If you thought you stepped into a sci-fi novel the first time you heard about the metaverse, you're not the only one. In 2021, Google Trends showed a sharp increase in searches about the metaverse after many tech giants identified it as the next generation of the internet. As a result, many are left wondering what the metaverse means for their industry and role in the world.
The metaverse presents an exciting opportunity to take educational VR and AR learning to the next level. Since 2018, we at Kai XR have been leveraging these technologies to inspire the next generation of innovators through immersive, experiential learning. As a group of educators, dreamers, and technologists, we believe the metaverse can bridge the gap between technology and access while empowering students to build the future they want to see.
So what does the metaverse mean? Britannica defines the metaverse as "a network of always-on virtual environments in which many people can interact with each other and digital objects while operating virtual representations of themselves."
This idea is probably exciting or intimidating for most educators and student advocates. But the more we understand what the metaverse means for the future of our classrooms, the more we can use it for powerful positive outcomes.
In article, we’ll provide a deeper understanding of what the metaverse means for the world at large and for the classroom. We'll discuss:
- the origins and growth of the metaverse;
- the differences between the metaverse and other virtual reality platforms; and
- how the metaverse can be applied in the classroom
So let's turn to the next page of our sci-fi novel.
Origins of the Metaverse
The metaverse feels like a science fiction story because it once was. In 1992, author Neal Stephenson coined the term "metaverse" in his dystopian cyberpunk novel, Snow Crash.
The novel describes a 3D virtual world shared by the book's characters. Essentially, the metaverse is a universe of shared virtual spaces linked together, allowing individuals to easily move from space to space. This concept is used in many online video games like World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Fortnite.
So how did a fictional concept in a 90s book become an ever-present reality in 2022? We can thank Silicon Valley for that.
XR & the Metaverse's Growing Popularity
It started with online video games and grew with the development of virtual and augmented reality platforms. In 2012, the Oculus Rift revolutionized virtual reality by providing the first consumer-accessible VR headset. In 2014, Facebook acquired Oculus for $2.3 billion and began partnering with technology companies like Samsung, Qualcomm, and Xiaomi to expand awareness and interest even further. As a result, virtual reality entered millions of homes. In addition, thousands of companies were launched to provide content for this new technology. The 2020 SuperData report on Digital Games and Interactive Media spotlighted XR's growth as standalone headsets became the device of choice for users. 3.4 million VR headsets shipped to homes in 2020, while VR games raked in $589 million in revenue.
In 2017, Snow Crash author Neal Stephenson discussed the tech industry's progress towards his imagined future with Vanity Fair. He identified VR as the critical gateway to the metaverse:
"VR has the ability to take you to a completely different fictional place – the kind of thing that's described in the Metaverse in Snow Crash. When you go into the metaverse, you're on the street, you're in the Black Sun, and your surroundings disappear."
In 2018, our founder, Kai Frazer, saw XR as an opportunity to combat a growing digital divide for school systems facing barriers to proper funding. So she produced 360° virtual field trips for her own classroom. This was the birth of Kai XR.
Since our founding, we've seen XR technology grow with better quality 360° cameras, XR developers, and more competition and variety in VR devices. Tech giants, including Meta, Nvidia, and Microsoft, are investing billions of dollars into developing a metaverse that can be used for gaming, business, leisure, education – you name it, they'll build it.
The Metaverse and Virtual Reality
When comparing the metaverse to the original realm of virtual and augmented reality for kids, you’ll see that they are similar in concept but not quite the same. In fact, they are complementary.
Despite being somewhat of a long-term vision, the metaverse is already accessible to us through virtual reality. VR and AR serve as gateways to accessing and engaging in the metaverse. They’re the tools and technology used, while the metaverse is the space in which the virtual world exists.
Through all of these technologies, users can expect their experiences in XR and the metaverse to be at varying degrees of immersive and interactive in a digitally generated space. Let’s explore the different ways different levels of XR help you experience the metaverse:
- Augmented reality uses a mobile device or see-through head-mounted display to superimpose the metaverse onto the physical world. Interactions are often more limited in this version of reality.
- Mixed reality also uses a see-through head-mounted display to merge virtual content with the user’s physical environment. There are more opportunities for interaction in this version.
- Virtual reality uses a head-mounted display to enter and interact with a computer-generated virtual environment. This is a fully immersive experience where stimuli from the physical world is blocked out by the virtual world. There’s also more opportunity for interaction here.
As you can see, all of these technologies will allow you to access the metaverse, it just depends on the level of immersive and interactive experiences you want to get when choosing one.
What the Metaverse Means for Classrooms
It’s exciting to imagine a world where educators and students can interact and use a host of learning tools in a shared, virtual space. Such a world already exists in the metaverse and is just waiting to be unlocked! Students from opposite sides of the country can become classmates in this online space, interacting with one another in real-time using virtual representations of themselves.
The metaverse is the new frontier for education. Its promise is to connect learners anywhere globally, facilitating authentic communication and collaboration from different locations. In addition, it can offer educators a way to engage students in learning by inviting them into creative, immersive environments where they can explore people, places, and concepts beyond a traditional classroom or library.
