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Changing tides: Learning and training in the Metaverse

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The Indian Nobel Laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, pushed the colonial classroom outdoors in 1901. No longer walled in by brick-and-mortar classrooms, students were educated in the shade of mango trees that stood on the cool quietness of the red laterite soil of Birbhum.

It was as if holistic learning was only possible in the open — through a dissolution of factory-modeled educational spaces and rigidity of thought. Tagore aside, the importance of curiosity, play and disruption were ideas that persisted in the evolution of education.

However, very few took it to a material level where the cookie-cutter classroom itself, as a space, was brazenly disrupted and reimagined. In his 2015 interview with architect Larry Kearns, who has worked on blended-learning spaces for Intrinsic Schools in Chicago, the author Michael B. Horn notes how Kearns has architecturally disrupted the cellular-model classroom design by pushing “the teacher’s desk to the margins” and reorganizing the classroom into open studio spaces and “pop-up classes.”

But these instances of pushing the classroom outside definitive walls or that of disrupting the spatial hierarchy automatically accorded to the teacher, have found an odd resurrection in the metaverse. I met Dr. Alex Howland, the co-founder and President of the virtual world platform Virbela, to understand how the metaverse is disrupting traditional teaching and learning spaces.

From Physical to the Meta-Physical

VR platforms like Virbela demonstrate how it is architecturally possible to move beyond the physical domain of a classroom or corporate-training hall to a hyperreal space of learning. While one may argue that Zoom, YouTube and other platforms already provide learning opportunities that are not restricted to physical buildings, the metaverse dives a little deeper by focusing on spatial immersion.

Dr. Howland compares it to the active experience of reading a novel, and immersing oneself in the plot, context, and lives of the characters. Unlike the passive consumption of learning material from a talking head or voice over in a video, learning in the VR creates an elusive sense of movement and agency. For example, in the Virbela platform, a learner can walk her avatar to a community center to learn about global warming, dance in a rooftop concert, stop to greet another avatar, or join a wireless queue to raise a tech issue with the IT staff. With an array of customizable architectural features, several universities, including Stanford, which hosts some of its leadership programs on this platform, have started taking their classes to the metaverse.

Not limited to mimicking real-life architectural constructs of campus environments, Virbela’s Frame products allow complete customization of environments by people with “fairly novice tech skills” to build their own environment. There are teachers who have built environments from snippets of marine life drawn from The Great Barrier Reef, and sent their students on a journey to the blue subterranean world of ancient corals. Some have packed off their student avatars to the alien shores of Australia in 18

th century convict ships to learn about the history of penal transportation and settler colonies. Referring to an e-commerce company, that uses the Virbela campus for employee training, Dr. Howland points out how the company’s virtual fulfilment center functions as a classroom for new employees being coached on machinery, safety, boxes entering and exiting the center, etc. without the hassle of a mandatory presence in a busy fulfilment center.

This move away from traditional learning spaces and passive modes of learning to the atypicality of non-tangible campuses and immersive-learning environments in cyberspace indicates a major change in the spatial identity of learning habitats.

From the Teacher to the Learner

Consumer culture and the Internet’s democratization of education have decentered the teacher’s desk.

The teacher-figure is no longer a singular source of authority in the classroom as, equipped with countless hyperlinks and free access to information, the learner has come to acquire center stage. Metaverse platforms like Virbela focus on centering the learner in its gamified environments that range from cellular classroom spaces to alternate spaces of peer-to-peer learning, the virtual outdoors, and others.

This break from the formalism of brick-and-mortar learning spaces has led the metaverse to create more interactive and fluid learning environments that are capable of integrating learners from different parts of the world who cannot travel to the same physical space of learning.

But, as with most things in life, shifting tides also come with complex repercussions. In his opinion article, “Why Digital Avatars Make the Best Teachers,” Professor Jeremy Bailenson talks about the capability of VR to ensure no learner gets left behind in a virtual classroom.

This is possible through a tracking of the teacher and the learner’s body movements. Bailenson explains, “In a video game, a person must act intentionally to produce behavior. But in virtual reality, tracking equipment [can be integrated to] detect what a person does and…redraw the avatar performing the same action…However, users can alter their streams in real time…For example, a teacher can choose to have his computer never display an angry expression, but always to replace it with a calm face. Or he can screen out distracting student behaviors, like talking on cellphones.”

Though he warns how “We must be careful not to cross the line between strategic transformations and outright deception,” one wonders if such modifications herald an age of a mechanical utopia, that has little regard for the psychological effects of such modified behavioral patterns on both teachers and learners.

