While teachers, parents and students agree that ZOOM and distance are, the first online school based on VR technological solutions has opened overseas. Let's try to figure out whether such virtual training can replace the usual school and what it may look like.
What is the metaverse?
Let's start with the terms. For the first time, this definition appeared in the book of science fiction writer from the United States Niall Stevenson "Avalanche": it was published in 1992 and describes a three-dimensional world in which you can create houses, even entire cities, and people there are represented by avatars. Ten years later, Lukyanenko's cycle about "depth" appeared, and thirty years later, Stevenson's fabrications turned into reality.
Today, corporations are creating virtual offices for remote users working from home. And the metaverse has entered the world of entertainment for a long time – here is Second Life, a social network with elements of virtuality and two million residents, or VRChat. However, the most developed metaproduct is Decentraland. Here people can create or sell something, buy in exchange for crypto. In 2021, a music festival was held here, and the Barbadian government, just in case, bought a plot of land to build an embassy in the virtual world.
A year later, these technologies reached the field of education. In Florida, a school in the metaworld called Optima Classical Academy will be launched in August – the world's first school "built" in the metaverse. The landing page states that the institution will be able to attend 1300 students of grades 3-8. The authors of the concept believe that this will allow children with weak socialization to find something interesting in their studies. All schoolchildren participating in the project will be provided with the necessary equipment, as well as support for the entire period of study.
How education works in the metaverse
Thanks to virtual reality glasses, learning will be exciting and unburdensome. In science classes, you can go to Mars or land on the moon, and during historical lessons you can personally see the greatness of ancient Rome, the tragedy of Pompeii or primitive man.
This will all be held four times a week from 8 to 12 hours, lessons will last from 30 to 45 minutes. True, what cannot be mastered in virtuality will still have to be learned – using both the Internet and traditional educational literature. Control will be carried out offline.
Along with the compulsory course, there will be electives familiar to the American school - from chess and a debate club to scientific communities. All this is also provided free of charge.
Junior high school students will not be taken to school because of the insufficient level of their self-control and motivation, but high school students will begin to be recruited from 2024.
Trouble or Victory?
The creators of the project are convinced that the introduction of the metaverse in education will contribute to solving a number of challenges of the modern training system - and society as a whole.
- This can be a solution for schoolchildren who face global problems and challenges – pandemics, floods, hurricanes, other natural disasters;
- Immersion in meta can contribute to the presentation of the educational process from a non-standard angle. The student will be in a virtual classroom with classmates and a teacher, or rather, their avatars, and interact directly, not through a monitor;
- Another argument is to increase accessibility for students with health problems that prevent them from being physically present in the classroom. In addition, it solves the problem of crowded classrooms. 1300 students is significantly more than the average school in the United States or a regular educational institution in Moscow (where we are talking about 500-700 students).
True, parents for the most part are not convinced, are critical of the novelty and mention the "Matrix" and the mental catastrophe. They say that children will follow the path of cyborgization and robotization, learn how to communicate with real people.
In general, the use of elements is already possible now - as augmented reality and a minor, albeit funny element for the school curriculum, complementing the main one. But the American school project seems not quite realistic and very dangerous for psychological health, vision and the nervous system.
The bottom line is that the latest metaverses, based on virtuality with the principle of total immersion, need full-fledged helmets, not just glasses. Moreover, the latter are simply not suitable for use by children under 13 years of age. And the lion's share of students falls on those who should not use the device for medical reasons.
Americans conducted studies to study the effect of virtuality on the human body at different ages. They showed that teenagers are much more susceptible than adults to cyber illness, which is caused by problems with focusing vision when using virtual reality devices. Even a mature person cannot yet resort to the help of VR glasses without starting to suffer from dizziness in half an hour; with children, this happens much earlier, after 10 minutes. The emergence of completely safe devices, whose impact on the visual system will be minimal, is expected no earlier than in 10-15 years.
Therefore, digital education is good, but it should not be perceived as a universal solution to all problems. Digital technologies are a tool for processing and transmitting information, not a training system.
What to do?
First of all, it is necessary to reassess digital as a technology and solution. It should help to maintain the activity and interactivity of school activities. Then independent work should become more interesting due to the same interactivity. And artificial intelligence should take into account the individual characteristics and abilities of students, focusing on the optimal development of each student.