Introducing your classroom to the Metaverse

Dr David Parsons, National Postgraduate Director at The Mind Lab

Since the recent renaming of the company that owns Facebook to “Meta”, and the news reports showing Mark Zuckerberg moving through a 3D virtual world, the question of what the Metaverse is, and whether anyone actually wants it, has been widely discussed. Many of the examples of the Metaverse that have been presented recently, including virtual and augmented reality, have been familiar in digital environments for many years, so what’s new?

The term metaverse was first coined in the 1992 novel “Snow Crash”, and 3D virtual worlds also have their origins in the 1990s. For example, a YouTube video from 1995 shows someone wearing a virtual reality headset buying their groceries online by walking through a 3D virtual supermarket. Since then, 3D virtual environments, whether they are being explored through virtual reality headsets or on a regular screen, have become commonplace, as teachers will be familiar with through the popularity of game worlds such as Fortnite and Minecraft with their students. 

However, the vision of the Metaverse goes beyond these individual applications, and is a vision of a new generation of the Internet, continuing our progression from simple Web pages, to the more interactive Web 2.0, to the mobile Web, and onto the Metaverse, where the Internet becomes its own virtual environment. However, although the technology continues to improve, the technical challenges of the Metaverse are huge. Don’t expect to be having meetings with a room full of holograms via your digital glasses any time soon.

Another challenge for the Metaverse is that Internet and Web technologies were developed by government-funded scientists and made available for all. Such philanthropy is not likely to be seen with the Metaverse, as companies compete with each other, and perhaps try to limit the ease of movement between different virtual environments. 

Where does that leave educators interested in exploring the Metaverse? Of course we need to be wary of the dangers of using systems that are either trying to sell us something (NFTs perhaps?) or opening the doors to digital environments that put our students at risk. Giving our students the chance to experience virtual and augmented reality within safe digital spaces is important. Here are some suggestions: 

None of these are really “the Metaverse” but will familiarise your students with some of the concepts while they are learning. Going forward, keep an eye out for new Metaverse-style technologies that you could explore with your students, to ensure that they can experience these in a guided and learning-positive way.

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