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Reconceiving Education with the Metaverseby@intelligence
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Reconceiving Education with the Metaverse

by Michael ScofieldNovember 25th, 2022
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The metaverse is emerging; it will soon be as ubiquitous as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook (now Meta) As technology advances to create new immersive and imaginary worlds, how we educate children and prepare teachers must evolve to meet these new challenges. We need new ways to connect the physical world with augmented and virtual reality experiences in order to fully realize the metaverse's potential as a 3D, global, interconnected, immersive, and real-time online space. To guide the design of new educational technology, I recommend a set of well-worn principles derived from the science of how and what children learn.

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The metaverse is emerging; it will soon be as ubiquitous as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook (now Meta). As technology advances to create new immersive and imaginary worlds, how we educate children and prepare teachers must also evolve to meet these new challenges. When education lags behind technological advances, technology, rather than educators, defines what constitutes the right access to the right education. This is largely what happened with the introduction of "educational" apps designed for use on adult-oriented smartphones and tablets.


Today, while the metaverse infrastructure is still being built, researchers, educators, policymakers, and digital designers have an opportunity to lead rather than follow. We need new ways to connect the physical world with augmented and virtual reality (VR) experiences in order to fully realize the metaverse's potential as a 3D, global, interconnected, immersive and real-time online space.


In this article, I outline an approach for incorporating best educational practices into the metaverse. To guide the design of new educational technology, I recommend a set of well-worn principles derived from the science of how and what children learn. I also discuss how design in this new space can go wrong. Finally, I challenge those developing educational products for the metaverse to join forces with educators and scientists to ensure that children have real human social interaction while navigating virtual spaces, that children's agency is supported as they explore these spaces, and that there is a genuine focus on diversity in the representation and access to what is created.

Enjoy The Idea

Imagine a rectangular-shaped classroom with whiteboards around it and movable chairs. Motivated students are captivated by tales of Greek myths, the power of Zeus, the god of the sky, and stories of the legendary Hercules and his son Therimachus.


Suddenly, a timeline is projected in the center of the floor. Children take their chairs and stand in the present, ready to travel back in time and descend into the year 300 BC, where they will encounter a new reality. They enter the Greek cultural metaverse. Carts buzz by, traders in marketplaces surround them, and high atop the hill, they see the temples of the gods and the people who worship them with their own eyes. They explore, they inquire, they ask questions, they ponder, and they learn!

Gif Source: Spatial.com


The experience was intended to pique the students' interest, but questions remain: "How could we possibly know about the richness of Greek life?" How do we know what was sold in the marketplace and which gods were important if we didn't live there? ”


The walls around them turn to images of brown dust, with ruined old temples and column fragments strewn about. Each child is now given the opportunity to become an archaeologist, to use her avatar to find answers to the question of how we construct the past while remaining firmly rooted in the present. The avatars are given a shovel and a brush, as well as a plot to till. "The society that you witnessed, like all societies in the past, became buried in the dirt," the teacher continues. Each layer of dirt is like a storybook that you can uncover and assemble. The children move their avatars and start looking at the dirt in a new way—carefully and inquisitively. Each discovers shards of pottery and even partial faces of statues that once stood tall.


After 20 minutes of digging in the soil, they present their findings to the rest of the class. Opportunities for collaborative learning and co-creation are built into the virtual and physical learning environments they've created together. They discover an urn and a statue after piecing their shards together as if solving a historical puzzle. They discover that the myths are more than just stories; they were part of an ancient religion known as paganism, which was practiced by real people during a time now buried beneath the earth's surface. While still kids, archeologists like them contributed to the rediscovery of that society.


This deep, transferable learning that will last a lifetime can only be brought to us by the metaverse, which is delivered in a hybrid, guided play environment that could represent the school of the future. But keep in mind that the interaction is inherently social, with live people and live, emotional interactions. Also, keep in mind that the teachers are still very important in this experience. Make no mistake: the metaverse is on its way. The truth is that the virtual universe enhances rather than detracts from education, and it can preserve the key socially interactive qualities that are fundamental to how humans learn.

