In the cadaver lab at Fisk University, a professor extracts a human heart from a cadaver’s chest cavity and presents it to a student. The learner turns her heart over to feel its weight before she examines it. The student then makes the organ bigger till it is 8 feet tall because this lab occurs in virtual reality. The entire class enters the heart and touches and views the ventricle walls. The “human’s” choices regarding their own health while they were still living, maybe the reason why this heart appears sicker than another heart they previously studied.
Immediately after, a class debate takes place inside a large aortic valve. They feel the impact of their collective fist bumps when they determine the correct diagnosis.
Metaversities, a combination of “metaverse” and “universities,” will be attended by students from ten universities this fall, including Morehouse College and New Mexico State University. In a metaversity, remote instructors and students don virtual reality headsets and convene synchronously as they would on a real campus. (In certain circumstances, the virtual campus is a virtual representation of the school where the student is enrolled. In other instances, face-to-face classes use technology.) Students may study history in metaverse “classrooms” while “traveling” on the Underground Railroad and “equipped” with Harriet Tubman’s firearm. Another option is for them to study literature while “sitting” on the judge’s bench in the courtroom, which served as the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird.
The universities that will offer courses in the metaverse development company in the upcoming academic year are a part of an expanding ed-tech trend that aims to increase access to higher education. Advocates of Metaversity claim that VR increases student engagement, success, and enjoyment. However, some academics are worried that the for-profit businesses that license the technology might put business interests ahead of academic freedom, abuse student data, or reproduce potentially biased narratives in an immersive format that ends up being students’ default method of presenting events.
According to Steve Grubbs, CEO of VictoryXR, a private firm established in 2016 that provides the technology, “Learning comes alive in ways never before imaginable.” “That results in higher retention of the learned information.”
Data backs up that assertion, according to Morehouse College in Atlanta, where a metaversity pilot program debuted in 2021. But among many factors, student accomplishment is merely one.
Nir Eisikovits, a philosophy professor and the founding director of the Applied Ethics Center at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said that the way that companies like Google and Facebook exploit people’s data.
If business incentives, political will, and educational best practices cohere, many of the issues can be resolved. Other debate topics are more philosophical, such as whether a VR college experience is essential pro- or antisocial. In either case, students looking for flexible options would discover metaversities to be an indisputable advance over distant, two-dimensional screens that occasionally cause “Zoom fatigue.” Additionally, VR education, which is already available, seems to be on track for rapid expansion, even as early adopters look for answers to pressing questions about potential risks in real-time.
The Development of Metaverses
Certain leaders in the metaversity community do have admirable goals. A friendly man named Grubbs once led the House Education Committee in the Iowa House of Representatives. His father, a teacher, served as an inspiration for some of his educational efforts.
He was intrigued by the potential when he tried a basic VR headgear for the first time in 2015. While other people began to seek games, he continued, “I pursued education.”
He then established the corporate headquarters in the structure of his elementary school. (His workplace was formerly the teachers’ lounge.) He envisioned a time when VR would be useful for teaching.
Similar to this, early in the epidemic, administrators and faculty members at Morehouse College became dissatisfied with remote learning choices and turned to Grubbs for assistance. A proof-of-concept metaversity, including VR courses in world history, biology, and chemistry, was soon after piloted by Morehouse in February 2021.
Student grade point averages in the VR world history course increased by 10% as compared to grades in the identical course that was taught concurrently via Zoom and face-to-face the previous year. Additionally, the college gathered actual data from prior VR courses, which revealed a general improvement in student satisfaction, engagement, and accomplishment compared to traditional and online forms.
Professor of chemistry and director of Morehouse University’s metaverse program Muhsinah Morris said, “My students are more open to learning the difficult subject matter.” While I was teaching advanced inorganic chemistry in my virtual reality classroom, you could see molecules there. In fact, it is possible to create three-dimensional models of molecules. Learning generally proceeds more quickly. They move faster to the actual situation.
An Experience of a Social or Antisocial Student
According to others, a student who completes some college coursework or a whole degree in the metaverse is developing their social skills and studying with their classmates.
Despite being a remote learner, Grubbs explained, “you get to be in class again with your professor and other students, breaking into small groups, working on projects, talking, laughing, and learning the way most people learn best—kinesthetically. It’s a very social experience, I must say.
Morris claims that interaction can have a big impact. “It’s almost like giving them both the theory and an internship.”
Others, however, worry that students at metaversity are socially isolated.
