Imagine putting on virtual reality glasses, choosing your avatar -a graphic representation of you- and entering a space with classrooms, libraries and others, where you can also see avatars of your teacher and classmates. Everyone is living the same immersive educational experience through virtual reality.
With the excitement and surprise caused by Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement in October 2021, regarding the creation of the metaverse virtual space by the Meta technology conglomerate, several companies globally announced their intention to participate, including houses of studies and business schools.
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Educational institutions want to make the most of these virtual worlds, both by teaching courses and by promoting networking, and thus offer permanent, immersive and attractive learning experiences. “Given the number of users that are entering these worlds, it is a very good opportunity for brands to position themselves as innovators and draw on creativity. The novelty of this technology leaves endless possibilities in the air for companies to create actions that can generate a great impact”, he points out. Elena Bello, public relations officer at the Spanish online school IEBS Digital School.
María Albalá, director of the innovation hub of ICEMD, Institute of Digital Economy of the Spanish school ESICadds that “as happened in its day with social networks, it is the younger profiles that have a greater presence in these new realities.”
Experiencing the Metaverse
The Mexican university Tecnológico de Monterrey moved the Alternate Installations and Systems course to the virtual world for Engineering and Architecture students in the second and third quarters of 2021. It was taught at the Tec Virtual Campus, the 3D metaverse developed by the University and in which around 6,000 students have interacted with, and where you can find buildings such as libraries, an auditorium, classrooms, among others, is explained on the Tec website.
Another house of studies that is entering this world is the virtual Spanish IEBS, which announced in April 2021 that they would be teaching classes in the metaverse with the intention of promoting networking and gamifying student learning.
So far, students access only through their computer, entering the Coderblock platform. From the school they assure that they have avoided the use of other devices to make it much more accessible.
For this reason, they are developing different events in the metaverse. On April 28, 2021, the Metaverse Inspiration Day was held, an event dedicated to this virtual world that was held in a space specifically created for it in the virtual environment. Little by little, according to Elena Bello, “throughout the year we will incorporate this option in the different areas of the school”.
“In the virtual classrooms of IEBS in the metaverse, teachers will be able to create their own classrooms to teach classes or carry out activities and students will also be able to access spaces to meet, share information, carry out projects and network with their classmates. ”, comments the executive of IEBD Digital School.
But unlike IEBS and Tec de Monterrey, which have already entered the metaverse with force, other houses of study are joining testing prototypes. At the University of Chile they are planning to do it in a less massive way, until now. This year, the Vice President for Information Technologies (VTI), through the Online Education Office and the Innovation Department, began working on the incorporation of virtual and immersive experiences in different subjects.
In the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (FAVET), work is being done on 360° images for the development of a learning resource on the Learning Management System (LMS) platform of the university called EOL, so that students can visualize through a viewer of RV procedures performed in a poultry unit.
Likewise, “we are projecting together with the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism (FAU) and FAVET the realization of a Digital Veterinary Hospital, where through photometry a further level of immersion can be achieved in the construction of this metaverse. Only with the FAU are we carrying out proofs of concepts a software called Arkio, which allows a virtual reality immersion for the construction of buildings with the use of Oculus Quest 2”, explains Francisco Sereño, instructional designer of the Online Education Office (EOL), at the University of Chile.
And at the Parisian ESCP Business School they have been working for a couple of years to use new technologies and thus create virtual experiences for students. “It began two years ago to digitize in 3D the spaces of all the campuses in Paris, Madrid, London, Berlin and Turin. Once the physical environment has been designed, augmented reality prototypes are being tested to develop skills in leadership, negotiation, effective communication, innovation and design thinking. Depending on the performance demonstrated, the virtual environment interacts with the student and generates new situations to continue practicing and improving”, he points out. José Cobo, dean of the Learning Innovation department at ESCP Business School.
In general, educational institutions are entering virtual worlds, because it allows them to be applied for various purposes, such as learning through gamification, so that students can socialize with each other and even to study and conduct research.
At the Peruvian ESAN Graduate School of Business they are planning to enter the metaverse to explore new forms of teaching and diversify the channels to reach students. “We believe that the metaverse is the future and it will be an important part of teaching, both at the postgraduate and undergraduate levels, because it can give us many tools to learn while playing. Thus, gamification can be used, which allows us to interact with an avatar that represents oneself and be able to simulate everything that happens in the real world”, he indicates. Peter Yamakawa, dean of the Peruvian ESAN Graduate School of Business.
Bello, from IEBS, indicates that among the reasons for entering this virtual world is that there are many meeting spaces.
“Although you can meet in huge open worlds like The Sandbox, you can also play in custom rooms on platforms like Spatial. These apps are specifically designed to host events, conferences or meetings,” he explains.
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In IEBS they seek that in this virtual world it is possible to promote networking. “It is proven that students enjoy learning with their mobile more than with a book. Metaverse applications can create a virtual space where students walk, take notes, attend class and communicate with other classmates or teachers, totally transforming the learning industry. The level of immersion will make the attendees perceive the experience as if they were really in a face-to-face class”, says Bello.
For this reason, it will not be uncommon for many more educational institutions to join these virtual worlds in the medium term, especially when several of them have been betting on new technologies: the application of artificial intelligence and the big data in the teaching and decision-making process, for example.
However, for this, the vision of the leaders of the schools is necessary. According to Yamakawa, “many of the leaders are going to bet on technology or strategies such as the application of the metaverse to education. It’s part of the DNA they must have. It is important to know that technology is a lever to not only make business schools more efficient, but also to create a comprehensive experience for the student”.
Another aspect that draws the attention of schools is that through immersion in virtual worlds, the carbon footprint can be reduced. “We are committed to training the next generation of sustainable leaders and drastically reducing our carbon footprint. Study trips abroad and inviting speakers from other countries to our campuses could be replaced by students virtually registering in a simulation of the ESCP metaverse, delivering interactive lectures through virtual avatars,” says José Cobo.
“This new reality generates a new economy, since something physical is no longer consumed, but an experience: living or experiencing something that in the real world could not be accessed,” adds Francisco Sereño, from the University of Chile.
The challenges ahead
The immersive experience that virtual spaces promise also requires certain considerations, since not every institution can carry out this type of innovation with the same success. Surely we will face a multitude of challenges, some already known and others that will be derived from the evolution of the metaverse.
Until now, experts in the educational field warn that there are two great challenges: the technological infrastructure and the pedagogical approach. Both Yamakawa and Sereño agree that teaching in the metaverse is not the same as doing it in person, generating interconnected learning. Hence, teachers will have to rebuild the skills to teach in this medium.
At the infrastructure level, Sereño says that “resources and devices will have to be available, such as VR viewers, haptic joysticks, among others, to be able to venture or immerse ourselves in this new reality.”
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And Albalá adds some future challenges that must be faced, such as ethical implications. “How will we appreciate the imperfection of our physical life, if we have access to a world that can be as perfect and wonderful as we want? We already see these implications on a smaller scale, for example, in the use of social networks and the image of perfection that is projected through them”.
In addition, he adds that another of the great challenges will be access to these worlds and the discrimination that can occur. “There will be people, who either because of skills or concern, will connect to these worlds and others who will not. This gap will be aggravated, due to the need for a certain technology, which is currently not the most affordable, and there will be people who will have access to the technology and the necessary resources to live this new reality and those who will not.