Although still in its infancy stage, the metaverse promises to reshape the college experience — for better or worse.
By Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D. Edited by Rebecca Long Updated on May 6, 2022
What Is the Metaverse?
The Metaverse as a Teaching and Learning Tool
The metaverse may be the new frontier for commerce, but can it become a viable learning tool? If so, what potential does it hold for higher education? Can the virtual you someday attend Virtual U?
It certainly appears we’re heading in that direction. Take college tours, for example. The pandemic turned the traditional college road trip into an online adventure complete with videos and Zoom conversations. Virtual tours are now migrating to the metaverse, offering students opportunities to immerse themselves (sans legs) in the college environment and experience a virtual form of campus life. At the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, students can even chat with a presidential avatar.
Once enrolled, students might attend a history lecture, conduct experiments in a chemistry lab, or visit a museum to examine art or archaeology. The University of Miami’s XR Initiative offers immersive learning experiences in architecture, healthcare, climate change, and behavioral research, among other topics. Medical students, for example, can learn how to administer anesthesia in a simulated operating room.
Beginning next fall, 10 colleges—nine of which are public—will launch “metaversity” campuses through VictoryXR, a company that offers immersive classrooms and campuses through virtual reality. Each college will introduce a “digital twin” replica campus students can attend while on-site or learning remotely. Students will receive a Meta Quest 2 VR headset to use during their synchronous courses.
“When the history of metaverse education is written, these are the schools that will be known as the metaverse pioneers,” Steve Grubbs, VictoryXR CEO, said in a statement. “Remote learning is growing and these schools have decided to look for something better than a Zoom class.”
In addition, Roblox invested $10 million last year to develop educational video games for schools and colleges. These games will immerse students in robotics, space exploration, computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.
Immersive learning of this sort is nothing new. About 15 years ago, “Second Life” began operating as a platform for colleges that wanted to offer virtual classrooms. Although it’s technically still active, most of what’s left are ghost town remnants largely devoid of any noticeable activity, monuments to a once-promising educational experiment now perhaps gaining a “second life” in the emerging metaverse.
What is new is how students will pay for their college education. As we continue to evolve from the physical realm to a virtual one, cryptocurrency will likely play an increasingly important role in financial transactions. Already, some universities have begun accepting bitcoin for tuition payments.
“Although the metaverse proper isn’t here yet,” professors Rabindra Ratan and Dar Meshi write in The Conversation, “technological foundations like blockchain and crypto assets are steadily being developed, setting the stage for a seemingly ubiquitous virtual future that is coming.”
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