Metaverse – the future of education?

A leap in the evolution of traditional television is happening at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Younger generations are turning away from being passive watchers of the familiar flat screens which dominate our homes, to become active participants in interactive mediums which provide sets of 3D virtual spaces in which to play, work, learn, shop, have therapy and communicate with others who aren’t in the same physical space. This full immersive experience is expected to take over from the TV screens which have taken pride of place in most homes for the past seventy years as the demand for ‘digitalised reality’ among children and young people grows.

Today, communication between children often takes place via phone apps such as Yubo, Tellonym, Parler and Roblox which provide different styles and purposes of communication to suit the needs of the child. Parental supervision is strongly advised for some of these platforms as dangers can lurk here just as much as a stranger’s approach on physical city streets.

Currently, half of 9 to12 year olds in the US use Roblox, the game-making platform, for virtual meet-ups with friends to play games and watch concerts. But it is expected that within the next 10 to 15 years, children will be schooled not just through Roblox, but via the Metaverse, a set of 3D virtual spaces currently accessed by 3D goggles or headsets where all of ‘Life’ can take place, including provision of learning spaces which are accessible to everyone of every ability, where children can design their own personal avatar and become exactly who they wish to be. Students with mental or physical challenges will be free of their limitations within the Metaverse and will be able to join in activities alongside their peers. It sounds like a liberating future, but will the reality be more like the allegory of ‘Plato’s Cave?’

The Brookings Institution released a report in 2022 titled ‘A whole new world: Education meets the Metaverse.’ They describe how the Metaverse is still under construction, like a new city being built from ground zero where schools and Teaching professionals can design their own Learning spaces together and have complete autonomy over their functionality. Instead of clunky goggles and headsets, the use of fashionable digital smart glasses are expected to become the norm.

The Optima Classical Academy is one such education platform hoping to operate this year within the Metaverse as a 100% virtual charter school. They are designing underwater classrooms to Greek Temples among many other themes within their learning spaces, for students to enjoy a full immersive experience of ancient Greece or any other historical timeline. It will be designed to feel like time travel. Anything can be achieved, it seems, within these virtual spaces.

With the construction of these new virtual spaces underway, we are now at a critical crossroads to be able to investigate and reflect on the moral, ethical and practical implications in order to guide this potentially bright new future of education into a safe and healthy haven which takes into consideration the mental and physical wellbeing of its users. If this is where we are heading, we must learn from the earlier mistakes of firmly established platforms which are already embedded in the lives of our younger generations and put strong safeguards in place from the outset.

Currently, phenomenally successful games such as Minecraft and Fortnite provide a clear idea of the popularity of such immersive online experiences and so, with the advent of the Metaverse, we can see the spotlight illuminating the next stage in the evolution of our children’s education.

‘I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way’

Carl Sandburg

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