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5 Challenges of Going to College in the Metaverse

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(THE CONVERSATION) More and more universities are becoming ‘metaversities’, bringing their physical campuses into an online virtual world, often referred to as the ‘metaverse’. An initiative has 10 US universities and colleges working with Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and virtual reality company VictoryXR to create 3D online replicas – sometimes called “digital twins” – of their campuses that are updated live as people and objects move through real-world spaces.

Some classes already take place in the metaverse. And VictoryXR says that by 2023 it plans to build and operate 100 digital twin campuses, which enable a group setting with live instructors and real-time class interactions.

A metaversity builder, New Mexico State University, says it wants to offer degrees in which students can take all of their courses in virtual reality, starting in 2027.

There are many benefits to taking college courses in the Metaverse, such as 3D visual learning, more realistic interactivity, and easier access for remote students. But there are also potential problems. My recent research has focused on the ethical, social, and practical aspects of the metaverse and risks such as privacy breaches and security breaches. I see five challenges:

1. Significant costs and time

The metaverse offers a low-cost learning alternative in some contexts. For example, building a cadaver lab costs several million dollars and requires a lot of space and maintenance. A virtual cadaver lab has made science learning affordable at Fisk University.

However, licensing virtual reality content, building digital twin campuses, virtual reality headsets, and other capital expenditures are driving up costs for universities.

A metaverse course license can cost universities at least $20,000 and can be as high as $100,000 for a digital twin campus. VictoryXR also charges an annual subscription fee of $200 per student to access its metaverse.

Additional costs are incurred for virtual reality headsets. While Meta provides a limited number of its VR headsets – the Meta Quest 2 – for free for metaversities launched by Meta and VictoryXR, these are only a few of what may be needed. The low-end 128GB version of the Meta Quest 2 headset costs $399.99. Managing and maintaining a large number of headsets, including keeping them fully charged, involves additional costs and operating time.

Colleges also need to spend a lot of time and resources training faculty to deliver courses on the Metaverse. It will take even longer to deliver metaverse courses, many of which will require brand new digital media.

Most educators lack the ability to create their own metaverse learning materials, which may involve merging videos, still images, and audio with text and interactivity elements into an immersive online experience. .

2. Privacy, Security and Data Safety Concerns

The business models of companies developing metaverse technologies rely on collecting detailed personal data from users. For example, people who want to use Meta’s Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headsets must have Facebook accounts.

Headsets can collect highly personal and sensitive data such as students’ location, physical characteristics and movements, and voice recordings. Meta has not promised to keep this data private or limit advertisers’ access to it.

Meta is also working on a high-end virtual reality headset called Project Cambria, with more advanced capabilities. The device’s sensors will allow a virtual avatar to maintain eye contact and make facial expressions that mirror the user’s eye and facial movements. This information can help advertisers measure user attention and target them with personalized ads.

Professors and students cannot participate freely in class discussions if they know that their every movement, speech, and even facial expressions are being monitored by the university as well as a big tech company.

The virtual environment and its equipment can also collect a wide range of user data, such as physical movements, heart rate, pupil size, eye opening and even emotion signals.

Cyberattacks in the metaverse could even cause physical harm. Metaverse interfaces provide input directly to users’ senses, so they effectively trick the user’s brain into thinking the user is in a different environment. People attacking virtual reality systems can influence the activities of submerged users, even tricking them into physically moving to dangerous places, such as at the top of stairs.

The metaverse can also expose students to inappropriate content. For example, Roblox launched Roblox Education to bring 3D, interactive, and virtual environments to physical and online classrooms. Roblox says it has strong protections to keep everyone safe, but no protection is perfect, and its metaverse involves user-generated content and a chat function, which could be infiltrated by predators or people posting pornography or other illegal content.

3. Lack of rural access to advanced infrastructure

Many metaverse applications such as 3D videos are bandwidth intensive. They require high-speed data networks to manage all the information flowing between sensors and users in virtual and physical space.

Many users, especially in rural areas, lack the infrastructure to support streaming high-quality metaverse content. For example, 97% of the population living in urban areas in the United States has access to a broadband connection, compared to 65% in rural areas and 60% in tribal lands.

4. Adapt challenges to a new environment

Building and launching a metaversity requires drastic changes in the school’s approach to teaching and learning. For example, metaverse students are not just recipients of content, but active participants in virtual reality games and other activities.

Combining advanced technologies such as immersive game-based learning and virtual reality with artificial intelligence can create personalized learning experiences that are not real-time but still lived through the metaverse. Automatic systems that match learning content and pace to the student’s ability and interest can make learning in the metaverse less structured, with fewer defined rules.

These differences require significant changes in assessment and tracking processes, such as quizzes and tests. Traditional measures such as multiple-choice questions are inappropriate for evaluating the individualized and unstructured learning experiences offered by the metaverse.

5. Bias amplification

Gender, racial, and ideological biases are common in history, science, and other subject textbooks, influencing how students understand certain events and topics. In some cases, these biases prevent the achievement of justice and other goals, such as gender equality.

The effects of bias can be even more powerful in rich media environments. Films are more effective in shaping students’ views than textbooks. Metaverse content has the potential to be even more influential.

To maximize the benefits of the metaverse for teaching and learning, universities – and their students – will have to fight to protect user privacy, train teachers and the level of national investment in broadband networks. .

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: