Shoshana Klein

shoshana.klein@ontariotechu.net
Ontario Tech University

Abstract

The Metaverse is a virtual world where people can come together to build, learn, and create. It is important to try to understand what the Metaverse is as more young students are spending time in the Metaverse. Large companies are investing billions into building the metaverse and the technology will continue to improve. Using the Metaverse for education allows for collaboration and experience-based learning, which would be unrealistic without the Metaverse. Teachers can develop, create, or use pre-set lesson plans already created by other educators within their curriculum to enhance the learning experience of their students.

Keywords

Constructivism, Learner-Centered, Metaverse, Virtual Reality, Minecraft, Roblox, Situated Learning

Introduction

Defining the Metaverse

“So Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the Metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the Metaverse” (Stephenson, 1992).

The first mention of the metaverse was in the 1992 novel Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. In the novel, the Metaverse is defined as a computer-generated universe that a person is plugged into through goggles and earphones. Since then, many have defined the metaverse in different ways. The word “Meta” means virtual and transcendent, and “Verse” refers to a world or universe (Kim & Park, 2022). The Metaverse has been the focus of many recent innovations as large companies like Meta (Facebook) are investing billions into the metaverse and believe it will be the social networking platform of choice in 5-10 years (Balu & Culliford, 2021).

The metaverse has been seen in older programs like Second Life (Linden Research, 2022) and more recently in Minecraft (Microsoft, n.d.) and Roblox (Roblox, 2022), where players can go online to play and work together to achieve goals. These programs have been extremely popular, with Roblox drawing around 199 million monthly users, 54% of them under age 13 (Suh & Ahn, 2022). The younger generation has adopted these platforms but for many educators, the metaverse is an enigma, even though it seems like this technology is going to be very prevalent in our lives soon. Educators are slowly starting to use the metaverse to teach, and during the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for the metaverse was made more prevalent. In response to this growing need, Roblox and Minecraft are making a significant investment in building the educational components of their platforms (Roblox, 2006; Microsoft, 2009).

There are disagreements about how to define the metaverse, as some believe that the experience must be truly immersive to be a metaverse. The definition of the metaverse changes depending on who you ask and can feel overwhelming at times (Hwang & Chien, 2022). For the purposes of this chapter, the Metaverse is defined as an immersive digital environment where people can engage in social activities and games with avatars that are partially or fully virtual (Hwang & Chien, 2022). In this chapter, we will describe the metaverse and the ways in which learning theories can help guide metaverse-based curriculums and pedagogical approaches.

Background Information

A Pedagogical Approach to the Metaverse

Situated Learning Theory

Situated Learning theory can be applied to learning and teaching in the metaverse. Within this theory, it requires that learning is done within the context of real-life situations or close to them. A study done by Suh and Ahn (2022) found that 97% of children in elementary school had experienced some sort of metaverse and 95.5% of them believed that it was closely related to their real life. This means when trying to teach in situations that are close to real life, children are now growing up with the metaverse as an extension of their reality. Therefore, if a student learns something in the metaverse then situated learning has occurred.

Learner-Centered Constructivism

In the traditional classroom, a student sits and tries to absorb the information taught to them. In Learning-Centered Constructivism, the learner takes an active role in acquiring knowledge such as problem-solving (Suh & Ahn, 2022). In this approach, one is trying to construct and create knowledge by doing. The teacher is a facilitator providing tools but never lecturing. The students must take time to assess and look at the work they have created (Suh & Ahn, 2022). The metaverse allows for more contextual problem-solving and inquiry-based learning. Especially in open worlds like Minecraft, players can collaborate creatively to solve rich and diverse problems. For example, in a virtual world, the level of difficulty can increase depending on user interaction, so a teacher can develop a program that scaffolds learning and gradually increase difficulty after a student completes a task (Mistretta, 2022). A student is able to construct knowledge at their own pace.

Benefits of Immersive and Virtual Technology in Education

There has been quite a lot of research about using Augmented Reality(AR)/Virtual Reality(VR)-based education to support cognitive development (Lee & Hwang 2022). Studies examining the benefits of using digital and immersive textbooks vs print textbooks can help link to the benefits of the metaverse in the classroom (Lee & Hwang 2022). A study by Lee & Hwang (2022) found that students preferred digital and immersive textbooks over print textbooks because they were more engaging and motivating. When examining the retention of materials in a VR environment it has been shown that students both retain and can apply information after learning in a virtual environment better than in a classroom. In a study by Krokos et al,. (2018) examined whether people would recall more from a desktop environment or an immersive environment and found an 8.8% increase in recalling events when in an immersive environment. The benefits of implementing the metaverse into learning are not just that it is more motivating and engaging, but also that students learn more when they are close to the real experience.

