Metaverse and Education: A Leap in Technology or a Dystopian Future?
By Dr. Anita Jimmie and Dr. Noraisikin Sabani
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in the education sector across the globe, including a significant shift to online learning. However, one of the positive impacts of that shift is that educators were forced to be more creative in embedding technology in teaching.
For students, learning became an immersive experience. Classes were no longer subject to the confines of classrooms and lecture halls, and different learning tools and platforms could be used to make classes more engaging and interactive.
No doubt, online learning cannot replicate face-to-face, physical interaction. This has compelled educators to find ingenious teaching methods to facilitate more effective and authentic interaction that mimic the conventional classroom environment. Consequently, this has given rise to more exploring and developing of innovative technologies such as virtual, augmented and mixed reality to foster more interactive teaching and learning experiences.
Mark Zuckerberg’s conceptualisation and rebranding of Facebook to Metaverse spurred intense discussion on how the metaverse could revolutionise social interactions, mental health, emotional wellbeing, and even education. In Zuckerberg’s presentation during its launch, he touched on how the metaverse could benefit learning, providing learners with immersive experiences just by slipping on a headset.
The term ‘meta’ means beyond and ‘verse’ refers to the universe. Essentially, the metaverse allows users to fashion a world where they can interact as avatars or digital characters while participating in a host of activities. In theory, the metaverse will allow users to move in between spaces, allowing them to navigate and explore the learning space while immersing themselves in the subject matter.
Roblox recently announced that it would allocate USD10 million to create a learning space that would allow users to interact, explore and learn virtually via its platform. The gaming platform allows players to traverse a range of virtual worlds or spaces and even create their own spaces and games using its propriety engine known as the Roblox Studio.
Other users can participate in these games, a function that could provide a wealth of opportunities to create learning spaces for students in various environments and situations. For example, educational institutions could create virtual campuses or classrooms that students can ‘visit’ and engage with staff and their peers in a range of class settings and according to individual preferences.
Virtual reality simulations can also be used in the teaching of medicine and healthcare. Students can ‘practice’ surgical skills and procedures in a safer environment, for example. Similarly, these concepts and technologies can be applied to learning environments related to construction or architecture. The opportunities are immense and dependent simply on the educator’s creativity and innovativeness.
A quick online search revealed an online learning site called Metaverse Learning, which catalogues virtual learning solutions across a number of subject areas for both industry and educational institutions. They include learning spaces for specific skills such as nursing where learners are exposed to a situation where they have to manage an infectious disease, i.e. COVID-19. Detailed virtual scenarios are provided so they can thoroughly engage in the topic.
As the education industry embraces all these new virtual technologies, the adverse effects of implementing metaverse in classrooms should not be ignored. There are several troubling implications, including social, security and learners’ inclusivity concerns, we should be wary of.
Firstly, students may use virtual reality as an excuse not to be more involved with others, which in turn may heighten social exclusion – a phenomenon see happening more frequently now.
Furthermore, issues of privacy are cause for concern as there is ongoing debate about the extent of personal data being compromised and misused by hackers when users face- scan to avatars. High data stewardship is also a cause for concern. Additionally, the possibility of reality-altering capabilities of applications may pose a risk to young users’ safety and well-being.
Finally, while these technologies seem to promote learning inclusivity, this may not be entirely true. We know for a fact that the more advanced the technology, the higher its cost. Research has found a disparity in technology usage among learners, particularly in less developed regions of the world. This problem is aggravated by the high cost of technology and a lack of ICT skills.
It is imperative that educators and relevant stakeholders in the education industry study the implications of utilising this technology. We feel that learning inclusivity should be of utmost concern and more research should be done on the impact and benefits of using the metaverse in learning.
Dr. Anita Jimmie is the Interim Dean, and Dr. Noraisikin Sabani the Associate Dean of Research and Development, of Curtin University Malaysia’s Faculty of Humanities and Health Sciences. Their area of specialisation is in education, particularly Social Education and Educational Technology. In addition, they are strong advocates of community engagement and inclusivity in learning. They can be contacted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.