students will need to interact in the metaverse?
But will the metaverse disappear?
There has been a lot of growth in the use of the metaverse since October 2021. In education, some colleges are not only thinking about holding classes in the metaverse, some have already done so. Research is being done to explore what the benefits of learning in the metaverse might be. Stanford unveiled a metaverse learning experience for students in June of 2021. Using the platform Engage VR, more than 250 students wearing headsets participated in class in virtual reality. In total, students completed two courses and spent 3,500 hours together in the metaverse rather than the traditional classroom or virtual meeting space like Zoom or Teams.
In the spring, it was announced by Victory XR that ten “metaversities” would be launching in the fall. While there are concerns about the metaverse, there are also some anticipated benefits to these options. Considering the increasing and sometimes prohibitive cost of traditional universities, a metaversity might lead to more opportunities for students.
Thinking about benefits, providing education via the metaverse could resolve common issues such as class sizes or lack of adequate learning materials due to tight budgets. Students would be able to immerse more in learning experiences and in some cases, may feel more connected to and included in learning. A survey found that 80% of respondents felt more included in the metaverse. With permission settings, teachers would have more control over student interactions in the metaverse. In higher education, there can be a digital twin, which is a professor who is in the physical classroom space but through an avatar, is able to engage with students in the virtual space too.
With these emerging technologies, it is important that we all explore new ideas and ways to best prepare our students and ourselves for what these technologies will bring.
A recent article in Forbes shared some of the potential benefits of the metaverse. In the metaverse, people can make purchases, hold meetings, own land, buy and sell real estate, and even buy clothing for their avatars. It would have its own virtual economy for these transactions, which brings up another issue, financial literacy, and understanding how the concept of money and finances would work in the metaverse. When it comes to the impact the metaverse might have on the economy, it is estimated that it could become an $800 billion market by 2024.
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