Educating in the Metaverse

AR use

Using augmented reality to see what is not physically there.

There is not much mention of education in all the discussions this year about the metaverse, but it is thought that it will better allow students to have a cyber-physical learning experience. The virtual world will merge with the real one more and more seamlessly.

For the past 20 months, there has been a global educational experiment in online learning. But don't think that what has happened in education because of the COVID-19 pandemic is an accurate account or prediction of what teaching and learning are at their best, or what they will become in a metaverse. The forced move to online education was awkward for most schools, students and teachers, particularly in the first two semesters. By the spring of 2021, all parties were better adapted to learning online. For the fall 2021 semester, many schools were able to go back to their pre-pandemic methodologies and content delivery. The best schools and teachers have not abandoned what was learned in those online days, and for them learning has continued to shift between online and in person. Online delivery has become more of an integral component of education. The whole move online in 2020 and 2021 should lead to more inclusive and creative pedagogical solutions.

My earlier post on the building of the metaverse did not consider education. No one should think that what we now call online education looks anything like the metaverse. Actually, some online worlds from decades past, such as Second Life, are closer to the metaverse than current online education. The building game Minecraft is enjoyed by millions of young and old learners and has found a place in higher education too. Both of those products have been used to enhance lectures, allow virtual field trips and make students creators. I took tours of campuses in Second Life at the start of this century. They were crude by today's tech standards but they didn't require a clunky headset. I did it once in front of a giant screen and it was more "immersive" but no metaverse.

Current virtual reality (VR) simulations allow students in medicine, engineering, and architecture to practice skills that are difficult to rehearse in real life.

Most followers of the metaverse will say that some forms of it are already here. I discussed in the previous article some companies that already offer applications and platforms that fit part of the definitions (and there are multiple definitions as of now) of the metaverse.  Another company that is making inroads to educational use is Roblox. In its current version, it looks very much like a game, which is often a serious deterrent for educators to consider using technology. But they are expanding the tools offered and giving users and developers more opportunities to create experiences of their own.  with an emphasis on safety.

Roblox has more than 203 million monthly active users in their virtual world. Some might call this platform a "proto-metaverse." But so far, it lacks the VR and AR that are part of all definitions of the metaverse. There is also caution required here for safety since many of those users are children. Roblox CEO David Baszucki may have used some hyperbole in saying during an interview that his company’s business model predicted the metaverse 17 years ago.

The media is already countering any metaverse visioning with cautionary tales of the dangers it might also offer. It ranges from fears that predators might use it to lure children. Since the porn industry has been at the lead with many technologies from VHS tapes and DVDs to online video, there's a good chance that they will want in on the metaverse. A lot of warnings currently come from a lack of understanding about what a metaverse will look like, and the misperception that somehow Zuckerberg and Meta will be THE metaverse rather than a part of it.

John Preston (Professor of Sociology, University of Essex) believes that some aspects of the metaverse are already in universities. His fear is that it will offer revolutionary potential for greater profits to be made in higher education. His research on digital technologies in higher education shows that a metaverse could monetize the student experience even more than now and also exploit the work of academics.

Jaron Lanier, who was an early promoter of VR and founded the first VR company (VPL Research) and made Virtual Reality the term for the head-mounted display has changed his mind on the metaverse. I attended a workshop he did at a conference in the late 1990s and wore his headset and put on the wired gloves to walk through a virtual world while moving around a small room that had a few ramps and objects that became something else in my headset view. It was pretty cool. And pretty awkward. I heard him speak at an edtech conference around 2010 when he had published his "manifesto" You Are Not A Gadget. Lanier's wonder-filled dreams for what these new technologies as we turned into the 21st century could provide for humanity had become nightmares.  His 2018 book, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now indicates that the dreams are still nightmares.  In a recent Forbes article, Lanier says, "If you run [the metaverse] on a business model that’s similar to the one that Facebook runs on, it’ll destroy humanity. I’m not saying that rhetorically. That is a literal and specific prediction that humanity could not survive that."

While some people may be creating a virtual research center ecosystem using Microsoft Teams, others are suggesting that we need to forget the tech and focus on human beings, while some feel we need to use digital simulations to prepare students for future careers.

My own metaverse predictions are that it is farther away than the current buzz seems to indicate, and that augmented reality (AR) will play a greater role than virtual reality (VR) - unless they can get rid of that clunky VR headgear. I see that Meta, which owns Oculus (known initially for making hose clunky goggles) has dropped the Oculus branding. Maybe they will also drop the headgear.

Facebook for Educaton

Facebook is probably not at the top of most educator's list of sites to access for resources, but Facebook for Education’s free resource hub is being used to help support learning communities.

The website features access to:
Get Digital: Free lesson plans, videos and activities to help you lead discussions with students about online wellness, digital empowerment and inclusivity in the classroom and at home
Tech Prep: Personalized coding tools and resources to help your students build foundational knowledge and tech careers
Products: How-tos and best practices for Facebook products like Messenger and Pages
Programs: Information on Facebook programs, including Computer Science programs like Facebook University, which provides hands-on internships to college students from underrepresented backgrounds.

child smartphone
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels


You might not think of the lower half of K-12 as an audience for this but the K-12 section of the site. offers resources for that wide range. I would say that most of what is offered is focused on developing skills toward STEM careers. 

