- Each week, two of our readers debate a hot topic in a showdown that does not necessarily reflect their personal viewpoints
- This week, they debate whether augmented reality and online worlds would be helpful for students
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For: Elaine Lai, 18, Valtorta College
The metaverse, a virtual world where you can do everything you can do in real life, is a hot topic of discussion. For example, Facebook recently announced its plans to invest US$150 million in virtual reality learning experiences in the metaverse, while Roblox is offering millions of dollars in grants to help education-focused organisations create online learning experiences on its platform. With tech companies making big moves like these, the metaverse could open a new door for education.
The metaverse allows youngsters to acquire knowledge without any physical constraints. For example, The South China Morning Post launched its first metaverse experience this year by showcasing the history of Star Ferry and allowing students to immerse themselves in the Hong Kong of the past.
Since many local cultural heritage sites have been fading due to urban development or lack of conservation, these stories can be preserved in the metaverse to make them more accessible worldwide.
Lessons in the metaverse could also help teachers better understand how their students learn and offer individualised support.
At Dallas Hybrid Prep, one of the first schools in the US to implement a metaverse platform, students can enter the metaverse and join their teachers while learning from home. They complete gaming-style assignments using avatars and earn online currency for finishing the assigned tasks. In addition, teachers can receive feedback and data that allows them to give each student the support they need.
Some may argue that using the metaverse as an educational tool would merely benefit schools and students with money, as purchasing virtual reality headsets could be a heavy financial burden for low-income groups. This is similar to the dispute over the iPad several years ago, and whether it should be used in education. Now the iPad has become an essential learning tool, especially during the pandemic. Since tech giants like Microsoft and Google have devoted themselves to the metaverse, these tools will become more affordable in time.
The metaverse provides an expansive learning environment for students, and its benefits shouldn’t be overlooked.
Against: Vijay Narayanan, 14, Island School
The metaverse is a virtual world or a collection of worlds that continues to exist even when you’re not playing. It’s an augmented reality that combines different aspects of the digital and physical worlds and provides users with an interactive, immersive experience.
Many claim that the metaverse could bring education to a whole new level, but there are a few things to consider first. For a start, the metaverse could negatively affect children’s mental health and well-being. It’s a new form of social media, and research from The Wall Street Journal shows that social media causes depression in children, which could result in them harming themselves.
Access inequality is also a significant concern when it comes to the metaverse. Not every child has access to the internet or VR headsets, especially in developing countries like Yemen or Somalia. Without this access, these children will be at a disadvantage, both educationally and socially.
Schools in many developed countries would also have issues implementing VR and the metaverse, and not just because of cost. Lila Faria, an expert on educational technology and community building, said that the metaverse would be extremely hard to implement in most public schools because of the legal restrictions on social media.
Users must supply their personal information to access the metaverse and use the required Oculus headsets. This raises data privacy issues – especially because many of these users are under 18. It’s just one of the many legal complications that could restrict the educational potential this technology could have.
Faria added that Facebook has not been very responsive when community colleges or local public schools reached out to them to ask for exceptions. Until that changes, she cannot see the metaverse being used ethically within most schools.
In addition to the physiological, social and legal disadvantages of using the metaverse in education, there are also some physical risks to consider. Using VR headsets may lead to symptoms like dizziness, nausea and headaches, which could be a serious issue for students.
There’s no doubt that the metaverse holds a lot of potential for the future, but with the many hurdles in the way, face-to-face education is the better option for now.