This #Take5 is brought to you from Professor Debbie Holley – Bournemouth University. We have all experienced the pandemic pivot – and now we are engaging with myriad interpretations of a post-digital world. This blog seeks to answer some of our niggling – and some of our deeper questions: what will our teaching and learning look like in the future? Will all the lecturers be in the university teaching students who are all at home? Just how ‘meta’ will our worlds be?
With respect to the digital worlds we might inhabit: “The Metaverse is owned by Mark Zuckerman, the founder of Facebook. Meta–owned apps made up the top four smartphone apps most visited daily by UK adults in September 2021.” Debbie sets out to identify some initial considerations for educators as to how, and why, the Metaverse may matter to us all in the near future. How will education futures be influenced by the Metaverse? Will we be able to teach in real space and virtual space concurrently? Can the Metaverse offer us more inspiring options than frozen faces on MSTeams? and which realities will our students decide that they want to learn in?
Colonising virtual space?
Named after the steampunk novel, Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson (1992) and based in a near future USA we find the global political structure has collapsed, a tiny number of super corporations control most aspects of life and the rich spend their time in the metaverse. All US technology advantages have been brain drained to other countries, and the US edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by enormous far eastern ships and dirigibles (lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air under its own power) leaving the crashed economy with four remaining assets: music, movies, microcode software and high-speed pizza delivery. The parallels two decades later are of real interest to those considering dystopian futures.
An entry point to the complexity and scope of the potentiality of the technologies that make up the whole can be found in the work by Matthew Ball (2022) where, in his recent book In the ‘ The Metaverse: And why it will revolutionize everything’ he sets out to:
‘help us understand what is required to realize the metaverse, why entire generations will eventually move to and live inside it, and how it will forever alter our daily lives, our work, and how we think …’
Claims of this magnitude are so enormous that considering a response as an individual, contributing to an institutional response or measuring societal consequences can seem complex, convoluted and labyrinthine. In the best LD tradition, a creative stance has been applied to these considerations, through the use of metaphor. Metaphor enables writers to convey vivid imagery that transcends literal meaning, and through metaphor three aspects of the Metaverse are presented.
Why we need to understand the metaverse
The Metaverse is owned by Mark Zuckerman, the founder of Facebook. Meta –owned apps made up the top four smartphone apps most visited daily by UK adults in September 2021. The OFCOM Online Nation Report (2022) published the evidence that 88% of UK online smartphone-using adults visited WhatsApp, the top-reaching smartphone app, followed by the Facebook app (87%). Comparing average daily visitors, Facebook was visited by 61%, WhatsApp by 50%, Instagram by 35% and Facebook Messenger by 27% of UK smartphone-owning adults who went online. Instagram was the top smartphone app among UK online 15-24s, of whom 60% visited it daily, on average. One in five adults use all three Meta-owned communication services. Nearly all (94%) UK adult internet users aged 16+ said they used an online communications service for making voice/video calls or sending messages in 2021, and 80% of children aged 3-15 did the same. Eighty-seven per cent of adults report using Meta’s communications. The power, reach and influence of these four ‘Apps’ are world spanning.
So what is the Metaverse? Their formal White paper document describes it as:
Metaverse is a blockchain project that that provides a foundational infrastructure for social and enterprise needs. Our goal is to create a universe where digital assets (Metaverse Smart Tokens or MST) and digital identities'(Avatars) build the basis for asset transactions with the help of a value intermediary (Oracle), thus establishing a new blockchain ecosystem that will transform human society and allow us to enter the New Reality. (Metaverse White paper v3)
An evaluation piece by TechTarget (08.05.2023) describe it as this:
“Imagine – a virtual world where billions of people live,work, shop, learn and interact with each other – from the comfort of their coaches in the virtual world… our devices become a portal to a 3D virtual realm, like real life only bigger and better. Avatars move seamlessly from one experience to another – taking our identify and money us”
How to make sense of how to think about this potential ‘big bang’? For me, there are three aspects of the metaverse world that need full consideration: how we will act upon this stage (metaphor one); the reactions of our potential audience and our own interactions (metaphor two) and who pays for it all (metaphor three).
