July 28, 2022

An Introduction to the Metaverse for Educators

Kai XR

Hey, I’m Kai Frazier, founder of Kai XR. Earlier this year, I teamed up with fellow educators, scientists, and entrepreneurs at Meridian Treehouse to create an introductory guide to the metaverse that is specifically aimed at learning environments. Now I’m bringing the info to Kai XR’s site. Whether you’re a confused parent trying to keep up with your tweens, or a passionate educator who wants the best for your classroom, we’ve got you covered with a Kai XR-approved introduction to the metaverse!

On the right side of graphic, two young students sit on a school stairwell and look at a laptop. Left of the image reads "The educators' guide to the metaverse" in yellow and white letters, against a light blue gradient background. Images of Kai XR's Makerspaces are also collaged on the graphic.

First question: what is the metaverse and what does it have to do with education? 

The quick answer: the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet (3D this time!). Just like its predecessor, it will be an invaluable teaching tool.

However, there’s more to the metaverse than that. The answer is layered, but we promise that it’s easy to understand. You managed to keep up with Gen Alpha online these past two years—we have every confidence you’ll keep up with us here. 

Let’s start with a rapid-fire history lesson.

History of the Metaverse

Although we have yet to achieve a fully realized metaverse, the concept has been around for decades. It started in a book.

In 1992, Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in his novel, Snow Crash. In the book, Stephenson describes a world where humans can use devices to access a three dimensional, virtual world. The fictional metaverse allowed users to interact online across physical distance to do everything from learning to playing games. 

In other words, Stephenson’s metaverse is a direct precursor to what’s becoming possible today.

The etymology of “metaverse” can also shed some light on what it is. When we break the word apart we get:

  • Meta: the Greek word for “beyond” 
  • [uni]verse:  from Latin universum; conveys completeness; everything

In plain language, the metaverse takes us totally beyond everything we’ve ever experienced before, all through the power of technology.

It’s exciting stuff, and all possible because of the massive technological breakthroughs we’ve seen since the nineties—from the world wide web to motion tracking video games. The cumulative products of these breakthroughs are the key to unlocking the metaverse. That’s why no metaverse introduction is complete without a guide to new extended reality technologies. 

In the next section we’ll answer questions including:

  • What is virtual reality?
  • What is extended reality?
  • What is augmented reality?
  • What is an HMD?
  • What does this have to do with the metaverse?

Introduction to the Metaverse and Extended Reality

The devices we have at our fingertips today (smartphones, tablets, laptops) provide access to a 2D world. Even when we’re watching the most hyper realistic animation or convincing video game, we’re still spectators to the action, one step removed. The boundary between physical and virtual worlds is as solid as your iPhone screen. 

This means that entry to a truly immersive digital world requires new devices. Most popularly, virtual reality headsets (broadly referred to as head-mounted displays—HMDs). 

Head-mounted displays are what they sound like: screens you wear on your head like a pair of incredibly bulky goggles. Never seen a VR headset before? Check out the image below. 

Light blue gradient. Text reads "metaverse: noun. A virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users." On left a child with curly hair is wearing a virtual-reality headset.

Metaverse Intro: Virtual Reality

When someone puts on an HMD and begins a virtual reality experience:

  • Images of their physical surroundings are replaced by a computer generated image
  • Audio input from their physical surroundings are replaced by virtual stimuli
  • Movements they make in the physical world cause effects in the virtual environment

For example, a student wearing an HMD in Japan and a student wearing an HMD in Canada can both join an underwater VR game for kids. Although they are thousands of miles apart, the two students can explore and interact with the virtual world side by side—swimming, talking, collecting treasure, catching fish, and more.

What we just described is known as fully immersive virtual reality. It falls under the broad umbrella of extended reality, which encompasses experiences where virtual environments are blended with or superimposed on physical surroundings. The three main types of extended reality are:

  • Virtual reality
  • Mixed reality
  • Augmented reality

More on mixed reality and augmented reality below.

Metaverse Intro: Mixed Reality

Mixed reality (MR) requires an HMD, but not a fully immersive one. Anyone can access MR using a see-through HMD that allows them to see their physical surroundings during gameplay. 

