The global metaverse market size was valued at $22.79 billion in 2021 and is expected to grow. Analysts predict the metaverse will dominate the EdTech sector by 2030. The Brookings Institution predicts “Soon it will be as omnipresent as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook.” So, what exactly is the metaverse? And what role does it – or will it—play in K-12 education?
These seem to be the questions on everyone’s mind now that the metaverse has grown from an obscure idea to a big buzz word in the EdTech world. The metaverse is something that everyone now seems to have heard of – even if they don’t quite understand what it is.
Defining the metaverse
The definition of what the metaverse is (and what it will become) is still evolving. But most people would agree with the idea that essentially, the metaverse is an immersive virtual space in which people can interact with each other in real time. The idea of merging reality and virtual reality – and becoming immersed in a virtual world – is generally considered a hallmark of the metaverse.
Until recently, the majority of the metaverse conversations involved entertainment -- think video games like Minecraft or Roblox. Facebook rebranded its company to Meta in October 2021 expanding the idea of the metaverse into the realm of social media. And we’ve now seen it expand into education with a focus on schools leveraging the metaverse for training and instruction.
Here are some prime examples of how the metaverse is being used in education today – and some of the possibilities for the future.
The metaverse allows for the creation of virtual classrooms in which a teacher engages as an avatar with students from all parts of the country or world. This can allow schools to provide a more robust selection of classes for students. It can also help colleges better serve students who want to take classes virtually. For example, a high school might have a handful of students who want to take Mandarin Chinese, but their school doesn’t offer it. Other schools – maybe in neighboring communities, or even in other states – might be in the same boat. The metaverse can offer a solution by allowing all of the students to learn together in a virtual classroom. They could virtually travel to the bustling city of Shanghai, or tour the temples of the Forbidden City, immersing themselves in the culture while they learn The schools can bring a Mandarin teacher from three towns over, or on the other side of the world into this virtual space to provide the lessons.
In the future, we’ll likely see an expansion of the types of classes schools will offer because the metaverse will solve many of the logistical challenges to teaching in a global environment. Schools will no longer be limited by time or location or space. The possibilities are endless.
Virtual Field Trips
Many schools are already taking advantage of VR technology to take students on virtual field trips such as visits to famous landmarks or experiences like going to space or swimming with sharks. These are great ways to use VR technology to enhance instruction, especially when the VR experience is accompanied by a robust curriculum. The metaverse can take the idea of virtual field trips a step further. Our company, for example, provides the Eduverse, a secure education-focused platform in which teachers and students can interact as avatars. So instead of just getting an immersive look at the pyramids, perhaps the teacher leads students on a tour of a tomb, pointing out artifacts for the students to examine. The metaverse provides opportunities to take VR field trips to the next level by adding that social component which creates deeper levels of engagement.
Supporting students with special needs
VR technology allows for the creation of virtual spaces that can be used to support students with special needs. For instance, creating virtual sensory rooms or other experiences that can help support students. A great example of this is Spaulding Academy & Family Services in New Hampshire. The school specializes in educating students with autism. It uses VR experiences to help support students’ unique needs for sensory regulation, emotional regulation, skill-building, social interaction and transitions to new places and experiences. For instance, one of their student’s preferred ways of self-soothing is to swing on a particular swing set. The school created a 360-degree video of that specific experience. Another student likes to be in a room with fans blowing so the school created a 360-degree video of that experience. Now whenever these students need to self-regulate, they can put on a VR headset and within about 30 seconds, they are ready to get back to learning.
The metaverse can also allow an extension of these activities. If the student has someone specific they normally turn to for support, that person could join the student in a virtual scene while the Eduverse helps keep it pedagogically safe and relevant and free of e-commerce and advertisements.
Considerations for districts and companies
As the education metaverse evolves, here are some things school administrators and EdTech companies should keep in mind.
1) Security. It’s important if a school is considering bringing students into an interactive virtual environment, there are safeguards. Make sure the platform allows the teacher to control who is able to enter the virtual space. The teacher should also be able to have some control of the experience itself. For example, being able to mute everyone’s microphone or controlling which avatars they are able to use.
2) Hardware. VR headsets are a great option to access the metaverse because they provide that amazing, immersive, 360-degree experience. But if a district doesn’t have that hardware, it shouldn’t dissuade them. Many experiences can be accessed via a web browser. It’s not necessary to use technology with all of the bells and whistles. Districts can just pick what will fit in their budget and will work well for their students. This is important for EdTech companies to consider too. The more accessible content is, the more attractive it will be to districts looking for content to purchase.
3) Content creation. The wonderful thing about the metaverse is it provides a blank canvas. There is a lot of great content already out there, but the metaverse also offers the opportunity for teachers and students to use tools like CoSpaces and 360-degree cameras to create their own content. School districts should take advantage of free or low-cost tools that allow them to create. For companies looking to develop products and content related to the education metaverse, it’s important to make sure products are compatible with these types of creative tools.
We’re only beginning to scratch the surface of what the metaverse is, and how it will impact education. It helps break down barriers to learning and provides new opportunities for students to engage and create. Imagine the possibilities.
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