Hoping to stem the tide of declining enrollment and rising tuition, universities have partnered with VictoryXR and Meta to use AR/VR technology to create “digital twin” campuses and make online classes more immersive.
As AR/VR technology continues to improve for education applications, colleges and universities are beginning to experiment with the “metaversity” concept to improve remote student engagement and provide more experiential learning opportunities.
According to a recent news release, 10 universities are getting set to launch their own metaversities this fall to provide students and professors with a “digital twin” replica campus in which to attend courses, using a Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headset provided through a partnership with VictoryXR and Meta.
The announcement said students at Morehouse College in Georgia, the University of Kansas School of Nursing, New Mexico State University, South Dakota State University, Florida A&M University, West Virginia University, Southwestern Oregon Community College, California State University, Alabama A&M University and University of Maryland Global Campus will be able to use the technology to attend courses synchronously from anywhere.
VictoryXR CEO Steve Grubbs said students will use their VR headsets to enter their school’s twin metacampus, or virtual campus, with other students and professors for classroom activities such as learning more about human anatomy through a virtual cadaver lab, taking history field trips or astronomy lessons on a starship, among other examples.
“It is persistent — meaning it’s always there. You put on your headset and your metaversity is right there,” Grubbs said of the metaversity concept. “And it is immersive and experiential, meaning that you learn kinesthetically in a metaversity as opposed to Zoom learning, which is not kinesthetic. You’re not going to tear apart a car engine in Zoom, but you will in a metaversity.
“It’s a digital twin, so it looks exactly like the real thing — to the paint, the glass, etc.,” he later added. “You’re going to get the campus quad, and you’ll have five to seven buildings and the interior of two to three buildings. That’s generally where universities will start with their digital twin.”
According to Grubbs, the launch of the 10 metaversities comes after VictoryXR first piloted the concept with Morehouse College, followed by further pilots at Fisk University and American High School. The method has so far been met with a positive response from students and professors.
“More than any learning innovation I have been involved with, Morehouse in the metaverse has made the biggest difference for the students I teach,” Muhsinah Morris, assistant professor at Morehouse College, said in a public statement.
Grubbs said the recent move to test out the concept has been driven largely by a decline in on-campus enrollment across higher education, as well as improvements to Meta’s AR/VR technology making it more feasible.
“If you’re a remote learner, you have two choices, Zoom or a metaversity, and there’s no question what students prefer,” he said. “Universities have to meet those students where they’re at … If universities are going to be successful [with upcoming generations], they have to think about their approach, and one of the solutions is the metaversity.
“Those who ignore this new learning method do so at the risk of their own enrollment,” he later added. “Here’s the bottom line — remote learning is growing, and there’s fierce competition for those remote learners because now they can learn from anywhere.”
Another thing driving the new concept, Grubbs said, is its cost-effectiveness. For instance, he said, VictoryXR’s virtual cadaver lab is “dramatically” less expensive than maintaining and managing a real cadaver lab for anatomy courses.
“In the cadaver lab, the professor can hand each student their own human heart to hold, and then that student can expand that human heart until it’s 8 feet tall and step inside and learn about ventricles and cavities,” he said, noting current capabilities.
Perhaps the biggest driver, according to Grubbs, is schools’ willingness to try something new in the wake of the digital surge caused by COVID-19, which forced many students into online learning.
“It was, ‘Who is willing to dip their toes into the water and try something revolutionary that’s never been done before in the history of the world?’ That’s not a big list,” he said. “Thank God that Morehouse College had some professors who were willing to say, ‘OK, our students aren’t loving Zoom, so let’s try something they will love.’”
A promotional video from VictoryXR shows a metaversity classroom in action.