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A Map to the Metaverse for Education

“Rather than being a pure consumer, we hope to best prepare students to learn in a virtual environment where they can be a creator.”

Eileen McGivney, PhD Candidate, Instructor and Researcher, Human Development, Teaching and Learning at Harvard University

As the “next iteration of the internet,” the Metaverse remains a hot topic across industries. While some educators remain skeptical of the security risks and ramifications of teaching in the Metaverse, other educators are excited to trailblaze and work out the knots of providing learning opportunities in the platform.

Although XR tools and platforms are still emerging technologies for education, a team of educators, scientists, and entrepreneurs recently released a report on the evidence-based use of XR and how to better ensure the Metaverse can offer the best possible entryway to virtual learning opportunities to students and educators.

We spoke with experts on the application of extended reality technologies for education, Geraldine Fauville and Eileen McGivney, to learn more about the benefits of extended reality technology and what the Metaverse means for education.

Meet the Experts: Geraldine Fauville and Eileen McGivney

Geraldine Fauville

Geraldine Fauville, Assistant Professor in Education, Communication and Learning, University of Gothenburg

Geraldine Fauville is the assistant professor of education, communication and learning at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Her research focuses on the role that immersive technologies can play in education and promoting ocean and environmental literacies.

Fauville holds a master’s in marine biology and a PhD in education from the University of Gothenburg. From 2018 to 2020, Fauville was a Knut och Alice Wallenberg Stiftelse Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University, where she led research on environmental education.

Laura Dresser

Eileen McGivney, PhD Candidate, Instructor and Researcher, Human Development, Teaching and Learning at Harvard University

Eileen McGivney is a current PhD student, instructor, and researcher at Harvard University. She studies learning in immersive virtual reality environments, including how virtual field trips impact students’ learning, motivation, and identity exploration. She is also a member of the Next Level Lab where she researches immersive technologies for workforce development.

At Harvard, she has studied the implementation of EcoXPT, a virtual world-based curriculum for middle school science. Additionally, she has researched diverse learners in online course environments and women’s belonging in Makerspace learning. Before Harvard, she worked as a researcher at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and the Educational Reform Initiative in Istanbul, Turkey.

Q&A with Geraldine Fauville and Eileen McGivney Can you give us a walk-through of the spectrum of extended reality or virtuality?

Fauville: Yes, so extended reality (XR), or virtuality, exists on a spectrum. This spectrum includes augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and virtual reality (VR).

On one end you have AR, where interactions between virtual and physical objects may be limited. One of the most famous examples of this is Pokémon Go. Then you have MR, where interactions between physical and virtual objects are more natural, and players or virtual characters can hide behind physical objects. Some tech that creates this environment includes Hololens. And then there’s VR, where players are removed from the physical world and engage entirely with a virtual environment.

There is, of course, some overlap between these technologies and their applications. But considering the spectrum of virtuality is a great place for educators to start in discerning how best to apply XR into learning programs.

The Metaverse is still evolving as a VR platform, allowing room to advance technologies and their applications. What do emerging societal, technological, industrial, and legal trends in the Metaverse mean for students, educators, and schools?

McGivney: Increasingly we see tasks in our lives being alleviated through various tools and technologies. With education, students and teachers, from a distance and even in person, are relying more on video, computers, tablets, and other technologies.

From my perspective, the Metaverse is a new technology and eventually we will see a big shift in the adoption of this and other extended reality tools for use in education. Virtual spaces are going to become part of classrooms, part of online learning. We may not even be that far away from that reality.

Schools may sometimes be excited to adopt new technologies but may have a limited understanding of their best use or application. So we want to make sure that we are preparing educators for that. And that was really a big motivation for preparing this report.

In terms of the careers and opportunities students will have, another thing we on the team are all passionate about is enabling students to understand how these technologies can help prepare them for their future. Rather than being a pure consumer, we hope to best prepare students to learn in a virtual environment where they can be a creator.

Students can learn how to program and code, but extended reality spaces are still very new, so we hope to demystify this space as it may be commonplace in the future.

Fauville: Yes, we really want to get ahead of the adoption of these tools by schools as it will be important to effectively apply them to learning opportunities. Also, technology tends to evolve more quickly than evidence-based research around these tools and what the technology can do.

So it’s really important to think about learning needs, goals, and questions ahead when beginning to or thinking about adopting these technologies in educational programs.

When creating this report, we considered initially creating a type of literary review of the existing space, but from speaking with educators and innovators in the space, we realized what was needed was a roadmap for those unfamiliar with the space or thinking about diving in. So we want educators to have an overview of the space so that we can start having more conversations.

We hope that after reading the report people should have questions. You will have enough information where you can know where to start, and then begin to think about and talk about how to use it for various learning outcomes. What goes into the mindful design of educational opportunities in the Metaverse? And what should educators consider when designing educational experiences?

McGivney: I think for this you have to consider, first: what is your learning goal and who are your learners? And I would think about how these technologies can support what you are trying to accomplish.

This is really important because sometimes people may first start with choosing a given technology and then try to figure out what it can do. But this is not necessarily the best way to meet learning goals. Which is why we ask, what do we really want to be able to do? What are our specific needs? And then go from there.

In the report, we outline specific uses for the technology where it can meet or support specific learning goals. For example, using certain XR technologies to get people interested in topics or motivate them to learn about something. Or maybe you want to visualize something that is difficult to visualize in the real world. Maybe you want to create a learning experience through role-play.

But then there are also other times when certain technologies may not work as well to meet some learning goals. For example, some technologies may be difficult or cumbersome to use for a long time. So they don’t always make for good long-term experiences. Instead, you may think about how you can use it to complement or supplement a learning program you are already doing. The technology may also be distracting if not applied correctly.

So, it’s important to think about how you want to use the technology to determine what tools and applications will best support learners in achieving specific learning goals. In this regard it will be best to make sure you are using these new technologies judiciously.

Fauville: The Metaverse is such a new space that content, including educational content, needs to be created for the space. So thinking about these goals, technologies, and applications will be important in the effective use of the space as a tool for learning.

So there is much needed in terms of research and content creation in the space. We absolutely need to take a strategic and rigorous approach to envision and think about what the Metaverse can be or could be.

It is important to take a multidisciplinary approach where all the actors have something to contribute to the discussion so that we have effective and inclusive interactions in the space.

Also, it is important to not think of the Metaverse as being better than other edtech tools, but to instead think about: how we can leverage this as a tool? How can we use it to support existing learning? What are the existing or potential challenges and opportunities the space and these tools may present? Any advice you would give policymakers, educators, or students just beginning their journey in the Metaverse?

Fauville: Definitely engage with the space and the technologies to understand their capabilities and attributes. It’s important for educators to understand the spaces and tools they are using for teaching rather than perhaps the students knowing more because they have engaged more in the space. Then also, be realistic in how XR can supplement your learning goals. Then finally, think about how to leverage XR so students can be creators and enable them best in their learning.

McGivney: I agree with that. Though I would add and encourage policymakers and schools to engage with XR technologies and applications so they themselves can understand what it is like engaging in that virtual space. If you haven’t experienced it, you may not understand the opportunities and limitations it may have, which may make it more difficult for teachers to leverage these spaces and tools effectively. With this in mind, policymakers and schools should also be sure to give teachers more time to play with the technologies they will be using in the classroom.