Most educators were delighted to return to in-person instruction after a couple of years of remote learning. However, many students seem to remain in the metaverse and continue to spend their free time exploring Roblox and discussing NFTs.
This online environment can be a perfect opportunity to connect with tech-centric learners, and teachers don’t need an advanced virtual reality headset to engage students. Follow this guide to better understand the metaverse and its educational applications.
What Is the Metaverse?
Before you can dive into lesson plans and activities for students, it helps to have a full understanding of what the metaverse is. For many educators, this concept seemingly popped up overnight and is now found almost everywhere.
“The metaverse is essentially a merging of virtual, augmented, and physical reality, and blurs the line between your interactions online and in real life,” writes Felicia Hou at Fortune. “But broken down more simply, it’s a handful of platforms like the Sandbox, Mirandus, and Decentraland on which people can interact in different ways.”
The metaverse is the future of the internet. Instead of demarcations between the digital and the physical, developers and tech enthusiasts want to make the virtual world more real. If this seems convoluted, don’t let the concept of the metaverse overwhelm you. It’s really to do with how people engage with tech.
“Mentally replace the phrase ‘the metaverse’ in a sentence with ‘cyberspace’,” writes Eric Ravenscraft at Wired. “Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change. That’s because the term doesn’t really refer to any one specific type of technology, but rather a broad shift in how we interact with technology.”
Think of the metaverse as a shift in how people approach the web. Because user behavior continues to change, developers and tech leaders are pushing the abilities of the internet so it evolves to meet demand.
“Millions of people are spending hours a day in virtual social spaces like Roblox and Fortnite,” writes Peter Allen Clark at Time. “Interest in purely digital ownership—and the technology that proponents believe can ensure the security of persistent virtual experiences—has spiked dramatically, with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and cryptocurrencies making headlines.”
Essentially, your students are already involved in the metaverse — and you might be, too. But are you merging your classroom with this online world? And why should you?
Metaverse in Education — Why Now?
Now might be one of the best times to incorporate the metaverse into your classroom. Your students are already acclimated to online learning. While educators and learners alike both want to return to some aspects of in-person learning, other aspects could be left in the dust. There are many benefits of the online learning experience that can enhance the in-person classroom.
“Post-Covid, when students can again join together on a physical campus, the world will have changed and expectations will have changed,” says Steve Grubbs, founder of virtual reality educational product development company VictoryXR. “Requiring students to gather in one physical location will not be the only model, but staring at a 2D computer screen expecting a superior education won’t either.”
Grubbs proposes the idea of using a digital twin campus online with an in-person learning environment. This digital twin serves as a meeting place, resource hub and activity center. It can be a digital replacement or a supplemental space for learning.
“Due to the mid/post-pandemic educational context, both teachers and students have reached a new level of understanding in dealing with technology,” writes teacher Raquel Ribeiro. “And that also means we have learned strategies to cope with the constraints faced, especially during synchronous classes.”
The metaverse isn’t just for remote instruction and your meta lesson plans don’t have to serve as a reaction to the post-pandemic world. Many educators see the metaverse as an opportunity to advance the future of education and provide personalized learning opportunities.
“It can also help us overcome the artificial siloing of subjects, a typical feature of our outdated curriculums,” says Leon Hady, founder and CEO at Guide Education. “Immersive learning will allow teachers to combine traditionally separate disciplines like maths and science to provide a holistic, engaging learning experience.”
Start With Roblox for Education
If you aren’t sure where to begin when tapping into the metaverse, start with Roblox. Many of your students likely already engage with this platform and some might even have had Roblox birthday parties with their friends.
“Roblox itself is not a game per se, but a virtual environment in which players connect and interact online as they explore millions of ‘experiences’ that range from caring for virtual pets to taking part in online fashion shows,” writes Benjamin Herold at EducationWeek. “Such experiences are created not by Roblox employees, but by a network of independent developers who earn money based on players’ engagement and in-game purchases.”
Roblox is a safe environment to start with because it already has resources for teachers. Roblox Education has multiple games and experiences, while the company also has a grant for educators who want to bring the metaverse into the modern classroom.