Concept of the metaverse

The future metaverse will most likely fully support augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and connectivity to connect all worlds. Indeed, in its most democratic manifestation, anyone will be able to create a space and become a member of a user-generated global community on an interoperable multiplatform where they can share their games or products with the rest of the world. This should be possible thanks to the 5G internet speed.


VR platforms will become more popular as they become easier to use and more interconnected. Furthermore, as VR accessories such as VR goggles become less burdensome, their use will be expanded and even adopted in educational settings. As a result, it is critical to consider how researchers can inform designers now in order for future educational products and offerings in the metaverse to be of high quality and optimized.

Notes from Web 2.0 and the development of ‘educational apps’

The Nokia 6110 phone launched the first mobile app in 1997 (a game called Snake). After the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, the app market took off in complete seriousness, and even more so when iPads entered the market in 2011. In 2015, the Brookings Institution published a set of basic guidelines for developing "educational apps." They noticed that the market was already flooded with over 80,000 so-called educational apps, of which the vast majority had no research or implementation that was linked to the science of how children learn. They were designed to be adult-oriented platforms rather than educational opportunities for children. Even today, designers freely use the term "educational" for products that many scientists believe have only a tenuous connection to anything educational.


They proposed four principles for developing a good educational app. The principles were derived from scientific consensus on how children learn. They stated:


  1. Learning should be active, not passive, and children learn best in environments that are “minds-on.”
  2. The app should be engaging rather than distracting. Many apps on the market include persuasive ads that pop up to distract children from purchasing a different app.
  3. The app should tap into something meaningful for the child. Instead of starting from scratch, there should be some point of connection that allows children to relate the app's content to what they know.
  4. Finally, the app should encourage social interaction inside or outside of the app space, not just playing solo.


The principles of active, involved, constructive, socially interactive, iterative, and joyful learning come together in what we call "playful learning," an umbrella term based on science that broadly encompasses how children learn through both free play and guided play.


In 2021, a group of educational scientists reviewed the most popular educational apps on Google Play and Apple to see if the principles outlined above were becoming more prevalent in current educational apps for children. Unfortunately, they were not. Only seven of the most popular paid apps for young children scored in the top-quality category, with 50 percent scoring in the low-quality range. Even worse were the results for free apps.


It is important to consider how researchers can inform designers now so that future educational products and offerings in the metaverse are of high quality and improved.


While the metaverse is being built, it is critical that scientists, educators, and developers work together to create engaging, immersive, and collaborative opportunities for children and families. Understanding how to support learning goals by leveraging the power of active, engaging, meaningful, socially interactive, iterative, and joyful contexts will transform flashy and fun digital experiences into truly educational ones that centre on true social interaction. The remote learning experience only emphasized how important social-emotional interaction is for children and how it must be built into the metaverse from the start.

Redefining the Tenets of Learning

While society does require children to understand the fundamentals of reading and mathematics, a child must be prepared for the workplace of the future. The 6Cs, or outcomes, are based on scientific findings and supported by a large body of evidence. The following is a summary of the 6Cs as presented by Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek in their book "Becoming Brilliant":


  • Collaboration: Collaboration expresses the importance of social engagement in human nature as a foundation for learning, community building, and cultural understanding. Surprisingly, recent neuroscience research demonstrates how collaborative play produces distinct patterns of synchronized brain activity in infants and adults. These initial collaborations contribute to the development of young children's self-regulation skills. Throughout the elementary school years, children gain a better understanding of collaboration, which enhances academic achievement.

  • Communication: Communication—speaking, writing, reading, and listening—is essential in our daily lives. Language skills develop in early childhood through back-and-forth conversations between children and their parents play a huge role in learning. When children start kindergarten, their language skills are the biggest predictor of their later academic performance in language, reading, and math, as well as social skills. Communication builds on and is dependent on infants' first collaborative interactions with others in their environment. The ability to collaborate and communicate with others serves as the foundation for all subsequent skills.


