The Metaverse is Not Virtual Reality for Education

by Vins
Published: Updated:

An October 2022 article by Javeria Salman for the Hechinger Report examined how the metaverse—a developing online world that promises immersive experiences—will shape the future of education. “While the term has become the latest buzzword in education circles,” Salman reported, “what it means for teaching and learning largely remains to be seen.” A number of the experts interviewed by Salman warned that educators should approach the new technology with caution.

Distinguishing between the metaverse and virtual reality, Glenn Platt, a professor of emerging technology at Ohio’s Miami University, told the Hechinger Report that the metaverse is focused on the creation of digital identities: In a true metaverse experience, digital identity persists across  the physical and virtual worlds. But, Platt noted, adopting metaverse technology could aggravate the already existing “digital divide,” a term used to explain the consequences of unequal access to digital technologies. “I know it’s shiny, and I know it’s really exciting. But I think we would all be better served if we could think about creating these types of experiences for the technology that the students have in hand right now,” Platt stated.

Another educator, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University, noted that schools were “very, very late to respond to the internet.” Hirsh-Pasek agreed that educational companies designing tools for the metaverse could be “insanely powerful,” but developers, such as STEMuli and Labster, have a responsibility to make sure these digital spaces are safe, equitable, and inclusive for all students.

In a September 2022 article for EdTechTeacher, Tom Driscoll described four ways the metaverse might impact education. Among these are the possibility that education will become more gamified, but the final scenario that Driscoll noted is that “educators and parents will struggle with how the metaverse should be integrated in teaching and learning.” Despite its “unlimited number of educational possibilities,” the risks of metaverse education for children are “unknown at this point.”

Establishment news coverage on the metaverse and education has been very limited. Among major US newspapers, only the Wall Street Journal appears to have addressed the topic in even an indirect way. An August 2022 article on the future of education and learning, for example, made passing reference to college courses on metaverse entrepreneurship. In November 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that Roblox, the online gaming platform, aimed to develop educational videogames for use in “classrooms world-wide” as part of its strategy to expand user base and “play a role in the next evolution of the internet known as the metaverse.” Corporate news media have not given the issues raised in articles by the Hechinger Report and EdTechTeacher the attention they deserve.

Sources:

Javeria Salman, “What Does the ‘Metaverse’ Mean for Education?” The Hechinger Report, October 27, 2022.

Ed Driscoll, “Making Sense of the Metaverse in Education,” EdTechTeacher, September 19, 2022.

Student Researchers: Hana Abate, Jenna Arruda, Brian Hasson, Elva Zheng (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)