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HKUST will launch a virtual reality class as part of a bigger project to create a metaverse campus. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

In a class of its own? Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to launch virtual reality lessons in bid to create metaverse campus

  • Mixed reality classroom to mark first step in building MetaHKUST – a metaverse learning site to connect university’s campuses
  • Opening of new HKUST Guangzhou campus on September 1 to be hosted in new virtual classroom

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) has announced the launch of a virtual reality classroom as part of a bigger plan to create a campus in the metaverse to promote immersive learning.

An academic at the institution on Thursday said the mixed reality classroom would host the opening of the new HKUST Guangzhou campus on September 1.

“A lot of guests might be overseas and can’t attend [the opening], so we will host it in the metaverse,” said Pan Hui, chair professor of computational media and arts at the Guangzhou campus.

The metaverse is a set of 3D virtual spaces where people can socialise, work and play via digital avatars, allowing users to communicate and interact with others who are not in the same physical space.

Students can enter HKUST’s campus in the metaverse by wearing virtual reality headsets. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

According to the school, the initiative marks the first step in building MetaHKUST – a learning area in the metaverse which will connect the university’s Hong Kong campus with the one in Guangzhou, enabling students to take lessons without geographical constraints.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom became an alternative educational tool for schools in Hong Kong, but Hui said learning in the metaverse would be a better option as the videoconferencing platform had become boring and less interactive.

“[Using Zoom] feels like you’re just looking at a 2D screen. But through virtual reality, you can feel as if you’re there. I think interaction is very important for learning. How you interact with students around you will increase your learning outcome,” he said.

Wang Yang, vice-president for institutional advancement at HKUST, said the metaverse was “here to stay” despite scepticism about the relatively new concept.

MetaHKUST will connect the university’s Hong Kong campus with the one in Guangzhou. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“Last year the buzzword was NFT. This year, it is the metaverse. It will become our reality in the future. We can imagine living in the metaverse soon,” he said, adding that schools could not afford to miss out on such a big opportunity.

During the initial stages of the metaverse campus, physical infrastructure such as virtual reality classrooms, sensors, cameras and visualisation tools will be installed.

The digital classroom established for the two campuses will allow students to attend the same lecture at the same time in two parallel physical spaces.

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Besides lessons, events such as opening days or even graduation could be staged in the virtual world, while diplomas or transcripts could be distributed in the form of NFTs.

According to the university, one of its students planned to have their graduation ceremony in the 3D space in December.

Hui said that the scale of learning would also be greater in the virtual space.

“Guangzhou students can sit in the lecture room and see their classmates, but when they put on their goggles, they can see their Hong Kong peers sitting next to them. It’s a feeling of unity and participation,” he said.

The metaverse is coming, and it’s going to change everything

Wang, meanwhile, said he believed a lot of classes would take place in the metaverse in the future.

“It’s possible that we might not even need a classroom in the future, and all classes could take place in the metaverse,” he said.

Wang said it was the university’s responsibility to take the lead in being innovative and celebrating creativity.

“I think we should think ahead. As a university, we must be a leader of ideas, we should not wait for others to do something and follow suit. We should be pioneers,” he said.