Whereas virtual reality can provide an experience irrespective of physical space, mixed reality can provide a unique experience for each user based on their physical surroundings. For example, a student in Japan and a student in Canada can both access the same underwater MR experience at each of their homes. Before getting started, each student will need to scan the room they are playing in. 

While the Canadian student scans their kitchen, the Japanese student scans her living room. In each room, a coral reef is embedded in a different section of the room and a fish begins to swim—around the kitchen table in Montreal, under and over the coffee table in Tokyo. In this way, both students are seeing personalized versions of the same experience.

MR can be a great way to gently introduce XR tech in the classroom, since students still have full sight lines of their physical surroundings.

Metaverse Intro: Augmented Reality

When we’re talking about XR, augmented reality (AR) is the least intense of the bunch. In fact, you’ve likely been using augmented reality for a while, since the early days of Snapchat and Pokémon Go. 

Unlike MR and VR, AR doesn’t require a head-mounted display (although it can be accessed through an HMD). Instead, all you need is a mobile device. 

So how does AR work? How can you differentiate it from other types of XR? The main characteristic of augmented reality is that virtual images and physical objects have little to no interaction. 

Picture a space-themed snapchat lens. While this filter may place a mini rocket in your classroom and superimpose a spacesuit over your face, the digital renderings will have very little interaction with physical space, beyond a visor opening when you blink. When you turn your head, the spacesuit will likely disappear. No matter what furniture decorates the classroom, the rocket will follow its predetermined path. 

An Introduction to the Metaverse

Now that we’ve covered the XR basics, let’s jump back to our primary question: what is the metaverse?

We like the metaverse definition included in the Meridian Treehouse report, which explains that the metaverse will be “a decentralized network of computer-generated worlds where users feel a genuine sense of being in these spaces for work, leisure, and learning.”

Imagine beaming the “real” world up to a digital plane. Then cut out physical travel times. That’s what the metaverse could be; a type of internet-turned-society that users can virtually inhabit. 

Is this really on the way? Yes!

While the metaverse is still emerging tech, it’s been gaining traction in many industries for the past few years. 3D and XR tech wasn’t always sleek and user-friendly, but it has already helped to usher in advancements in: 

  • Medicine
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering

Recent trends show that XR is also poised to make big advancements in day-to-day life. Society, tech, industry, and law are domains currently paving the way for a fully realized metaverse:

Society: the rising ubiquity of virtual tech means that humans are beginning to spend more time in virtual lives than ever before. People’s willingness to spend time on platforms from Snapchat to Fortnite indicates that they will also be willing to spend time in the metaverse.

Technology: manufacturing cutting edge technology can be super expensive. Now that HMDs are more mainstream, the costs to manufacture this and other XR-related hardware have been trending down. These lowered costs, plus a rise in 5G internet, means that a future 5g metaverse is becoming more and more possible.  

Industry: companies and individuals are quickly finding ways to make money in the metaverse. For example, both the Roblox corporation and their users are able to earn through the sale of virtual goods. These earning opportunities will motivate more and more companies to get involved.

Law: we can also see governments around the world preparing for the metaverse by researching and drafting legislation surrounding cybersecurity and in-metaverse regulations.

In other words: expect rapid and continual change in the metaverse space.

An Introduction: metaverse, meet education

At Kai XR, we’re excited about the huge potential of the metaverse for education. We also understand that productive incorporation of this new digital frontier will require planning, intention, and trial and error. In this section we’ll outline what we love about XR for education and spend some time on the potential pitfalls of XR for education.

Let’s jump in!

The Metaverse: exciting educational possibility

The metaverse will quite literally open a whole new world of possibilities for students, teachers, and families. Lessons that were previously abstract can gain a concrete component; discussing the impact that adventure tourism has on local residents? Go ahead and take your class to Mount Everest to see the piles of trash for themselves.

There’s a lot we love about the metaverse, but here are three dimensions we’re especially thrilled about:

  • Immersion: motion sensing, spatial audio, and 3D content can make anyone feel like they’re really in a digital experience
  • Interactivity: real-time digital response to physical movement can encourage play
  • Invisibility: 3D renderings can allow humans to see objects outside our normal range of vision 

Immersion, interactivity, and invisibility combined can help learners to feel present with themselves and each other. They can also help students feel a sense of agency over their choices in this virtual realm.

