More and more universities are transforming into “metaversities,” expanding beyond their actual campuses and into the “metaverse,” a popularly known virtual online environment. In one project, ten American colleges and universities are collaborating with Meta, the parent company of Facebook, and the virtual reality startup VictoryXR to build 3D online replicas of their campuses that are updated in real time as people and objects move around the physical spaces. These replicas are sometimes referred to as “digital twins.”
In the metaverse, some classes are already in session. VictoryXR also claims that by 2023, it intends to construct and run 100 digital twin campuses, which enable group learning with live teachers and in-person interactions in the classroom.
Beginning in 2027, New Mexico State University, one metaversity builder, plans to provide degrees in which students can complete all of their coursework virtually.
College courses in the metaverse provide various advantages, including 3D visual learning, more lifelike engagement, and simpler access for distant students. However, there could also be issues. My most recent studies have concentrated on the concerns associated with the metaverse, such as privacy and security breaches, as well as its ethical, social, and practical dimensions. I see five difficulties:
1. MAJOR EXPENSES AND TIME
In some circumstances, the metaverse serves as a low-cost learning substitute. An expensive and space-intensive project is creating a cadaver laboratory, which costs several million dollars to develop. At Fisk University, scientific education is now more cheap thanks to a virtual cadaver lab.
Universities do incur additional costs due to the purchase of virtual reality headsets, virtual reality content licences, the building of digital twin campuses, and other investment costs.
Universities may have to pay at least $20,000 and as much as $100,000 for a digital twin campus’s metaverse course licence. Additionally, VictoryXR charges each student a $200 annual subscription fee to enter its metaverse.
Virtual reality headsets entail additional fees. Although Meta is giving out a handful of its Meta Quest 2 virtual reality headsets for free to the metaversities that Meta and VictoryXR are launching, it may not be enough. The Meta Quest 2 headset’s entry-level 128GB model costs $399.99. Additional operational costs and time are incurred while managing and maintaining a large number of headsets, including keeping them fully charged.
Additionally, colleges must invest a lot of time and money in preparing their professors to teach metaverse courses. Delivering metaverse courses will take even longer because many of them require brand-new digital content.
The majority of teachers lack the skills necessary to design their own metaverse lesson plans, which can combine text, interactive components, audio, video, and still images to create an immersive online experience.
2. CONCERNS ABOUT DATA PRIVACY, SECURITY, AND SAFETY
Companies that are creating metaverse technology rely on user data collection as part of their business strategies. For instance, Facebook accounts are required in order to utilise Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headsets.
The headsets can gather extremely private and sensitive information, including location, student movements and physical characteristics, as well as voice recordings. The privacy of that information and the restriction of access by potential advertisers are not promises made by Meta.
Project Cambria, a high-end virtual reality headset by Meta, has more sophisticated features. A virtual avatar will be able to keep eye contact with the user and imitate their facial emotions and eye movement thanks to the device’s sensors. Advertisers can use such data to gauge user attention and target them with customised ads.
If professors and students are aware that the university as well as a major technology corporation is watching all of their actions, words, and even facial expressions, they may not freely participate in class discussions.
A wide variety of user data, including physical movement, heart rate, pupil size, eye openness, and even emotional signals, can be gathered by the virtual environment and its technology.
In the metaverse, cyberattacks may even result in bodily injury. Metaverse interfaces deliver information directly to users’ senses, essentially fooling the user’s brain into thinking they are somewhere else. Attackers of virtual reality systems have the ability to control the actions of users while they are immersed, including pushing them into potentially hazardous situations like climbing a stairway.
Students may be exposed to unsuitable material through the metaverse. To introduce 3D, interactive, virtual settings into traditional and online learning contexts, for instance, Roblox developed Roblox Education. Roblox claims to have robust security measures in place to keep users secure, but no security system is impenetrable, and Roblox’s metaverse includes user-generated content and a chat feature that might be compromised by predators or those uploading pornography or other unlawful materials.
3. RURAL ACCESS TO ADVANCED INFRASTRUCTURE IS LIMITED
Applications that use a lot of metaverse bandwidth include 3D movies. To manage all of the information flowing between sensors and users across the virtual and real space, they need high-speed data networks.
The infrastructure necessary to support the streaming of high-quality metaverse content is lacking for many consumers, particularly in rural locations. In the United States, 97% of people who live in urban areas have access to a high-speed connection, compared to 65% of those in rural areas and 60% of people living in tribal lands.
4. CONSIDERING DIFFICULTIES IN A NEW ENVIRONMENT
A school’s approach to teaching and learning must be drastically altered in order to build and launch a metaversity. For instance, metaverse students actively participate in virtual reality games and other activities rather than just consuming content.
Advanced technologies, such as virtual reality and game-based learning, combined with artificial intelligence can produce individualised learning experiences that are not experienced in real time but rather through the metaverse. Learning in the metaverse may become less regimented and more governed by automatic systems that adjust the curriculum and learning pace in accordance with the student’s aptitude and interests.
Due to these variations, exams and other forms of assessment and monitoring must be significantly altered. Multiple choice tests and other conventional methods are not adequate for evaluating the customised and unstructured learning experiences provided by the metaverse.
5. AMPLIFICATION OF BIAS
History, science, and other subject textbooks frequently contain gender, racial, and ideological biases that affect how students perceive particular events and subjects. Sometimes, these biases get in the way of achieving justice and other objectives, like gender equality.
The impact of biases may be much more potent in rich media settings. The ability of films to influence pupils’ opinions exceeds that of textbooks. Content from the metaverse has the potential to be far more powerful.
Universities—and their students—will have to grapple with issues like user privacy protection, teacher preparation, and the degree of national investment in broadband networks in order to fully utilise the metaverse for teaching and learning.