Metaphor One: All the worlds a stage and all the men and women merely players (Shakespeare as you like it)
Image credit Barry Weatherall Unspalsh.com
“The future is human, and the future of learning is immersive. In the future, learning will take the shape of a story, a play, a game; involving multiple platforms and players; driven by dialogue and augmented with technology, an interplay of immersive experiences, data, and highly social virtual worlds”
State of XR and Immersive Learning Outlook Report (2021 p 21)
The quote is from a Delphi study I was involved in, which involved 100 international experts seeking to predict the timeline to the future. The key themes of big data informing Artificial Intelligence algorithms is clearly evidenced in many educational fora, not least the generative AI such as Chat GPT. Immersive reality is gaining traction in education, especially post-covid health education, as health education previously covered by placement in the NHS settings is being increasingly supported by simulation (NHS Simulation Strategy). In health we can see this interplay of immersive experiences, data and a highly social virtual world where our health students are interacting with patient avatars, and evidence (Singleton et al 2022) shows accessing virtual scenarios, and engaging with patients stories through their laptop computers or Virtual Reality (VR) headsets leads to retention of knowledge for longer periods of time, compared to when students study ‘for the exam’.
Metaphor Two: The Emperor’s New Clothes
(Childrens fable – Hans Christian Anderson)
Image credit publicdomainpictures.net
“Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. He cared nothing about reviewing his soldiers, going to the theatre, or going for a ride in his carriage, except to show off his new clothes. He had a coat for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, “The King’s in council,” here they always said. “The Emperor’s in his dressing room.” The Hans Christian Anderson Centre (translation)
“So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.
“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.” The Hans Christian Anderson Centre (translation)
This metaphor helps us to unpack what is real and what is fake (and even deep fake!) Where are educators in the story of the metaverse? Is the narrative that the Metaverse, or the collation of a number of metaverses, are the new reality? And are we the Emperor not seeing what is real? Or is it the flipside – we are the little boy calling out the limitations of these new spaces for educating future generations?
There is contemporary work assessing the issues – see, for example, the work of Lin et al (2022) pointing to challenges of implementation, with Government agendas – Chinese students, in their home country, are unlikely to be able to access. Fundamental flaws in security and privacy are highlighted in a study by Wang et al (2022) – explaining the more open the internet is, the more potential for hacks and fraud as our avatars travel with both our digital identity and money.
And with the production of the new clothes for the emperor, ethical dimensions come to the fore, Tilli et al (2022) highlight concerns – if tech giants are investing and running the Metaverse, will there be influences on educational materials we would want to share? Which educators would get access, and how would this play out? Technology is not value free – power relations are at play in hyperspace as much as in our physical classrooms. Certainly as educators we would want to avoid being the swindlers in the fable producing nothing and claiming it is of best quality cloth.
The tale concludes:
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.
Metaphor Three: All that glitters is not gold (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice)
Image credit: Kier in Sight Unsplash.com
“A massively scaled and interoperable network of real-time rendered 3D virtual worlds that can be experienced synchronously and persistently by an effectively unlimited number of users with an individual sense of presence and with continuity of data, such as identity, history, entitlements, objects, communications and payments.” TechTarget (23.05.2023)
This explanation encompasses the scale and aspiration of the metaverse, and starts to draw out the monetization aspects of its existence. It is here that the hype and financial market input start to be revealed. The McKinsey consultancy have published a number of position papers about the Metaverse, and highlight in their ‘Value creation in the metaverse’that $120billion in investment flowed into the metaverse in 2022; 7% of consumers active on the metaverse have made a purchase and 15% of corporate revenue is expected to come from the metaverse in the next five years, according to 25% of senior executives surveyed for the report. Consumers surveyed report they will use the metaverse for social, entertainment, gaming, travel and shopping, with 59% excited about this transition. Yet Tech Insights considers the report to be overhyped, saying:
“In addition to Meta, tech giants including Google, Microsoft, Nvidia and Qualcomm are also investing billions of dollars in the concept. Management consultancy McKinsey & Company has bullishly predicted that the metaverse economy could reach $5 trillion by 2030”
Two reflections from this thought piece
The first is about following the money – the big tech companies need to get critical masses and their money onboard, and with the younger audiences tending to be the adapters, and fast – fashion being the norm, what if they vote with their avatar feet (the metaverse boasts avatars with legs!) and decide to stay away?