While the metaverse promotes a fluid and democratic learning space with a decentering of the teacher/trainer and a re-centering of the learner, we need to look out for other forms of social engineering that replace the authority of the teacher.

Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray’s research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literary studies, British literature, and rhetoric and composition. Prior to teaching in the U.S., she worked as an editor with Routledge and taught English at colleges in India. She is a resident of Kirkland.

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Metaverse

‘NFTs: Enter the Metaverse’ | Watch the trailer for non-fungible token documentary from ABC Localish Studios

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In 2021, three otherwise unassuming letters would upend the worlds of cryptocurrency, technology, art, and pop culture all at once. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, were propelled into the mainstream after an unprecedented $69.4 million sale at the historic art auction house Christie‘s in New York City.

The sale of digital artist Beeple‘s Everydays at Christie’s for $69.4 million marked the beginning of a seemingly unstoppable NFT wave, where everyone from digital artists to mainstream celebrities like Paris Hilton, Mark Cuban, Steve Aoki and many others began creating, selling, and collecting NFTs via cryptocurrency on the Blockchain.

While NFTs initially focused on the importance of ownership of digital assets, they soon also became part of a social movement where groups of creators and collectors began communities based on buying and selling NFTs. Some early examples of these groups include CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club, but many more have since risen in popularity as the world of NFTs continues to expand and propels new digital artists, like 17-year-old Diana Sinclaire, to international fame.

Following the journey of digital artist Beeple, aka Mike Winklemann, through the historic sale of his Everydays work, “NFTs: Enter the Metaverse” illuminates the social and economic factors that led to the rise of NFTs as well as the implications of NFT technology on the future of the Metaverse. The documentary features appearances by Paris Hilton, Gary Vaynerchuck, Mark Cuban, Steve Aoki, 3Lau, Rebecca Jarvis, Kelly Crow, Kenny Schacter, Diana Sinclair, Daniel Maegaard, and Karsen Daily.

Watch “NFTs: Enter the Metaverse” premiering on May 21st on ABC (check your local listings), ABC News Live and the Localish Network.





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Unreal reality: The big leap to capitalise on the metaverse boom

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Will the rise of the metaverse see a move to not only wearing VR goggles, but full body suits to feel the wind, fresh water and even to act as the protagonist in our favourite movie?

Time will tell. But the sense of reality companies eventually develop, and how people react, will be key for companies, fund managers and investors to capitalise on what has been called the next big disruption – the metaverse. 

In the keynote address at Citywire Montreux 2022, researcher and broadcaster Stephanie Hare delved into the tricky questions that surround the great push towards virtual, augmented or mixed realities.



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The U.S. military is creating and just tested its own metaverse

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The military’s version of a metaverse doesn’t quite align with Mark Zuckerberg and Meta’s vision for a virtual world for us to inhabit.

The U.S. military is creating and just tested its own metaverse 02 | TweakTown.com

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Credit: Red 6

Using augmented reality (AR), two fighter pilots completed a high-altitude drill a few thousand feet high over the desert of California on May 10th. Flying a pair of Berkut 540 jets and donning custom AR headsets, the pilots were shown virtual refueling aircraft in the sky, allowing one of the pilots to practice a refueling maneuver with the virtual aircraft.

The augmented and virtual reality (VR) technology, head-mounted displays and artificial intelligence (AI) powered environments being developed by Red 6 allow pilots to take part in virtual dog fights against enemy aircraft and more while pulling several G’s. Red 6 is developing a platform that will allow them to display various scenarios in AR and VR, while using lower latency and higher reliability hardware than consumer-grade AR and VR headsets.

We can fly against whatever threat we want. And that threat could be controlled either by an individual remotely or by artificial intelligence. What we’re building is really a military metaverse. It’s like a multiplayer video game in the sky,” says Daniel Robinson, founder and CEO of Red 6.

AR and VR have become staples of military training of late in projects like Project Avenger and Project BlueShark. Now, the military is setting its sights on integrating various technologies to create more interconnected virtual systems, and recently held a high-level conference in a virtual environment attended by more than 250 people from across the world.

It is an extremely complex type of simulation, especially given the fidelity that the military demands. You can either have live players who are participating in the simulation or [characters] can be AI-enabled, which is often what the military does,” said Caitlin Dohrman, general manager of the defense division of Improbable, a company that develops virtual world technologies.

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Read more: Crazy video shows a test vehicle catapulted toward space at 1,000+ mph

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Read more: Takers of the first-ever black hole photo have a massive announcement



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