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Where Does Education Fit in Virtual Worlds and the Metaverse?

Metaverse by Facebook, legally, is often not allowed to be implemented into schools, and thus has a huge limitation…And until that changes, I can’t see Metaverse being used ethically within most public schools.

Lila Faria, Marketing & Community Manager, Mudstack

Since its announcement in late 2021, the Metaverse has sent shockwaves as a new disruptor of work in digital and physical spaces. Embraced by some consumers and critiqued by others, the Metaverse presents an alternative realm for interaction not seen before with the same global network reach.

Bill Gates suggested that the Metaverse may host most work meetings within two or three years, while major cultural organizations, like the Sundance Film Festival already have partially (or plan to host events in the space).

But where does education fit into the worlds of virtual or augmented reality?

We spoke with an expert working with schools and institutions to design spaces for education and learning opportunities in the Metaverse and other virtual and extended reality platforms. She shared her thoughts on the development, implementation, risks, and potential of these tools for education.

Meet the Expert: Lila Faria

Lila FariaLila Faria, Marketing & Community Manager, mudstack

A graduate from New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, Lila Faria has contributed educational technology and community building insight to a variety of forward-thinking educational institutions, including Terreform ONE, the Pacific Science Center, Bellevue Community College, and Singularity University.

Her work has incorporated educational video game design, museum exhibit curation, SEL-based Montessori teaching, extended reality (XR), and more. Faria is passionate about creating a positive impact in the world through innovative technologies, applications, video games, movement, art, and dance.

Q&A with Lila Faria on Education in Virtual Worlds What are some of the opportunities and advantages you see for education in the virtual and augmented reality spaces?

Faria: This could mean a huge variety of things, depending on who you ask or are working with. Most of the time when someone asks me about education it is often meant to refer to public K-12 schools within the US.

In this regard (and based on my experience working with them), public schools usually have limited resources. So there is still access to augmented reality (AR) and some other forms, like extended reality (XR), but it’s limited.

I actually have a list from my time at Bellevue College of AR/VR tool options that you can use on a Chromebook and that teachers are trying to implement in their classes. But it’s often public schools that may miss out on the latest innovations due to a divide in accessibility and resources as compared to private schools.

For example, in K-12 schools, I often see teachers will instead choose to integrate free or low-cost tools like Tik Tok or an education alternative called Flipgrid, which encourages students to interact with their learning through filmmaking and short videos. And, to me, that’s sort of XR.

But if you’re thinking about VR, which will require VR headsets and other tools, I’ve actually seen more international projects leveraging this. One of my favorite projects right now is something being done by Dr. Peter Amah over at Seattle University. He’s been using XR tools, like something called Virbela, to create virtual classrooms and virtual schools for students in Africa because the idea is that the cost of running a building in Africa is much more than if you’re going to have a virtual space.

I’ve often seen some innovative stuff around VR and XR popping up in international spaces like that or museums. Museums and universities, to me, have always been more at the forefront of tools for our education. And the museums are always doing cool stuff.

The latest museum I went to was in Atlanta. There’s something called the Luminary, where they just project things onto the wall and people can interact with them and move things around. How does the Metaverse differ from other virtual reality or augmented reality digital spaces? Are there any risks companies, educators, and students should consider when engaging in the space?

Faria: I am worried about Metaverse. I agree that in an ideal world, Metaverse could get a lot of potential in the way that a lot of VR spaces could.

There are a number of places like Metaverse that already exist in the virtual reality space that teachers can use if they have access to the right tools. But again, because so many public schools just don’t have that kind of funding right now, usually what I’ve seen implemented doesn’t really go beyond Google, like Google Chromebooks and sometimes the Google cardboard. You can take a phone and connect it to one of those and it’s cheaper.

But I think that the potential for the idea of Metaverse could be awesome—sending students into a virtual space where they could experiment with things, [seeing] how physics works, re-enacting different parts of history, or things like that is theoretically cool. However, Metaverse by Facebook, legally, is often not allowed to be implemented in schools, and thus has a huge limitation.