And the second – where will this leave modern Universities? In this I have confidence – our role is to educate and inspire students – and the students will need to be the stakeholders involved in this brave new world – because it is from their imaginations any new world will be created, defined and envisaged.
Thank you to the EDTECH World Forum (2023) for the opportunity to present a conference thought piece, from which this work is drawn.
Ball, M., 2022. The metaverse: and how it will revolutionize everything. Liveright Publishing.
Elmasry, T., Hazan, E., Khan, H., Kelly, G., Srivastava, S., Yee, L. and Zemmel, R.W., 2022. Value creation in the metaverse, the real business of the virtual world. Whitepaper. McKinsey.
EDTECH World Forum, 17/18 May, 2023 London, UK https://edtechconferences.london/
Health Education England Strategic Vision for simulation and immersive technologies in health and care
Lee, M.J., Georgieva, M., Alexander, B., Craig, E. and Richter, J., 2021. State of XR & immersive learning outlook report 2021. Walnut, CA: Immersive Learning Research Network.
Lin, H., Wan, S., Gan, W., Chen, J. and Chao, H.C., 2022. Metaverse in education: Vision, opportunities, and challenges. arXiv preprint arXiv:2211.14951.
Metaverse: http://mvs.org [accessed 16.03.2023]
Metaverse White Paper No 3 https://metaverse.nyc3.digitaloceanspaces.com/whitepaper/Metaverse-whitepaper-v3.0-EN.pdf [accessed 19.05.2023]
OFCOM Online Nation Report 2022 available: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0023/238361/online-nation-2022-report.pdf
Singleton, H., James, J., Falconer, L., Holley, D., Priego-Hernandez, J., Beavis, J., Burden, D. and Penfold, S., 2022. Effect of Non-Immersive Virtual Reality Simulation on Type 2 Diabetes Education for Nursing Students: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Clinical Simulation in Nursing, 66, 50-57.
Stephenson, N., 2003. Snow crash: A novel. Spectra.
Tlili, A., Huang, R., Shehata, B., Liu, D., Zhao, J., Metwally, A.H.S., Wang, H., Denden, M., Bozkurt, A., Lee, L.H. and Beyoglu, D., 2022. Is Metaverse in education a blessing or a curse: a combined content and bibliometric analysis. Smart Learning Environments, 9(1), pp.1-31.
Techtarget (8.05.2023) The metaverse explained
Wang, Y., Su, Z., Zhang, N., Xing, R., Liu, D., Luan, T.H. and Shen, X., 2022. A survey on metaverse: Fundamentals, security, and privacy. IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials.
Debbie Holley: Debbie Holley is Professor of Learning Innovation at Bournemouth University, where she leads innovation in research, teaching and professional practice within the Department of Nursing Sciences. Her expertise lies with blending learning and innovation to motivate and engage students with their learning inside /outside the formal classroom, at a time and place of their own choosing. As National Teaching Fellow, she is a passionate educator, with research interests in digital frameworks and the affordances of technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual/ Immersive Realities and Mobile Learning. She has just completed a body of work on digital health, security and wellbeing with EU colleagues as part of the work to revise the EU Digital Competence framework (DIGICOMP).