Universities

Schools, universities in the metaverse? Why Virtual Reality is Catching Edtech’s Attention

New Delhi: The setting is a juice store. Weaving between the tables is an attendant, who takes orders and serves customers – also calculating their bills.

But the store is not real. And even the attendant and customers are just virtual avatars.

So what exactly is going on here? According to proponents of metaverse classrooms, the new buzzword in edtech, this is what the future of education could look like.

The virtual juice store could be part of a lesson in profit and loss. In a different classroom, they say, students could shop at a virtual market for a lesson on saving and taxes. All from the comfort of their own home.

Metaverse is a network of three-dimensional shared virtual worlds populated by avatars of living people. It is being described by some industry players as the next big thing for Indian edtech, which is should grow into a $30 billion industry by 2032.

Until now, the edtech boom has been characterized by online video sessions and pre-recorded lectures where “interactive” meant students could raise their hands and ask doubts or questions.

But with the metaverse in the picture, the edtech sector seeks to provide a 3D learning experience where students – as virtual avatars of themselves – can learn by participating in case studies they would have otherwise encountered on the pages of a book.

UnfoldU – a company that aims to “provide tuition replacement to students at nominal costs through online courses” – has launched its blockchain and metaverse UnfoldU2.0 platform in March, a step towards its goal of a “mega-metaversity of education”.

Last week, test prep giant Career Launcher announced the launch of CL Meta, a metaverse for students, with virtual classrooms, study rooms, career counseling sections and a shopping mall. virtual platform for students to purchase educational products.

On Wednesday, IIT-Jodhpur launched a part-time online MTech program for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality professionals for the semester starting in 2022-23.

At the same time, efforts are underway to set up “metaversities”. An “online school” in Bengaluru told ThePrint that it plans to bring the metaverse to its students.

One of the stated aims of proponents is to bring quality education beyond the centers to students in remote locations – to “democratize education” – but some experts are still wary of the scope and impact it will eventually have.


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Edtech & metaverse

Metaverse consists of three main elements: a VR (virtual reality) interface, a digital property and personalized avatars.

First used in American writer Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel ‘Snowfall’, the term ‘metaverse’ was popularized during the Covid-19 pandemic by video games Roblox and Fortnite. It gained further momentum with the launch by Meta (formerly Facebook) of a virtual reality social platform in 2021.

To research reports indicate that the market opportunity for the metaverse could climb to $800 billion by 2024.

In the edtech sector, market leaders like Vedantu or BYJU’S have yet to make a foray into the space, but new market players have picked up the slack.

UnfoldU – a company that aims to “provide tuition replacement to students at nominal costs through online courses” – has launched its blockchain and metaverse UnfoldU2.0 platform in March, a step towards its goal of a “mega-metaversity of education”.

Speaking of CL Meta, Sujatha Kshirsagar, Business Manager of Career Launcher, said that they have “set up a kiosk in our physical office and students interact with the AV/VR system”.

“Since the technology is still in its infancy, we still need to launch it on a larger scale. However, we believe we are taking a step towards the future of online learning.

Dr. Neeraj Jain, Head of Department, School of AI and Data Science at IIT Jodhpur, said, “Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are the future technology that is going to play an important role and increasingly major in a variety of fields such as health, diagnostics, robotics. , games, customer experience and wherever we need an immersive experience”.

“That’s where all the technology evolves. This is going to lead to increased job opportunities for those who are AR/VR experts,” Jain added. “This course will provide working professionals with the opportunity to be future-ready in the emerging job market.”

Invact Metaversity, 21K School

Invact Metaversity, an online platform that aims to create virtual universities in the metaverse, seeks to cater to students in Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 4, Tier 5 and Tier 6 cities who are not at the top of their class, said co-founder Tanay Pratap.

“Not all students can get into exclusive institutions like IITs and IIMs, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have the opportunity to get a good education. At Invact, our goal is to build a learning platform that goes beyond the 2D world at competitive prices,” Pratap told ThePrint.

The Metaverse “Business Fellowships” course at Invact Metaversity was scheduled to go live in June, but was delayed due to a falling out between its co-founders – former Microsoft engineer Tanay Pratap and former Twitter India chief Manish Maheshwari.

“We saw a huge response for our first training program and a lot of working professionals signed up for it,” Pratap added, saying the course is expected to go live in the next 6-8 weeks.

Invact Metaversity students, he said, will be able to turn their assignments and projects into non-fungible tokens (NFT). This will allow them to own sole ownership of their work, allowing them to sell their NFTs whenever they want.

A 16-week course with Invact Metaversity costs Rs 2 lakh. Of the 3,000 candidates for inaugural program in 2022, only 70 were admitted, Pratap said. Invact Metaversity students will graduate from a refresher course.

Another proponent of metaverse classrooms is Bengaluru-based 21k School, an online school that claims to have had 6,000 enrollments within two years of its launch.

“In accordance with the National Education Policy (NEP), we have given students the opportunity to study. They can choose between American, British and Indian advice,” said Yeshwanth Raj P, co-founder of 21k School.

“They can even select which batches they can study in. We have focused only on core subjects, which means primary students only study for three hours.”

The cost for a single student to study in this virtual school can be as high as Rs 60,000 per year.

“With the help of machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence), we are able to get a daily analysis of student performance which decides what level of lesson they will attend next,” added Yeshwanth Raj P.. “We want to bring education into the metaverse so that our students who live in different parts of the world can interact with each other.”

Yeshwanth Raj P. said he and his team were trying to solve the problem of “bulky VR sets that could cause discomfort to students if used for long periods of time.”

Saumya Pandey, 36, a science teacher at 21K School, said she wishes she had had the opportunity to learn with immersive technology in classrooms as a child.

When asked how the metaverse could change the edtech game, Pandey said she currently uses an app that students can use to virtually travel to any part of the world to learn about different topics. “But we are looking forward to the implementation of the metaverse,” she added.


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The Future of Education in the Metaverse

Gouri Gupta, director of the edtech vertical at the nonprofit Central Square Foundation, said while the metaverse could be key to democratizing access to quality education, the pace at which virtual reality can be used to develop education is an enigma.

“When we talk about access to education for low-income segments, there are two factors to consider: the cost of infrastructure and the cost of learning software,” Gupta told ThePrint.

“Since no special infrastructure is required to access metaverse platforms (the metaverse is accessible in a limited form using a smartphone), infrastructure may not be a big barrier.

“When it comes to the cost of learning software, for-profit edtech companies can take a while to bring this innovation to low-income segments. However, we should not ignore the innovation that is brewing in the nonprofit space and I hope many nonprofit edtech platforms are already thinking about it.

Gupta said that “we will see relevant technology infrastructure made available in public schools” due to the NEP’s focus on technology adoption in the education sector.

The metaverse, she added, can enable “collaboration, peer-to-peer learning and immersive experiences for our children and becomes especially useful for those who may struggle to access it due to financial constraints.”

Professor R. Govinda, former vice-chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning, believes the edtech boom is a “bubble” and will continue to serve the niche audience it already serves.

“The edtech space is market driven and only caters to a niche population, so it can never become like chalk and board that it is equally accessible to everyone. The technology, historically, has always presented itself as having great potential but it has in fact dissipated. This will continue to happen until the technology is equally accessible to everyone,” Govinda told ThePrint.

However, he said, that “doesn’t take away from the fact that 3D learning or this metaverse has tremendous learning potential.” “If science concepts in higher education are taught audiovisually, students have a lot to gain,” he added.

(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)


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