This was actually a huge problem when I worked at Bellevue College because the Facebook organization requests information from students and from users—it’s often illegal in many schools to use it. And it was a huge problem at Bellevue College because now Facebook owns Oculus. I remember Bellevue College was in this huge process of purchasing enough Oculus Rifts that we could have students come in and start using them. But because Facebook ended up buying Oculus, suddenly we weren’t able to use them with our students. Legally, we weren’t allowed to. And so I think that those legal implications are going to restrict most of the educational potential that this technology could have.

I think that there’s the potential for something big like a museum that’s really well known to collaborate with Facebook. But in my experience, Facebook hasn’t been very responsive [when] community colleges or local public schools reach out to them and ask for exceptions. And until that changes, I can’t see Metaverse being used ethically within most public schools. Are there any exciting educational courses or projects you are aware of right now being developed in virtual or augmented reality spaces?

Faria: While STEM subjects are popular, I also think there is a lot of potential for history and social studies. And one of the reasons why I’m thinking of history and social studies is because to me, that is classic K-12. But there are also other applications of course.

Actually, there’s another company in Seattle called Mixed Reality, which has been exploring VR education for students with disabilities so that they can learn things like how to fly a plane or how to regain some muscle memory and motor control skills after an injury.

VR has been very helpful for this because if you can’t move your hand but you can see things, you can put on a headset and have educational materials presented in front of you that allow you to really interact with your environment.

There’s a lot of cool stuff going on that can tie into different parts of our lives.

However, I also think—and this is my bias—that the traditional educational system doesn’t always integrate a lot of these potential opportunities into it. For example, one does not often learn how to fly a plane in K-12 education. It would be awesome if we could or if we did, but it’s just not currently in the system.

And until we reconsider the system a little bit more some of this probably won’t be presented to learning in that mode any time soon. What are some of the greatest challenges for education providers and students entering the space?

Faria: To me, one of the greatest challenges is the separation between the educator and the policymaker.

Folks who have the power to control what a daily experience for the students look like and the folks who are actually teaching the students are usually different people. And as a result, a lot gets lost in the process.

If you think of a public school day, you might find a school that has hourly sessions and eight of them in a row. And each of those is a different subject. But those subjects often don’t get decided by the teacher. They often get decided by a policymaker, as well as the structure of the curriculum.

Teachers may get some say, but most often they have to hit a mark that is determined by the policymaker.

And to me, the policymaker (who might have done amazing research and knows a lot or have even been a teacher themselves) often does not know exactly what it is that students are going to need.

And so there’s often misalignment between the policy and the teachers’ experiences or the teachers’ needs. And to me, that’s the biggest challenge in education: how can we rectify this? How can we combine the policymaker and the teacher? How do you think virtual and augmented reality spaces will affect education? Do you see any variance in the use of the space by various sectors of education, geographical locations, or populations?

Faria: I definitely think that private schools are going to explore these digital spaces first, and likewise, I think schools in big cities with a lot of money are going to do things like experiment with VR, XR, and AR. That just tends to be what happens. So that’s a little bit of variance.

From a population perspective, rich white kids are much more likely to get access to VR experiments in their classrooms as compared to people of color who may make less money or be underserved.

But within that, I also think that there tends to be a trickle-down effect right now in education, where the rich kids will have access to these experiments and start using VR and AR. And then these tools will become more implemented in policy. Eventually, we might see more access for public schools or for schools with less money.

There’s this idea that is very popular, which is called “exponential technology.” It is a huge buzzword, and the idea is that every technology that comes out is going to be huge, super inaccessible, and expensive in its first iteration. It’s also likely to be bad technology at first until the technology is improved upon.

For example, the first computer cost thousands of millions of dollars and took up an entire room. And all it did was like calculate numbers, right? But over time, while the technology improves, the price of that also goes down and it creates this exponential curve of technology use throughout our population.

I think the same thing is going to happen with VR and XR. I think that there’s going to be an exponential change from where we are right now. These tools are becoming more accessible and in time will become better and cheaper.

And eventually, I think that will hit education, but I don’t think it’s going to be anytime soon.

Chelsea Toczauer

Chelsea Toczauer is a journalist with experience managing publications at several global universities and companies related to higher education, logistics, and trade. She holds two BAs in international relations and asian languages and cultures from the University of Southern California, as well as a double accredited US-Chinese MA in international studies from the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University joint degree program. Toczauer speaks Mandarin and Russian.