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Thinking now about the potential of metavers in education

You hear the expression metavers and you smile? Wait a minute! These new digital collaboration environments could well offer opportunities for the world of education... and this, in a not so distant future. Here's an overview with Alexandre Chenette, Marie-Eve Lapolice and Benoît Petit.

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You hear the expression metavers and you smile? Wait a minute! These new digital collaboration environments could well offer opportunities for the world of education... and this, in a not so distant future. Here's an overview with Alexandre Chenette, Marie-Eve Lapolice and Benoît Petit.

What is the metaverse?

"Virtual world, immersive and persistent, which allows the virtualization of human activities, including social, recreational, cultural and commercial. 

Source: Office québécoise de la langue française  

"Metavers are digital spaces that allow you to literally be in the Internet and make real the notion of extended reality that encompasses virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality," said Alexandre Chenette, national service contact for RÉCIT, Human Development Domain (RÉCIT PD), at its presentation at Digital education summit in May 2022. 

Although the concept may seem futuristic to some, platforms such as FrameVR.io and ExpoRVGather.town, already offers possibilities to create virtual classrooms or virtual showrooms in 3D. We have also already presented Gather.town in an article of the École branchée.

Not new

The idea behind the concept of metaverse, this virtual parallel world, is not new. As early as 1992, it began to emerge in the book The Virtual Samurai (Snow Crash) by Neal Stephenson. Then, it evolved over the years, from technosolutionism to the reconstruction of the physical world, from The Matrix to SecondLife. Today, Facebook, which has become Meta, is giving itself a decade to build a whole new virtual universe. Other metavers continue to be developed, so that it is more appropriate to speak of metavers than of the metaverse.

What about education?

Marie-Eve Lapolice is an educational advisor at the RÉCIT national service, arts field, and has been passionate about virtual reality since 1994. According to her, for a metaverse to be "effective" in education, it should include certain characteristics:

  • Creation and adaptation - worlds, places, avatars, objects, experience
  • Evolution and transformation - techno, tools, worlds, practices
  • Persistence and agnosticism - all the time and for everyone
  • Interactivity and socialization - with others, objects and the environment

She gives her own definition: "The metaverse is a perpetually evolving network of persistent and interconnected virtual worlds. It is focused on real-time interaction of the different actors in education in which they can perform all the usual actions such as: teaching, learning, collaborating, creating, presenting projects, receiving experts, interacting socially and playing. It takes advantage of technological advances to fully or partially immerse the user in the metaverse and is accessible by all, via various devices. 

In short, the metaverse exists whether you are present or not, it continues to evolve with other users who take turns joining it, and it allows you to accomplish the same tasks as if you were physically present, while eliminating constraints such as the need to move to perform an activity.

Marie-Eve Lapolice then took a look at the technologies present in schools and the possibilities offered at the moment. Devices that allow access to the metaverse are already available: 

  • computers (video conferencing and collaborative platforms) 
  • mobile devices (socialization and augmented reality) 
  • virtual reality helmets (immersive experiences)

Augmented reality

Augmented reality activities are also starting to appear in the school environment. It is possible to view existing educational digital content and even create your own learning experiences (e.g. Adobe Aero, Reality Composer). However, there are few applications that allow users to create together or interact with the same augmented experience (e.g. Just a Line, Flipgrid).

"However, these activities cannot be described as metavers. They are time-consuming, they have few opportunities for collaboration and external use, and there is no interoperability between experiences," notes Marie-Eve.

Virtual reality

The same is true for virtual reality. It is possible to visualize experiences prepared by creators, to visit historical and cultural sites, to watch documentaries shot in 360 degrees, to manipulate virtual objects. Teachers can create immersive virtual experiences for their students and students can demonstrate concepts with VR authoring platforms (e.g. CoSpaces Edu, Multibrush). Applications for teamwork (e.g., Spatial) or informal meetings (e.g., VRChat, vTime) are also beginning to emerge (e.g., Spatial). However, "again, we can't talk about metavers".

Online teaching platforms

Who says metavers in education immediately thinks of transforming the online learning experience, to make it less static than the traditional videoconference and to divide it into groups. Platforms with more playful experiences, such as Topia and Gather.town, Engage VR and Mozilla Hubs, are now available. They are accessible on various types of devices, offer several animation tools and, sometimes, even the possibility to create your own "world". 

"The maturity of these platforms is not yet there. Few of them are available in French, and their use can be time-consuming and costly," says Marie-Eve.

The limits and promises of the metaverse for education

While there are still some limitations to deploying metavers in education (bandwidth, device availability, privacy, and changing practices), the potential is definitely there, according to Lapolice.

This could mean:

  • A school open 24 hours a day
  • Accessible by all, everywhere
  • With a diversity of learning experiences
  • Offering multi-modal education and shared global expertise
  • With AI-generated worlds and multilingual conversations
  • Welcoming learners, but also content creators
  • What else is there?

Challenges for education

Moreover, like any other form of social network, metavers will come with their own rules, codes of conduct, challenges and issues that must be taken into account to avoid unfortunate situations (such as cyberbullying). Also, since these platforms are generally developed by private companies, questions related to their sustainability, the protection of users' personal information and the intellectual property of creations arise. 

For Benoît Petit, resource person for the RÉCIT national service for school administrators, it is not a matter of rejecting the coming metavers out of hand, but rather of thinking about the potential impacts now so as to be well prepared when the time comes. "Let's continue to support the development of ethical and autonomous citizenship in the digital age. Above all, let's not forget that it is uses centered on clear pedagogical intent that will enable beneficial integration of these platforms in the service of learning."

Presentations:

Alexandre chenette

Marie-Eve Lapolice

Benoît Petit 

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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