Building the Future of Education: exploring the potential of a Metaverse for Teaching and Learning
For many educators, the concept of the "metaverse" may seem vague and unfamiliar. However, the rapid growth of metaverse technologies holds significant implications for the future of education.
What is the Metaverse?
The metaverse is a virtual rendition of the real world that exists within a network of interconnected computers. It encompasses a variety of free, accessible, and decentralized games, communities, and interactive spaces. In the metaverse, individuals can join or create digital environments that facilitate a new way of engaging with virtual spaces and interacting with other people.
How does it work?
The metaverse utilizes artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, and "Web3" to create immersive, real-time, and interactive social environments. Within these environments, users can interact with each other, collaborate on building projects, play games, and engage with avatars and 3D digital objects.
Does the metaverse exist now?
Currently, the metaverse only exists in partial forms. There are online interactive worlds that offer a semblance of the metaverse experience, but they lack interconnectedness and provide limited social interaction. Nonetheless, the underlying technologies driving the metaverse are rapidly expanding, leading many experts to believe that the metaverse will soon become ubiquitous.
Examples of the metaverse?
Some recognizable manifestations of the metaverse are popular games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. These virtual worlds provide social interaction, avatars, and 3D digital objects. Associated technologies include blockchain, which ensures secure transactions, and NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which digitise real-world items.
Additionally, Web3 envisions a decentralised web where users have ownership over their online activities. These technologies collectively enable individuals and businesses to own, buy, share, or sell digital goods.
Is the Metaverse currently used in education?
Yes and no.
Minecraft is being incorporated into K-12 education, such as high school teacher Douglas Kiang's Underwater Dome Project. This project fosters community-building and teamwork among students in a face-to-face classroom, resulting in profound collaboration.
Avantis Education recently introduced Eduverse, a web-based K-12 metaverse designed for classrooms. Eduverse allows students to interact as avatars in a virtual reality environment, explore on their own or with classmates, and access educational VR content.
K20 Educators is a social learning network that enables educators to meet in the metaverse ("eduverse") and learn about fundamental metaverse technologies. Its goal is to prepare teachers for the metaverse through meaningful and innovative professional learning experiences.
Moreover, underlying metaverse technologies have been utilized in education. Virtual Reality (VR) offers immersive learning experiences that enhance student understanding of various topics.
Augmented Reality (AR) overlays images, videos, and sounds onto real-world scenarios, augmenting learning materials. However, VR and AR lack social interaction and interconnectedness, falling short of a true metaverse environment.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another associated metaverse technology. While AI has transformed workplaces, its impact in education has been mainly limited to personalized tutoring software. AI-powered platforms like Knewton tailor lesson plans to individual students. Nonetheless, these platforms do not provide the interconnected virtual social interaction of the metaverse.
In a broad sense, the metaverse will provide students with the opportunity to learn in fully immersive and multimedia environments that combine the physical and digital realms.
For example, in a geometry class, students can grasp geometric equations by visualising and manipulating shapes in a virtual reality (VR) environment while receiving guidance from expert mathematicians. They can collaborate with peers from different parts of the world to solve geometric problems in a virtual setting.
Students can also explore architectural or engineering offices virtually, examining blueprints of newly designed buildings to understand how mathematical concepts are applied in real-life scenarios.
This enriched metaverse learning environment will seamlessly integrate physical and virtual elements, offering diverse learning experiences and fostering collaboration among students. Teachers will still play a role in reviewing progress, facilitating discussions, and assessing problem-solving skills in face-to-face interactions.
As we move forward, learning will become more decentralized, leading to the emergence of metaverse programs or "metaverse schools." Students will increasingly seek immersive, interactive, and engaging online learning environments, freeing themselves from the constraints of physical locations and traditional teacher-centered approaches.
One example of an emerging immersive alternative is the STEM metaverse designed for children aged 6-14, which employs live virtual multiplayer gaming to teach science subjects. By providing compelling alternatives to conventional learning, schools and universities can address challenges related to limited physical space, student disengagement, and teacher shortages.
Educators and parents will face challenges in integrating the metaverse into teaching and learning practices. While the metaverse offers unlimited educational possibilities, there are still unknown risks, particularly concerning children.
In fully immersive 3D VR and AR worlds, students are immersed in their environments, which may not always be apparent to adults overseeing their experiences. This can raise concerns among parents who strive to ensure the safety and well-being of their children.
Moreover, as children are increasingly exposed to "realistic" 3D VR and AR environments, there may be emotional implications and challenges in distinguishing between reality and fantasy. These complex issues require careful consideration and exploration as we navigate the metaverse's impact on children's education.