Applications

Roblox and Minecraft for Education

While not fully immersive yet, Roblox (2022) and Minecraft (Microsoft, n.d.) offer virtual worlds that can be used for education. Roblox is a free platform used mainly by children aged 5 to 12 (Mistretta, 2022). Players spawn in different locations using avatars. The locations are created by users and the creators of a location set the rules. Roblox can be treated as a game, but also as a space to meet virtual friends. Minecraft is another virtual world in which one has unlimited resources and abilities to build their own houses, city, or worlds. Minecraft can be played as an individual, but like Roblox has a multiplayer mode, where one can build with others virtually.

Educators can develop lesson plans that use Roblox and Minecraft in meaningful ways to achieve deep learning. An approach teachers can take is they can set the location for their students to spawn into at the beginning of a lesson. so for example, if a teacher created a space station during a space lesson, that teacher can send their students to a certain planet. The teacher can create games that can test a student’s knowledge while on the space station and treat those games like quizzes. Minecraft can aid in lessons about almost anything to do with, geometry, engineering, and mathematics, and since it is a wide-open space, it gives students the opportunity to collaborate, and use creativity to solve problems. Both Roblox and Minecraft already have many pre-set lesson plans for teachers, so educators don’t have to spend lots of time building out these locations or worlds (Mistretta, 2022).

Learning in Context

The pandemic changed the way we think about online learning when it comes to hands-on, virtual learning experiences. There are several different ways that the metaverse can improve education in light of this. Any potential learning that needs to be applied to a specific context such as medical, military, manufacturing, and language learning, should be considered in the metaverse given its ability to be close to the experience rather than sitting in a lecture (Hwang & Chien, 2022). The metaverse also allows for students to explore interests that may be too expensive or too dangerous to do in the real world. Designing lesson plans that take a student into a real-life experience allows for better learning and should be a preferred method when applicable.

Enhancing Distance Learning

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it became evident that online learning through mediums like Zoom (Zoom Video Communications, 2022) or Google Meet (n.d.) was not going to facilitate enriching experiences for many students. Online learning became classes without meaningful participation (Park & Kim, 2022). Zoom fatigue become a real issue as students got tired of being on video conferences all day (Mistretta, 2022). Students want to come to a virtual classroom to solve problems and create together. The metaverse fosters a sense of community which isn’t something that can be replicated on Zoom. Students cannot pretend they are participating when they are not in the metaverse, as they need to move their avatars to engage with the lesson plan. Multiplayer modes serve an important purpose as students can collaborate with each other and with their teachers (Baek et al., 2020). Adaptability as well as motivation, engagement, and interest-based learning are all prevalent when using programs within the metaverse (Baek et al., 2020). These benefits cannot be replicated through video conferencing.

Limitations

While the belief is the metaverse will be the future of social networks and education, there are some limitations to consider. Open worlds like Minecraft and Roblox come with a lot of risks. Avatars could be anyone and teachers need to take care when using the metaverse that they are using private locations and controlling who enters the world (Baek, 2020). The digital divide is another concern as those without laptops or tablets will be left out of using the metaverse. As we saw during Covid-19, it was difficult for someone of lower socioeconomic status to access online education (Sun et., 2022). Lastly, there are privacy concerns as digital platforms tend to track our personal data, and schools would be responsible for ensuring an adequate level of privacy for their students.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

The metaverse is a word that is thrown around a lot these days, but for our younger generation, it is a prevalent part of their childhood. It is important that educators learn programs like Minecraft and Roblox to enhance their ability to create virtual learning experiences that engage their learners. Situated Learning Theory and Learning-Centered Constructivism guide us in understanding that learning should be collaborative and in the context of the experience. The metaverse has the potential to enhance curriculum and allow for formative assessment, real-life experience, and connection between textbooks and learning. Teachers should explore the metaverse themselves to see how enriching these technological advances can be and allow their students to be co-creators in their own learning.

References

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Balu, N., & Culliford, E. (2021, October). Facebook invests billions in metaverse efforts as ad business slows. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/technology/facebook-revenue-misses-estimates-apples-privacy-rules-bite-2021-10-25/

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Krokos, E., Plaisant, C., & Varshney, A. (2018). Virtual memory palaces: Immersion AIDS recall. Virtual Reality, 23(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10055-018-0346-3

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License

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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2022 by Shoshana Klein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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