  • Content: Traditional content includes reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and the arts; however, it is also important to recognize "learning to learn" or executive function skills that support children's academic achievement, such as attention and working memory. Content is built on a foundation of collaboration—particularly communication—across disciplines such as math, literacy, science, and social studies. While we frequently think of learning in "bins" (for example, children learn math content only in math class), a growing body of research indicates that executive functioning provides a broad foundation for reading and math skills. Only after children have developed collaboration and communication skills will they be able to master content and progress to higher levels of learning.


  • Critical thinking: Strong critical thinkers can evaluate the accuracy of information and, ideally, apply those skills both inside and outside of the classroom. However, students struggle with this task in particular when evaluating online sources, which is a necessary skill in the twenty-first century. The good news is that critical thinking and reasoning skills can be taught. Children's abilities to collaborate, communicate, and engage meaningfully with curricular content come before critical thinking. Only after they have mastered the content will they be able to think critically about what they have learned.


  • Creative innovation: Creative innovation—the synthesis of content and critical thinking—allows students to use what they know to create something new and develop innovative solutions to current and future challenges. According to the World Economic Forum, creativity is the third most important skill for employment. Collaboration, communication, adequate content knowledge, and the ability to engage critically with that content by seeing connections between content and real-world experiences are all required for creative thinking. Children's creativity allows them to create something new from those connections—to come up with unique solutions to problems.


  • Confidence: Children who are confident in their abilities show persistence and flexibility even when they fail. Confidence is closely linked to "grit," which is defined as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals," and a "growth mindset," which is the belief that one's abilities can be improved because they are not fixed in time at a specific level. The final skill in this set, confidence, both physical and intellectual, enables children to push the boundaries of their learning by using their skills in collaboration, communication, content mastery, and critical and creative thinking.


Taken together, fun learning provides a checklist for how children learn, and the 6Cs provide a systemic checklist of what children can and should learn. Once the formula is established, it is simple to shape the digital and live landscapes to conform to the best learning principles.


The metaverse can be designed to provide a setting and experiences that facilitate and encourage collaboration, communication, content mastery, creative thinking, creative innovation, and confidence. The twin checklists for playful learning characteristics and the 6Cs—the how and what of learning—are shown in Figure 1. If designers and educators use this checklist with a well-defined learning goal, they can determine whether the virtual space in the metaverse they are designing is likely to be truly educational or merely entertaining.


Gif Source: Google


Back to our Greek mythology lesson: it was engaging without being distracting, meaningful in its interconnections, and socially interactive. It also encouraged students to collaborate on the project and communicate with one another about history, archeology, and STEM. It encouraged critical thinking as students applied evidence from the dig to their interpretation of the artifacts they discovered. In this exercise, they demonstrated tenacity in piecing together the puzzle pieces—the jug. The learning objective was clearly defined as demonstrating the history of myths, careful critical reading, and STEM skills through spatial learning and puzzle construction.


Educational spaces in the metaverse can be aligned with the science of how children learn.

Now is the time to design educational spaces with children at the center.

The promise and the worry of learning in the Metaverse

The metaverse is simply an immersive setting that, if used correctly and with actual children in mind, has the potential to bring the best of digital technology to bear on education. Analyzing the options, it becomes evident that playing games or engaging in other activities in the metaverse has the potential to be active rather than passive. In this area, kids can engage in both "physical" and "thinking" exploration. The developer will determine whether or not the activity is enjoyable. Similar to apps, there are various things that draw kids' interest but interfere with their experience in ways that discourage involvement.


Children do not learn when we interrupt a narrative or give them too many choices. Thus, designers must be deliberate in creating a storyboard and ensuring that the flow of that board does not divert a child's attention to a new and unrelated task or place.'


In the metaverse, the issue of meaningfulness should be easily resolved. Indeed, if well connected to the child's real or imagined world, the realities that one can inhabit can create a mental web that supports deep transferable learning. Hopkins and Weisberg question whether children can transfer knowledge from fantasy in books to real-world contexts in one review. Data indicates that they can, albeit to a lesser extent than if they had learned in real-world contexts; this result also corresponds to findings about younger children's ability to transfer newly learned information from television. However, another study suggests that children may learn even more from fantasy because fantasy may enhance learning in unusual contexts. Hopkins and Weisberg's recent research confirms this hypothesis by testing five-year-olds' understanding of scientific principles.