“Our vision with Roblox Education is to empower students and educators to explore learning online, both through the integration of Roblox Studio in STEM curricula and through immersive educational experiences on our platform,” writes David Baszucki, cofounder and CEO at Roblox.
You don’t have to build a metaverse experience yourself from scratch. Instead, you can meet your students in an environment where they already feel comfortable.
“A Roblox educational experience starts off with teachers using prebuilt templates to customize game levels and interactive tutorials for their students around the topics they want to teach,” writes Hamza Mudassir, cofounder and CEO at multi-agent digital simulation provider strategize.inc. “They then invite students to play these Roblox levels (either as groups or individuals), learning complex concepts…in the process.”
If you have a packed classroom with different learners at different levels, you can use Roblox to get everyone on the same page.
Explore Virtual Reality
Another option to engage students in the metaverse is with augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR). Your school might already have a VR headset and there are AR apps for educators that cover a variety of subjects.
Some educators have been providing VR experiences to students for several years now. Michael Pavano, 2018 Teacher of the Year at New Haven Public Schools, first introduced his students to virtual reality in 2019 when he brought his personal headset into the classroom. Students immediately loved the games and enjoyed exploring the new system. This has driven him to apply for funding grants to bring VR systems into his school. These systems introduce students to VR technology while also preparing them to use it in the future.
“We really want the students to have the control on how to implement VR,” says Pavano. “As the teacher our role will be the facilitator.”
If you aren’t sure about using VR in the classroom, consider what pre-held beliefs may be holding you back. In the same way that you don’t want to write off the metaverse as an environment for adults, you also don’t want to restrict AR/VR to just gaming.
“One of the most significant issues surrounding virtual reality in the classroom is that many people still see VR as a games-only platform,” writes April Miller at ReHack Magazine. “They may think students won’t be learning much and rather be distracted by the graphics or gameplay. Opening people’s minds is the key to them giving VR in the classroom a chance.”
Multiple studies have proven the value of VR in the classroom.
“Immersive content has been shown to improve knowledge retention more than when kids are learning via traditional methods,” writes Jo Redfern, host of the Kids Media Club podcast. “VR has a learning retention of 75%…Class lectures have a learning retention of only 5% and reading a retention of just 10%.”
When it comes to virtual reality, try it to see if you like it. Test what your students remember and whether you think the educational materials are up to your standards.
Get to Know Non-Fungible Tokens
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are unique codes that prove ownership of specific digital assets. Artists are creating digital pieces and selling them online through NFTs, allowing specific users to own the art, even if the piece gets shared across the web.
“Physical art is still a big business, but the world of digital art has been growing steadily over the last few decades,” writes Angela Scott-Briggs, editor at TechBullion. “Until the advent of NFTs, these creators had few ways to make money off an original piece. They could sell prints of digital art in some mediums, but videos and unconventional works would usually make money through indirect means, like advertising.”
Essentially, NFTs provide opportunities for fans to become patrons. They create funding outlets beyond paid ads.
“If you see a painting in a museum you can take a picture of it, but it’s not the same—you don’t own it,” says Merav Ozair, a data scientist and fintech professor. “But an NFT is like [an original] painting because it has an ownership in the code, and you can show it to everyone that you have it.”
How can NFTs become part of your classroom experience? There are many ways to discuss and apply this concept to your lesson plans. Art teachers can help students create digital projects that are protected as NFTs while history and debate teachers can look at the big-picture implications of these coins.
University of Louisville Professor Karen Freberg has other examples of how educators can bring NFTs into the classroom. These range from the ethical and legal analysis of owning digital assets to reviewing case studies of NFT creations. The concept is so new that not every NFT project will succeed. Students and teachers can study what works and what fails to get a better understanding of these digital tokens.
As an educator, your job is to prepare students for the future. Right now, this means preparing them for the digital world.
You don’t have to be an expert in the metaverse to bring it into your classroom. By simply using a VR headset or inviting students to play a Roblox game, you can meet students where they are digitally comfortable. With the right lesson plans, you can help students retain information and keep them focused on core concepts that can help them in more advanced classes.