We think this is wonderful for encouraging and supporting healthy development. But that’s not all! Learning in the metaverse can also support learning in other ways. Check these out below.

Increasing Interest and Motivation to Learn

Research shows us that immersive technology gets students excited about learning. Beyond that, it also helps them build confidence in their abilities before applying them to real-world situations. In other words, the benefits of virtual reality and the metaverse here are twofold: getting students excited about learning and building up their self-confidence to apply what they’ve learned.

Personalization

XR can personalize a user’s experience on a level unparalleled by other digital options. For example, students could use an MR experience to embed virtual plants native to their location onto their classroom rug.

Visualization

In recent years, digital renderings have advanced so rapidly that movie effects from 2015 can feel as old as the whiteboard. While this may be bad news for your old favorites, it's great news for XR and students who prefer to learn visually.

Is your class struggling to conceptualize cellular biology concepts? Time to shrink your class down and take a trip through a human body to explore these tricky subjects in 3D! It’s all possible after an introduction to the metaverse.

Active Learning

Sometimes students could use a test-run before applying their learning to real-life scenarios. That’s why individuals who perform high-stakes procedures—surgeons, electricians, aerospace engineers—spend years perfecting their craft in simulated environments (real and virtual) before they do the real thing. 

The metaverse is an amazing place to provide similar opportunities to young students. While you’re unlikely to let your fourth graders open the hood of your car for a lesson on mechanical engineering, you can let them dissect virtual machinery in the metaverse.

Game-Based Learning 

Kids learn through play (old news, we know). More and more education companies are being formed around this concept (Freckle, Prodigy, etc.), giving educators a unique opportunity to customize learning for each student. 

If this is already possible in 2D, imagine the implications in the metaverse! Even the most reluctant learners will be able to find an educational VR game they enjoy in the metaverse, boosting their learning with an adaptive and fully-embodied lesson.

Virtual/Augmented Field Trips

Like games, field trips are a tried and true way to get students deeply involved in curricula. However, field trips require a ton of planning, resources, and time. Depending on where your school is located, viable field trip locations can be limited. 

Extended reality eliminates the bulk of these issues. Virtual field trips to the zoo? Done. With virtual reality, students can fly to faraway lands (France!), outer space (Mars!) and everywhere in between, all from the comfort and safety of your classroom. 

(We’re something of virtual field trip experts at Kai XR—more on what we offer later!).

Role-Play and Perspective-Taking 

Extended reality is a space that often facilitates virtual body ownership and agency. It can also help students understand what life may be like from another person’s perspective. 

In other words, the metaverse can become the bedrock of social emotional learning in elementary school, helping kids develop the 21st Century skills they need to become understanding global citizens.

Immersive Storytelling

Similar to widening perspectives, XR can also deepen understanding by immersing students in a lesson or story. 

For example, while students may know the word “refugee” and develop a rough understanding of what a refugee’s life may look like, a virtual visit to a refugee camp where they can hear from children their age will do much more for their understanding than a lecture ever could. 

Provide an Introduction to the Metaverse with Kai XR

Now that you’ve gotten a formal introduction to the metaverse for education, how can you get started bringing this exciting space to your classroom?

Kai XR can help!

We are an educator-founded and educator-approved platform delivering high quality, immersive virtual experiences to classrooms of all shapes and sizes. We mean it! Our library of 100+ experiences has something for everyone—cartoon-loving 3rd graders to aspiring astronauts in high school. We have field trips in categories including:

  • Arts & culture
  • Animation
  • Career exploration
  • Engineering & tech
  • Health & science
  • Narratives
  • Playground
  • Social studies
  • Sports & recreation
  • Travel & geography

In one afternoon, students can travel to India, tour a UC Berkeley lab, and hear Gina Rodriguez talk about her acting career. The possibilities are endless.

Got a class full of students who prefer hands-on learning? We’ve got you covered there too. Our brand new Kai Create platform is a virtual Makerspace where students can build structures around themselves (think Minecraft, but in fully immersive 3D!).

Ready to get started?

We offer pricing for programs and schools of all sizes. Whether you’re looking for an option for a homeschool co-op or city school system, you can learn more by booking a demo with us.

Get started soon to introduce your students to the amazing opportunities of the metaverse!

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