The more difficult question to answer is what is meant by creating a social environment for children in the metaverse. The preceding example is only a glimmer of what this could be if the games created are not for solo consumption but are led by teachers to engage students. Social relationship building is the foundation for all learning, according to research in the science of how and what children learn. An infant interacting with a parent responds in a timely, contingent, semantically appropriate, and emotionally aligned manner. According to the findings, stronger synchrony between caregiver and child promotes brain growth and connectivity, as well as early learning.


Research shows that at four years old, children learn more from reading with a parent than from reading alone, and indicators of physiological arousal and self-reported emotion from the parent suggest a special bonding that emerges between child and parent—human to human. Finally, synchrony is important even for older children. According to a study conducted by Richard Lamb and colleagues, when elementary school teachers and students are verbally and socially engaged, they not only understand more of the material but their brain activity is synchronized as well.


Augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3D worlds also hold the promise of transporting children to previously unexplored or visited environments. Students can practice critical thinking by solving real-world problems, participating in a makers' fair, and displaying their wares not only at their school but also to the larger community. They can travel through time to provide evidence for age-old questions about Greek culture, or they can enter scientific laboratories and connect their experiences to real-life learning.


Even as young children, students can become creators by painting and composing with the help of top teachers and artists. They can even piece together history and create their own story based on Greek myths. If done correctly, the metaverse offers a hybrid world of enormous potential from their own classroom, guided by teachers. Teachers and parents will play an important role as guides to faraway places and immersive learning.


Teachers can assist students in pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones and tackling academic and social challenges based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, teachers and guardians can connect what children are learning to what they already know.

The metaverse is not a replacement for teachers; rather, it is a tool that allows teachers to spark new forms of learning and social interaction.

Conclusion

The rush to market and the attraction of new tools, on the other hand, can be detrimental. It is critical to get the social interaction component right from the beginning. Avatar interaction, even if it appears real and wears the latest fashions, will never be a substitute for real human interaction for children and possibly adults. It will be critical to find ways to integrate the virtual and physical worlds while preserving real teacher-child, parent-child, and student-parent social relationships.


Avoiding distractions will also be essential. Interruptions and distractions abound in virtual reality games. Game designers love to add bells and whistles—more design is frequently misinterpreted as providing a better educational experience, but this is not always the case. Anna Fisher of Carnegie Mellon University discovered that school wall decorations can be more distracting than informative. When activities and behavioral interruptions disrupt the flow of book reading, story comprehension suffers.


Finally, any games that are created must be culturally diverse and culturally inclusive. Indeed, the metaverse has the potential to expose families to perspectives and cultures that differ from their own in ways that foster understanding. We must also consider access, accuracy, and social dynamics. Many diverse and marginalized communities, particularly in urban and rural areas, may lack consistent and reliable broadband access, preventing them from fully participating in this new metaverse. Because we've seen how misinformation and inaccurate content can spread through digital technologies, we must ensure that the systems and games are backed up by accurate, relevant, and authentic educational and/or historical content.


As the metaverse is designed and implemented, an intentional effort must be made to include people from marginalized communities in significant leadership and decision-making roles in order to ensure that all users feel safe and valued while participating in these environments.

Back to our Classroom

So we return to the classroom, which is surrounded by white walls capable of transporting children as if they were living in the Magic School Bus. Ms. Liz, on the other hand, will not be 2D or an avatar in this world. She will be a genuine human teacher, a guide on the side, assisting children in seeing beyond their own world into the future, the past, and even more deeply into the present.


Children in this world will have "first-hand” experiences in foreign lands, master a broader set of skills such as the 6Cs, and be better prepared to apply what they learn in the real world of people and places. The metaverse is making its way into education. The question is whether we, as designers, policymakers, educators, and parents, can create intentional and appropriate educational opportunities within this new and exciting context.

Gif Source: Pinterest

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