The Metaverse, please

Which recent “metaverse” headline felt more surreal than the other?

Consider Facebook’s decision to rebrand as Meta as a nod to the communal virtual spaces that the company sees as its future. In this vision, large groups of individual users will come together in an immersive, simulated, digital setting where they will work, study, create, and interact with one another in a way that varies depending on how much real-world and avatar elements are present. On the other hand, there was Meta’s subsequent 60-second Super Bowl advertisement, which cost the business an estimated $13 million and showed an animatronic dog reuniting in virtual reality with its animatronic friends.

In any case, both demonstrated that the hype surrounding the metaverse is genuine, despite the fact that the metaverse does not yet exist. Google searches for “metaverse” increased by about 20 times in the two months following Facebook’s switch to Meta, and the phrase was mentioned in 12,000 English-language news articles. It had received just 400 mentions the year before.

The metaverse has also caught the attention of educators who are enthusiastic about the direction that technology is taking in education. When education lags behind technological advancements, technology rather than educators define what constitutes an educational opportunity, according to a policy brief published by the Brookings Institution. While the metaverse is still being built, the authors advise researchers, educators, policymakers, and digital designers to get ahead of the curve.

Describe the Metaverse.

There is still disagreement over the precise definition of the metaverse. Neal Stephenson first used the phrase in his science fiction book Snow Crash from 1992. Venture capitalist Matthew Ball’s simplified definition of it into seven components is the one that is currently most frequently used.

The metaverse is understood as follows:

• Is perpetually present and unending

• Multiple people can experience it simultaneously.

• Has no population limit and can be shared by all while preserving individual agency

• Is able to provide a fully functional economy.

• Has the ability to cross open and closed platforms and the physical and digital worlds.

• Is interoperable, allowing for the use of digital assets and tools from one app in another.

• Has experiences and content produced by a variety of contributors.

Ben Thompson, a technology writer, claims that the Internet meets each of these criteria. He claims that “The Metaverse” is distinct because it is the Internet that is best used with virtual reality. However, this will take some time. I predict that the first virtual reality experiences will be isolated metaverses connected by the current Internet.

There are ongoing discussions about this. Some people wonder how interoperable the metaverse actually needs to be. How crucial is it, for instance, that a digital tool function in one video game and in another application? Do we require open-source databases that serve as the backbone of the current “open web” or standardised protocols like those that govern blockchain?

The complexity makes it simple to automatically refer to extended reality—virtual reality and augmented reality—when discussing the metaverse. However, despite the fact that the mobile Internet built on the Internet’s foundation, Mark Zuckerberg of Meta and others contend that the metaverse will only be the mobile internet’s replacement.

Beyond Web 3.0

Virtual reality has been the subject of excitement among educators before, and I’ve written about it before (see “Virtual Reality Disruption: Will 3-D Technology Break Through to the Educational Mainstream?” What Next, Fall 2016) as well. Recall the brief obsession that educators had with Second Life, a website where users can create avatars and interact with virtual 3-D worlds? That enthusiasm quickly subsided, and Second Life was abandoned alongside numerous other educational fads.

What has changed since the last time?

To begin with, a protracted, severely disruptive pandemic that started an unprecedented, lightning-fast deployment of virtual learning across the globe is increasing interest in the metaverse. The Digital Learning Collaborative estimates that 375,000 students attended full-time, statewide virtual schools in the 2018–19 school year. The number had nearly doubled to 656,000 students by the 2020–21 academic year. The number of virtual schools operated by local districts, which also increased significantly during the pandemic, is not included in that figure. Additionally, a large number of students attending conventional brick-and-mortar schools now frequently complete some of their coursework online, either at school or at home Noticias Metaverso en español.

That has removed one of the biggest obstacles to using virtual reality in the classroom: the technology. In the past, using a virtual reality headset while logged into a laptop was considered to be a bothersome process. But Thompson claims that the game has changed. Why couldn’t students wear a headset for the majority of the time they spend doing significant amounts of work online if they already do so?

A virtual reality headset is seen in this scenario as an everyday tool, similar to a computer mouse. However, it allows students to “walk” into various educational seminars and coworking spaces for projects, giving them the opportunity to experience a variety of virtual reality environments, educational applications, lectures, and more. This dynamic, coupled with a broader interest in the metaverse, seems poised to spur the creation of more learning environments that utilise virtual reality and 3-D, much like how the rising popularity of now-familiar learning technology tools like laptops fueled the creation of online learning applications and environments.

Under Construction

Numerous metaverse-inspired experiments are currently being conducted in K–12 classrooms.

On its website, American High School, for instance, promotes its virtual reality programmes. More than 8,000 students in grades K–12 are enrolled in the accredited private online school, which has been operating since 2004. A social virtual reality platform called a “metaverse” was developed specifically for Optima Classical Academy, an online charter school with Florida roots, where students and teachers will interact as avatars later this year. For students in grades 3 through 8, it will debut in August and follow a great books curriculum. Maliha Abidi’s Women Rise NFT, a collection of one-of-a-kind works of digital art, was created with the ultimate aim of creating a school in the metaverse for the 258 million children worldwide who are unable to attend conventional schools.

The metaverse will also be used to support educators, according to the plans. In order to bring together educators and administrators in a single shared virtual space where they can learn, network, and advance in their careers, the company k20 created the Eduverse. It is referred to as a “metaverse hub for educators.”

Finally, there are a variety of facilitators and support services that offer virtual reality experiences to teachers and students. Virtual reality laboratories are provided by businesses like Labster, and FluentWorlds enables students to practise their English in a variety of virtual environments. Kai XR provides “360 degree” virtual field trips, and educators can access more than 35 virtual worlds on EDUmetaverse.

Also take into account Dreamscape Immersive, a virtual reality business started by former Disney executives and computer scientists. The company has partnered with Arizona State University to create Dreamscape Learn, but its primary backers are from the entertainment industry, including major Hollywood studios, Steven Spielberg, Nickelodeon, and AMC Theaters, which plans to co-locate Dreamscape virtual-reality experiences in some of its theatres. Spielberg and company CEO Walter Parkes developed the company’s first product, a set of virtual reality labs titled “Immersive Biology at the Alien Zoo,” as a replacement for traditional lab work in college-level Introductory Biology. There will be a high school course later this year.

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