As the metaverse grows, it will present a variety of opportunities for educators to utilize new techniques in instruction, including:
- Virtual lectures
- Hands-on, low-risk training
- Conceptual prototyping
- Virtual field trips
How would this play out on the Kai XR platform? In addition to our student-centric educational VR experiences, Kai XR is also developing a program that will emphasize 21st century skills, giving students the opportunity to hone their tech skills and create their very own VR experiences in our Makerspace – coming soon!
The possibilities are endless! However, with great power comes great responsibility. Tech companies and education tech developers have to ensure these tools are utilized effectively and safely.
Guiding Principles for Educational Tech
According to Pew Research Center, almost one-in-five high school students have trouble completing classwork and homework due to lack of access to technology. Whether it's trouble accessing high-speed internet for online modules or no access to a computer outside the classroom, so many teens in low-income communities are struggling to get their schoolwork done.
Bringing technology into the classroom to provide students with the opportunity to engage in high-tech learning without an out-of-pocket cost will be critical for closing the digital gap. XR and the metaverse can be part of that solution.
Educators are beginning to recognize the educational potential of these platforms. For example, some schools have started using Minecraft as a teaching tool by creating virtual classrooms within it. Teachers can create digital worlds for their students to explore and use various programs to track student progress as they play.
On our platform, educators are provided with viewing guides – so while your students are experiencing the Civil War from the point of view of a young soldier for the first time, you can track their understanding with a handy outline of learning goals and lesson questions.
As technology becomes more accessible for classrooms, creators of education technology need to make sure they are working to close the gap rather than widening the gap.
One research article published in journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest outlines a set of principles to guide education app development and set a standard of evaluating their effectiveness:
- Learning should be active, not passive
- The app should be engaging, not distracting
- The app should provide something meaningful for the student
- Learning should encourage social interaction
In addition, they state that learning should also be iterative and joyful. EdTech developers can achieve these principles by creating personalized, flexible experiences, encouraging collaboration, and prioritizing accessibility for students with all levels of ability.
XR and the metaverse can live up to these guiding principles because they are active, engaging, meaningful, and collaborative at their core. However, it's also important to note that the emphasis on safety for users is equally critical. EdTech creators must strive to provide a secure environment for students to learn. Secure, independent platforms, like Kai XR, can protect students from the dangers of strangers on the internet, age-inappropriate content, and misinformation by creating a safe environment separate from the wider web.
Taking VR Learning to the Next Level
Imagine you're an educator who wants to teach a lesson on the Civil Rights Movement and integration during the Jim Crow era. Some teachers may use a novel or a textbook to share stories about figures like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ruby Bridges.
Imagine if, instead, you could use the metaverse to allow your students to follow in Ruby’s footsteps as she walks up the steps of William Frantz Elementary School while people protest outside. By enabling students to experience a historic event first-hand virtually, they’ll be more engaged in the lesson. They may have better recall and be able to feel empathy for Ruby’s bravery.
VR and AR learning experiences can surpass the passive, lecture-and-test methods that have lost effectiveness over time. For example, PwC research found that learners trained with VR were up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned – which was a 40% improvement over standard in-person classroom learning.
The metaverse can help educators take things further with highly interactive and realistic educational content. While they may remain physically in the classroom, you're allowing students to travel across space and time to interact with concepts and one another in more meaningful ways.
What Kai XR is Doing About the Metaverse
At Kai XR, we are ushering our users into the future of education by connecting students and kids to virtual field trips and the metaverse with safety in mind. To do this, we've built our platform based on a few fundamental principles:
- Content versatility for different age groups
- Ad-free experiences
- Easily accessible content in a gated platform
Content versatility is critical for us to deliver the same lessons and virtual field trip experiences for students of all ages. For students under 13, users can access all of our virtual experiences from a tablet, smartphone, or computer through Exploration Mode. Additionally, we can provide a 360º metaverse experience through a VR headset for those of age.
The Kai XR platform is also ad-free. So instead of exposing your kids to YouTube ads in the middle of their virtual lessons, parents and teachers can rest assured that they are only being served educator-approved content and won't be interrupted by targeted advertisements.
Finally, Kai XR is a separate environment from the rest of the internet. Exploration mode only allows students to access the pre-loaded set of virtual field trips and does not provide access to the rest of the internet. As a result, parents and teachers don't have to worry about students stumbling upon inappropriate content or dangerous interactive spaces.
We offer over 100+ virtual field trips to platform subscribers. Lessons delight students with immersive experiences instead of lectures that seem to drag on. For example, they can explore the Mesozoic Era when dinosaurs walked the earth or explore a career in the visual arts with a professional illustrator from Seoul, South Korea.
Bring the Metaverse to Your Classroom
Virtual learning experiences are the perfect way to help students develop critical 21st-century learning skills to be successful adults. Our platform provides access to a library of deeply engaging lessons in the categories of:
- art and culture
- career exploration
- engineering and technology
- health and science
- social studies
- sports and recreation
- travel and geography
Our platform provides students with inclusive, high-quality content in a virtual space that encourages engagement and collaboration. And we're adding new features all the time! So become an early adopter and take your classroom to the next level. If you're ready to take the plunge into the metaverse or just want more information, explore our website to learn more about our platform and contact us with your questions!