While social media and gaming giants are investing heavily in the space, educators are using the metaverse for virtual field trips, STEM classes and physical education.
Even in its infancy, the metaverse has become a buzzword that remains a bit difficult to pin down. So, what exactly is the metaverse, and why is it such a big deal?
Vriti Saraf, founder and CEO of k20 Educators, a global social learning community, explains that the metaverse is “a virtual version of everything you can do in real life. It is interoperable, owned by no one, and allows a lot of different platforms to live within it.”
What this means is that anyone, not just a handful of tech companies, can contribute to building the metaverse. Facebook and gaming platform Roblox — which has 50 million users daily — are two of the major players expanding the metaverse.
And while social media and gaming platforms may not immediately bring to mind education, Facebook has plans to invest $150 million in virtual reality learning experiences in the metaverse, while Roblox already offers ISTE-aligned lesson plans for a variety of subjects and age groups. Roblox is also providing millions of dollars in grants to help more education-focused organizations, such as Project Lead the Way, create online learning experiences on their platforms.
Schools Are Using Multiple Resources to Access the Metaverse
Although the metaverse is evolving, Camilla Gagliolo, senior director of event content at ISTE, points out that K–12 students do not have to wait for a complete build out to participate.
Educators and education-minded companies are already carving out a space in the metaverse and calling it the “eduverse.” Educators are using resources from Labster (which provides a platform for virtual labs and science simulations) and the VR platforms ENGAGE and Mozilla Hubs (which support virtual collaboration by simulating being in the same space). Teachers can also create virtual tours for students on Driftspace.
Movement and exercise are also areas with strong metaverse potential in educational settings.
In the Metaverse, Educational Resources Empower Students to Learn
Education experts believe it is inevitable that the metaverse will have a huge impact on learning. When teaching about the human body, “you can either introduce them to a textbook, where they can learn everything sequentially, or you can place their avatars inside a human body,” says k20’s Saraf. “One student can choose to go to the brain, other students can choose to go into the intestines. That choose-your-own-adventure learning experience is very empowering for most students.”
And because the learning takes place online, a metaverse platform also gives students and their avatars access to the entire world.
The metaverse allow educators to not only create a more immersive style of learning, but also model teaching best practices.
At the moment, Gagliolo says, most applications for the metaverse are aimed at high school students, partly due to privacy and security concerns that still need to be addressed. However, tools are emerging to help educators ensure that students access only a curated set of applications.
This Dallas School Is One of the First to Use a Metaverse Platform
For every school, the metaverse will likely look different. Dallas Hybrid Prep, which opened at the start of the 2021-2022 school year and uses a hybrid model of virtual and in-person learning, is one of the first schools in the country to implement a metaverse platform.
Students use their laptops or tablets to access the STEMuli metaverse, a learning management system that builds asynchronous work within an enhanced virtual learning environment.
Olga Romero, founding principal at Dallas Hybrid Prep, explains, “Our fifth-grade students join with their teachers while learning from home to collaborate and complete gaming-style assignments, using avatars and earning online currency for completing the assigned tasks.”
Students spend an average of 1.5 hours, three times a week, working on assigned tasks — and they’re giving feedback too, which helps the school design the virtual learning space based on specific student needs.
“Our model is not for everyone,” Romero says. “But it does work for those students who need a more personalized instructional experience.”
Although remote learning throughout the pandemic has left many teachers (and students and parents) feeling overwhelmed and exhausted by technology, Romero thinks that the addition of more planning time, professional development and tech support would accelerate tasks and not create more work for teachers, who are working within the tech tools provided by the metaverse.
Our fifth-grade students join with their teachers while learning from home to collaborate and complete gaming-style assignments, using avatars and earning online currency for completing the assigned tasks.”
Olga Romero Founding Principal, Dallas Hybrid Prep
How Important Are VR Headsets to Accessing the Metaverse?
While VR headsets are becoming less expensive, Saraf says that there are still a lot of problems to be solved before they can be widely used within in the K–12 environment. “They’re obviously not at the point yet where they’re widely consumable, and they say you shouldn’t have anyone under the age of 10 using them. I actually don’t think it’s going to be practical, even for the next 10 to 15 years, for us to say, ‘Well, every kid needs to have a VR headset.’”
But even without VR headsets, most metaverse environments can be accessed and experienced simply through a laptop or tablet by either downloading software or clicking on a link.
Best Practices for Schools Designing Metaverse Platforms
Romero says that one of the most important things that schools can do when designing a metaverse platform is to involve teachers, parents and students, but also understand that “innovation takes time, and we make mistakes and evolve together in this process. There is a learning curve when implementing new initiatives, especially if you are the first one to try it out. Finally, make learning engaging and embrace the ‘wow’ moments in everything you do. Create new ways of learning that will captivate the student and motivate the teacher. That’s how you change the system.”
Regardless of how long it takes to build out the metaverse environment, some say that it’s not a tech tool that should be thought of as a replacement for anything carried out in real life. As Saraf puts it, “We don’t want to spend all of our time online. So, the important thing here is that you want to use the metaverse as a supplement to your in-person activities.”