The metaverse might not be gaining traction as much as was anticipated when the concept was introduced, but the technology has been implemented across sectors including education where some US universities are warming to virtual classes.
Proponents of virtual learning believe learning in the metaverse can boost student engagement and retention.
Suddenly, demand for VR headsets from college students might start to spike, finding their way on some “back to school shopping lists” as they prepare for virtual classes in the ‘metaversity.’
According to Global News Education, more universities are investing in digital twin campuses, offering classes using VR and digital assets.
What is ‘metaversity?’
‘Metaversity’, was coined by US based Morehouse College referring to their 3D digital twin campus. The college started a pilot phase in 2021 to enhance VR learning at the peak of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The concept was also inspired by the need to take away boredom from classes as well as reducing the number of student dropouts. Morehouse assistant professor of education and director of ‘metaversity’ Muhsinah Morris saw this as a way to keep the vibe in classes.
It seems the professor’s tactics worked as a survey done at the college revealed the method yielded positive results with 90% of students agreeing classes in ‘metaversity’ is “more effective than anything they had participated in.”
“What this says to me is that our students attend class at a much higher rate because they’re more engaged and excited to come to class,” Professor Morris told Saporta Report in an interview.
As of November last year, Morehouse had 10 courses in the metaverse on topics from across departments of journalism, English, biology, sociology, and more.
Black history class
But Morehouse College has not stopped there as the college has reached another milestone by introducing the first ever Black history class taught using VR technology.
The new course teaches Black history entirely in the metaverse, a virtual 3D space that allows users to interact using avatars.
The course, titled “History of the African Diaspora Since 1800”, uses VR headsets to immerse students in historical events and artifacts related to Black history, such as the Haitian Revolution, the Underground Railroad, the civil rights movement, and more.
Students also get to experience what it was like on a slave ship in the 1830s, while other significant Black history moments like Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington are recreated to give students a feel of what it would be like back then.
The course was scheduled to be offered in the spring semester of 2023 and open to all Morehouse students. Morehouse College professor Ovell Hamilton, is one of the 11 professors teaching students using VR technology. He plans to expand his VR content to cover other topics and periods in Black history in the future, according to a CNBC News report.
The VR Project
The course is a component of the Virtual Reality Project, which aims to enhance teaching and learning about Black history while developing a sense of community through the use of VR technology. The VR project is led by Professor Hamilton, who has partnered with VictoryXR, a VR tech company that specializes in educational content.
According to Global Education News VictoryXR is already assisting Meta to build 10 digital campuses and they have already signed 50 colleges and universities in the US, with CEO Steve Grubs estimating that there are almost 2500 students currently experiencing ‘metaversity’ at higher education level.
Call for caution
While there is adoption of metaverse learning by universities and colleges like Morehouse, there are others that are still skeptical towards the implementation of VR classes.
University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), another university that is conducting a pilot program of digital twin campuses with VictoryXR has its pilot program manager Daniel Mintz warning against getting excited quicker than necessary.
“I think the ‘metaversity’ is a distraction, I don’t need to have a student that can ‘walk’ from here and ‘walk’ across the street and go to Yale,” he said.
“Our university is going to invest in this if we think student retention will go up, not because it sounds like a nice thing to be true,” Mintz added.
Mintz also highlighted how he thinks the whole process of taking classes onto the metaverse platform is a slow process given that VR headset usage sill remains unpopular.