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Are We in the Education Industries Ready for Metaverse?



Does anyone know what a social media avatar is? This site https://www.compukol.com/defining-your-social-media-avatar define avatar as manifestation, appearance, or incarnation. It is nothing more than using programs to create an identity using an existing virtual representation of you on social media to interact with like-minded people or other people. Many people online have a different avatar. For example, many people use an avatar in video or virtual games. Many videos or virtual games (like APEX LEGENDS or FORTNITE, to name a couple of virtual games) allow you to choose an avatar when you are online to compete with different people around the globe.


Furthermore, because both adults and children of right age love to play virtual games on APEX LEGENDS or FORTNITE, we use a different avatar to conceal our identities while interacting with other participants in the virtual universe. These virtual games are not only fun, interactive, intuitive, and adaptable, but they teach many lives soft skills. Here is my question, though. Are we, in the education industries, ready for the Metaverse?

Although APEX LEGENDS and FORTNITE are not Metaverse, what is a metaverse, and why does this innovation matter in education? Please watch the video of Brian Stelter (the host of CNN@RELIABLESOURCES) interviewing a Metaverse expert and author Mathew Ball predicting the future of the internet - https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/other/metaverse-expert-predicts-the-future-of-the-internet/vi-AAZFNmX?ocid=msedgdhp. For more information on Metaverse, also check out this 2021 post on What Is the Metaverse, Exactly? | WIRED.


Here is my simple explanation of why the Metaverse matters in education. We have all heard that Mark Zuckerberg has renamed Facebook to Meta. The Metaverse is a shared virtual reality environment people access via the internet to interact with people or phenomena (things). Some companies have now combined virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the Metaverse to create and provide people with a virtual presence in a three-dimensional setting. Facebook (I mean Meta) CEO (Mark Zuckerberg) believes augmented reality is going to be a thing like your smartphones. I believe him.


Although, when Mr. Zuckerberg announced renaming Facebook to Meta, there were skeptics. I understand. To be a skeptic is a quality we encourage science. If I might add, skepticism is reasonable if it is not followed by a skeptic's adverse action that could harm an individual or an organization because they are afraid of change or transformation. Notwithstanding, Mr. Zuckerberg renamed Facebook to Meta and has been investing heavily in this innovation. And such investment in a company like Meta is groundbreaking and a paradigm shift because the company has become a significant part of the fabric of our society, social media, and communication industry. Thus, the education industry needs to pay attention to the paradigm shift. For example, who could have ever imagined the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on how we do our jobs? I won't be surprised if Twitter, another innovative company like Twitter, follows suit.


Why does it matter? It matters because Metaverse is going to make communication easy and convenient, like using your smartphone. Businesses like to design, and people gravitate toward things they consider cool (probably, Steve Jobs - may his legacy be memorable - may call it smooth), interactive, easy to use, convenient, relatable, and marketable. It is going to be interactive, broader scope, and easy to use with a variety of devices like your computer, smartphones, smartwatches, tablet, and any mobile devices. In addition, many other companies, for example, McDonald, filed trademarks for a virtual restaurant that will deliver food online and in person. And so has Panera Bread (Paneraverse). I can imagine other companies following suit if they haven't already done it by now. I can even envision the transfer of assets (like the use of cryptocurrency) in the Metaverse. According to WIRED, there are some Massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) that are essentially entire virtual worlds, digital concerts, video calls with people from all over the world, online avatars, and commerce platforms. For these reasons, the education industry needs to pay attention.


You may argue that this may not be applicable in education. Well, Johns Hopkins University (my alma mater) is already experimenting with this Metaverse in learning and collaborating with others in the medical field. As a teacher, one of the apps I use with my students for lab activities is the PhET Simulation: Free online physics, chemistry, biology, earth science and math simulations (colorado.edu). The use of it is intentional, especially in situations when we cannot perform a lab activity due to safety concerns or because we are dealing with phenomena at the microscopic or atomic, or molecular level. Although this simulation is interactive, imagine a setting where you (the facilitator), the students, and other collaborators will now be able to interact and collaborate in broader settings. The scope of what a student or collaborators would be able to do in 3-D would be in a broader setting. Experiential space would not just be exclusively accessible via a particular VR OR AR but could be accessible through a variety of routes such as your PCs, game console, or smartphones. Imagine giving assignments to your students, and they could do it in a broader setting, not limited to one platform. I believe this could make the interdisciplinary approach to instructions fluid! That's a good thing. Right?


Welcome to the next generation of science instruction, where STEM instructors combined virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the Metaverse to create a 3-D virtual presence that is interactive, broader environment, and building model for investigating phenomena. Imagine your students, my students working on a project and collaborating with students in Africa or Asia or each other through the application of Metaverse in 3-D, just like in Star Trek (with smart goggles) instead of ZOOM or collaborative space in ONENOTE on TEAMS.


I believe this innovation will resonate with students because my daughter told me two years ago the reason, she wants to study computer programming is that she wants to create a hologram environment. If I might digress for a moment?! I wonder where she got this idea. I told her that this concept was already a reality. She was disappointed. However, I encouraged her, saying if she could dream it, she could also write it into existence with the right resources and support. There would be many other opportunities to invent, create, and contribute to innovation. Innovation like Metaverse and the use of virtual reality with EdTech would also encourage inclusion, diversity, and equity in learning.


Colleagues, I think innovation in Metaverse is going to be and would be a paradigm shift in education, and we need to be intentional when investing in technology. Our investments in technology must be deliberate, intentional, targeted, and interdisciplinary. In addition, there has to be adequate investment in EdTech for educators, and all educators must be adequately trained by a training professional using EdTech. All schools in education need to consider making those tough decisions and investing in the right technology. No one ever imagined the COVID-19 pandemic and the use of technology in virtually every sector of the workforce. And here we are. Welcome to the 21st Century.


Raise the roof!

Authored by Ayo Olufade, Ph.D.


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