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The “metaversity,” as coined by educators, is changing the world our graduates will enter and is already changing our teaching models. Given that higher education’s primary role is to prepare students with the knowledge, skills, and real-world experiences needed to succeed in the workforce and in their lives, we must not only embrace the transformation that is being driven by the metaverse, education must play a leading role. 

Industry partners are readying themselves and their businesses for the metaverse, with Rebecca Wallace, EVP of corporate strategy at WPP arguing that, “our metaverse strategy will bring the creative and the community to our clients and is where the creator economy will be centered and brand authenticity will be defined.” Jonathan Tisch, CEO of Loews Hotels, declared at a recent hospitality conference that “the metaverse is our future and it must be embraced.” Across industry and in their actions, business and technology leaders are making it clear that the metaverse is a highly valuable and non-negotiable part of our future.

As we look outside of education and across professional fields, we are seeing the metaverse changing the rules. In sports, for example, filling seats in stadiums is no longer the only measure of financial success or fan loyalty. Regardless of what sport you play or watch, the metaverse is having an impact: The NBA, for instance, is creating unique metaverse experiences by broadcasting games in Virtual Reality (VR) and by selling collectible NFTs to fans via NBA Top Shot to bring fans closer to the game.

Educating for the metaverse

To keep pace with these changes, higher education needs to prepare students to adjust to new approaches and be comfortable with the new technologies transforming industry.

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At NYU School of Professional Studies, undergraduate and graduate students looking to gain experience in the metaverse are consulting with the Philadelphia 76ers to design an interactive fan experience in the metaverse to help expand their international fan market. They are also working with black-owned small businesses to create a metaverse strategy and partnering with cities across disciplines to develop proof-of-concept projects that can then be prototyped in the metaverse. Furthermore, they are working with simultaneous capabilities available in the metaverse to understand how cities can best plan for potential climate shifts.

These experiments give students first-hand experience in solving a real-world challenge — one of many that companies are facing today. Additionally, we at the NY School of Professional Studies are adjusting our approach to teaching and preparing students for the metaverse by providing opportunities for them to experience VR technology with the launch of a new VR Lab.

At Fisk University, virtual technology is being used by professors to provide human biology students with never-before-possible examinations of the human heart. For example, professors can reach into the chest cavity of a virtual cadaver, pull out a human heart, and hand it to a student. The student can feel the weight of the heart, examine it, and even enlarge the organ until it is 8 feet tall. The whole class can take steps inside the heart, where they see and touch the ventricle walls. At Stanford, a “Virtual People: The influence of VR” course has been modified for the metaverse, allowing students to learn by doing and experience and build applications that previous students could only read about, from therapeutic medicine to sports training to teaching empathy.

All told, the metaverse is making a difference in student engagement, specifically in the ability and speed of learning, as well as in accessibility and affordability.

Just as the metaverse is transforming what we teach, it is also transforming how we teach.

Early results show that the metaverse and related technologies are helping to address some of education’s age-old challenges, as well as more recent concerns brought on by the pandemic, such as knowledge retention. Morehouse College piloted teaching classes in the metaverse in spring 2021 and saw more than a 10% improvement in GPAs, essay grades, and presentation grades, according to Muhsinah Morris, the director of Morehouse in the Metaverse. Attendance rates also went up. “No students dropped out of any of our metaverse courses. None.” Based on this early success, Morehouse is now offering fifteen courses in the metaverse across a range of disciplines.

The impact the metaverse is having on education is not isolated, nor restricted to higher education. A recent PwC study found that VR learners could be trained four times faster than classroom learners and were four times more focused than basic remote e-learners. This result aligns almost perfectly with the data from pilots who use simulation to learn how to fly a plane versus the training they received in the classroom. The PWC study also found that, in enterprise businesses, VR learning can be more cost-effective at scale than classroom learning or e-learning. 

The metaverse can also address the accessibility and cost issues currently plaguing higher education, made more obvious over the past two years thanks to the pandemic, and meet the growing demand for online courses. According to McKinsey, between 2012 and 2019, the number of hybrid and distance-only students at traditional universities increased by 36%, while the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated that growth by an additional 92%. By providing courses via “metaversities,” students constrained by physical conditions, scheduling restrictions, or financial barriers may be able to earn credentials they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.

Educators: Educate thyself

As educators, we recognize that we are at a very early stage of understanding and adoption, with several all-important issues to be addressed, such as privacy. Although the metaverse has a lot of potential for disrupting higher education as we know it, it is still very much in its infancy. Concerns about protecting student privacy and possibly over commercializing education are certainly valid ones, and higher education has a responsibility to not only teach, test, and research the metaverse, but to also guide and influence it to ensure that we are developing a safe, equitable, and accessible space. 

Higher education’s mission is to prepare students for the future of work and for successful careers, but it is also meant to provide them with the tools to problem solve, to lead, and to make life better for all.

In these uncertain times, we find ourselves faced with innumerable challenges. Let us use the new and untested tools we have been given to define our path forward, to learn alongside our students and to ready ourselves and our students for all that lies ahead.

Angie Kamath is the Harvey J. Stedman Dean of the NYU School of Professional Studies, which recently launched the Metaverse Collaborative at NYU SPS. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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