The cynically-minded might say that they have heard that Facebook is working on an under-13-years-old version of Instagram and that anything they offer as "educational" is really just a way to get the next generation into the Facebook world. There is truth to that and since Facebook wants to be a big player in the metaverse that those kids might grow into, early indoctrination is key.

More optimistically-minded folks will say that you always have the option to use or not use Facebook or any social media and also the ability to use it in smarter ways - which is where educators can help. Their computer science programs can help support learners on that tech skills road. "Code Forward" is an online program for 4th-8th grade educators and organizations that uses videos and interactive activities to inspire interest in computer science and tech.

I suspect that some students will discover and use these resources before their teachers discover and use them. That's a start but I would feel a lot better if they entered this world of tech with some guidance.

Google and YouTube Changing Features for Kids and Teens

social media

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

With continuing pressure on the big tech companies to protect user privacy, particularly for younger users, Google is introducing updates to YouTube and its search feature aimed at increasing safety for kids and teens on its platforms. The changes include a number of things to give minors more control over their digital footprint and somewhat constrain commercial content for children.

Some of these changes affect their bottom line profits but there is the PR value of making these changes, and I'm sure they hope it will keep the government from regulating or punishing them for awhile.

Google stated that it wants to work with "kids and teens, parents, governments, industry leaders, and experts in the fields of privacy, child safety, wellbeing and education to design better, safer products for kids and teens." 

For YouTube (via their blog blog.youtube/news-and-events/

  • YouTube default privacy settings for users aged 13 to 17 will be the “most private option available” (that only lets content be seen by the user and whomever they choose - teen users can make their content public by changing the default upload visibility setting)
  • YouTube will also start to remove “overly commercial content” from YouTube Kids" (for example, videos that focus on product packaging or encourages children to spend money)
  • YouTube will have “take a break and bedtime reminders" by default for all users 13-17. (Some adults could use that feature!)
  • YouTube will turn off autoplay by default for this age group

There are also changes for other parts of the platform, including search. 

Google will be introducing new policies that allow people under 18, or their parent or guardian, to request the removal of their image from Google Image results. Removing an image from Search doesn’t remove it from the web. They will also be turning on its SafeSearch, which aims to filter out explicit results, for all existing users under 18 and make it the default setting for teens who set up new accounts. The SafeSearch update will be rolled out “in the coming months,” according to Google. 

In other apps, Google will disable location history for all users under 18 without the ability to turn it on. A safety section in Play will show parents which apps follow Google's Families policies and disclose how they use the data they collect in greater detail.

Of course, ads are where Google makes its money, but it will "block ad targeting based on the age, gender, or interests of people under 18." 

 

Supporting Faculty for the Fall 2021 Semester

support

Photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash

 

I recently read the teaching newsletter at chronicle.com/newsletter/teaching/ that covered several topics around the question of what support faculty members will most need this fall. Without reading the newsletter, I would have guessed that much of the support needed in fall 2020 due to the pandemic will still be needed this fall. The news this summer is full of stories about how we are returning to some version of "normal." I would also predict that schools K-20 are expecting to not need some of that support. We expect to see students back in classrooms. We expect that there will be fewer online versions of courses.   

The author, Beckie Supiano, reached out to some directors of teaching centers and other faculty developers and asked that question about instructor support. Here are a few takeaways in brief.

We can expect that faculty will now be more likely to mix modalities in their teaching. This is more complex than just teaching in-person versus online. We also have asynchronous versus synchronous formats and hybrid settings. This is due to some teachers having been introduced to new modalities and technologies and discovering that some of it is good and applicable. I would also factor in students who were learning online for the first time who found some positives to learning in that way.

I know of teachers who used threaded discussions, video conferencing (Zoom et al) and simple tools such as polls and breakout room for group work for the first time and plan to continue using them even though they will be back in a physical classroom.

Some courses will not be officially labeled as hybrid or blended in the course catalog, but they will be a blend of in-person and online more than in the past.

The technology that allows this to happen will need IT support and, hopefully, pedagogical support towards its best application. Supiano quotes the director for teaching excellence at George Mason University who says that "We’ve been working this summer to support faculty through our Mixed Modalities Course Design project, but we need ways to reach more faculty with that kind of learning opportunity.”

This question seems to ignore what support students will need this fall. Teachers are often the "first responders" to questions students have about using course technology. The article suggests that instructors will need "a grounding in trauma-informed pedagogy." At apu.edu, a Trauma Informed Pedagogy Series was created this summer to educate and equip professors.

One director suggests that faculty will need opportunities for more conversations about what is happening in other classrooms and online, including "fewer readings and speakers and just more workshops with each other."

I do like the idea presented that faculty who have gone beyond the normal in this beyond-normal period need to be rewarded for their efforts. Presidents, provosts, deans, chairs, and teaching and promotion and tenure committees are most likely not equipped to consider some of the changes and efforts that were made in 2020 and so far in 2021. And full-time, non-tenure-track faculty and adjuncts also made extraordinary efforts that may have been assumed or overlooked. Moving an in-person course online even with a semester to prepare is difficult to do well. Doing it almost overnight in spring 2020 was a big ask.

I would say that the support need for fall 2021 is much the same that was needed for fall 2019, but the biggest change is the increased number of faculty and students who will need that support.

Read the article and if you want to share your own preparations or missing support, email the author at beckie.supiano@chronicle.com.