Do you hear the expression metaverse and smirk? Wait! These new collaborative digital environments may well open up opportunities for the world of education… and that’s in the not-too-distant future. Review with Alexandre Chenette, Marie-Eve Lapolis and Benoît Petit.
“A virtual, immersive and persistent world that allows the virtualization of human activities, in particular social, gaming, cultural and commercial.”
Source: Quebec Office of the French Language.
“Metaverses are digital spaces that allow you to literally be on the Internet and materialize the concept of augmented reality, including virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality,” said Alexandre Schenette, consultant for the national RÉCIT, human development (RECIT DP) in presentation time at the Digital Education Summit in May 2022.
Even if the concept may seem futuristic to some, platforms like FrameVR.io and ExpoRV already offer the ability to create virtual classrooms or virtual showrooms in 3D. We also mentioned Gather.town in an article in École Branchée.
The idea of the concept of the metaverse, this virtual parallel world, is not new. As early as 1992, he began appearing in Neil Stevenson’s book Virtual Samurai (Snow Disaster). It then evolved over the years, moving from a techno solution to a recreation of the physical world, from The Matrix to SecondLife. Today Facebook, which has become Meta, is giving itself ten years to build an entirely new virtual universe. Other metaverses continue to evolve, so it’s more appropriate to talk about metaverses than metaverses.
And education in all this?
Marie-Eve Lapolis is the RÉCIT National Art Educational Adviser and has been passionate about virtual reality since 1994. In order for the metaverse to be “effective” in education, she says, it must have certain characteristics:
- Creation and adaptation – worlds, places, avatars, objects, experiences
- Evolution and transformation – techno, instruments, worlds, practices
- Persistence and Agnosticism—Always and Forever
- Interactivity and socialization – with others, objects and the environment
She adheres to her own definition: “The Metaverse is an ever-evolving network of persistent and interconnected virtual worlds. It focuses on the real-time interaction of various subjects of education, in which they can perform all the usual activities such as: teaching, learning, collaboration, creation, project presentation, expert reception, social interaction and play. It takes advantage of technological advances to fully or partially immerse the user in the metaverse, and is available to everyone through a variety of devices.”
In short, the metaverse exists whether you are present or not, it continues to evolve with other users who join it in turn, and allows you to perform the same tasks as in the physical presence, while removing such restrictions, like the need to travel. realize activity.
Marie-Eve Lapolis then looks at the technologies present in schools and the opportunities currently on offer. Devices that allow access to the metaverse are already available:
- computers (video conferencing and collaboration platforms)
- mobile devices (socialization and augmented reality)
- virtual reality headsets (immersive experiences)
Augmented reality activities are also starting to appear in schools. You can view existing digital educational content and even create your own learning materials (eg Adobe Aero, Reality Composer). On the other hand, there are several apps that allow you to create together or interact with the same enhanced experience (eg Just a Line, Flipgrid).
“However, this activity cannot be called a metaverse. They are time-consuming, they provide few opportunities for collaboration and external use, and there is no interoperability between experiments,” notes Mari-Ev.
The same goes for virtual reality. You can visualize the experience prepared by the creators, visit historical and cultural sites, watch 360-degree documentaries, manipulate virtual objects. Teachers can create immersive virtual experiences for their students, and students can demonstrate concepts using VR creation platforms (eg CoSpaces Edu, Multibrush). Apps are also starting to appear that allow teamwork (eg Spatial) or informal meetings (eg VRChat, vTime) (eg Spatial). However, “again, we can’t talk about metaverses.”
Online learning platforms
Anyone who talks about the metaverse in education immediately thinks of transforming the online learning experience to make it less static than traditional video conferencing and to break it down into groups. Platforms presenting more gaming experiences such as Topia and Gather.town, Engage VR and Mozilla Hubs are now available. They are available on various types of devices, offer several animation tools and, sometimes, the ability to create your own “world”.
“These platforms are not yet mature. Few of them are available in French, and using them can be time consuming and costly,” says Marie-Ev.
Limitations and Perspectives of the Metaverse for Education
While there are still some limitations to deploying the metaverse in education (bandwidth, device availability, privacy protection, and changing practices), according to Ms. Lapolis, the potential is indeed there.
This could mean:
- The school is open 24 hours a day
- Available to everyone and everywhere
- With varied learning experience
- Offering multimodal education and global experience sharing
- With AI-generated worlds and multilingual communication
- Welcoming learners but also content creators
- Something else?
Problems for education
Moreover, just like any other form of social network, the metaverse will have its own rules, codes of conduct, issues and issues to consider in order to avoid sticky situations (like cyberbullying). Similarly, since these platforms are typically developed by private companies, there are questions regarding their sustainability, the protection of users’ personal information, and the intellectual property of creations.
For Benoît Petit, RÉCIT’s national service expert for school administrators, the question is not to reject a metaverse that is spinning out of control, but to think now about the potential consequences so that we can be well prepared when the time comes. . “Let’s continue to support the development of ethical and autonomous citizenship in the digital age. First of all, let’s not forget that it is the use based on a clear pedagogical intent that will allow these platforms to be beneficially integrated into the learning service. »