According to Eisikovits, “this generates an entire infrastructure of individuals not actually, physically being together.” And it will be much more compelling than Zoom, says the speaker.
Eisikovits recognized that the existing, two-dimensional model of online education had been a disappointing one for professors and students, notwithstanding some objections.
Whether we like it or not, online education is becoming more common, and this might improve it by providing a more immersive experience, he added.
While Flying It, I’m Building the Metaversity Plane
For those joining the metaversity arena, Google’s beginnings serve as a sobering lesson. The creators of Google had the admirable intention of making knowledge accessible. But in order to do that, they ultimately required money. They eventually created a business plan whereby they give their product away for free to customers and make money by gathering and selling user data. Similar business models have been used by certain ed-tech firms, such as CourseHero, to grant students free access to their products in exchange for personal information. Some academics worry that pupils will lack the data literacy and knowledge necessary to comprehend why this can be harmful.
Imagine how you could commercialize your biological responses to a stimulus that you observed in virtual reality, Eisikovits added. “If you can monetize how much time I spent on a YouTube video or if you can monetize your Google search.” The degree to which a user’s pupils dilate when viewing a product, presumably suggesting a liking for that object, is one example of a VR data point.
He said, “We’re about to potentially offer access to it to organisations who are not mainly interested in the spreading of knowledge. It’s richer data that can be exploited in disturbing kinds of ways.”
If a corporation that provides VR for institutions prioritizes its bottom line, academic freedom can also suffer.
VictoryXR, according to Grubbs, “wants to offer a forum where all scholarly ideas can be heard.” “I would like to know if the leadership of the company has a strong predisposition toward academic freedom if I were a professor or a university,” a professor or university said.
However, some for-profit businesses have a questionable track record when academic independence looks to jeopardize their financial success. Consider the time Zoom terminated contentious online events that were hosted by schools and universities. It may not be enough to have faith in a company’s “strong leaning” in favor of academic freedom.
According to Eisikovits, “Market forces are such that trust is an irrelevant aspect in the connection.” People who trusted Google and Facebook are not really delighted that they did.
Another worry is that eventually, history, science, art, and other areas will all be represented by people in metaversity classes. That implies that prejudices maintained in the physical world may be carried over into the digital one. The same may be said of history, literature, and art textbooks found in conventional curricula. However, people who design VR curricula for schools can have a heavier burden. Eisikovits draws attention to the contrast between learning about history through books and through an impactful film on a historical event.
The movie will serve as your mind’s default depiction, according to Eisikovits. He pointed out that a VR experience is even more visceral than watching a movie.
Avatars are another way that humans are portrayed in the metaverse, either accurately or incorrectly. According to Morris, when Morehouse first opened its metaversity, one professor initially refrained from participating out of worry that the avatars did not accurately depict students and professors at the historically Black university.
Morris added, “Representation is important because of the memories you form. “You still have a human being within that avatar.”
She claimed that VictoryXR had subsequently made the avatars better enough that the first reluctant professor had now joined the project. Morris acknowledged that the avatars still require development.
Even in the presence of conflicting academic and industrial interests, some of these issues might be solvable. For instance, firms have been forced by market constraints in the past to address algorithmic bias in their products. However, anyone accessing the metaverse should be aware of the variety of issues.
The Current and Future State of the Metaversity Market
Colleges and universities are pursuing nontraditional students, such as those who have considerable work and family responsibilities and need flexible alternatives, in response to the dwindling enrollment of traditional students. Traditional students could also value virtual reality’s immersive learning environment.
VictoryXR has already started metaversities at the University of Kansas School of Nursing, New Mexico State University, South Dakota State University, Florida A&M University, West Virginia University, the University of Maryland Global Campus, Southwestern Oregon Community College, Alabama A&M University, California State University, Dominguez Hills in addition to Morehouse and Fisk.
The remaining six [metaversities] will likely be announced in August or September, and at least 50 more are being discussed, according to Grubbs.
Grubbs estimates the financial on-ramp for universities interested in launching their own courses or programs in the metaverse to be between $20,000 and $100,000. This is especially true considering the potential to draw in a completely different student population. (The lower end of that price range doesn’t offer product licenses for a campus with a digital twin, just for a generic campus.) To conduct VR classes, faculty must undergo training, which requires time and effort. But as news of the new technology spread, campuses that had offered this training were a hive of activity and media attention.
A few metaversities are currently functioning primarily as pilot programs. Universities may find themselves drawn in by the possibility of reaching more and various types of students, providing compelling student outcomes, and creating new revenue streams.