By Muddassir Siddiqi

Dive into a classroom without walls, transcending physical spaces and time zones alike. Welcome to the exhilarating world of the metaverse, the next frontier in higher education. Imagine entering a vivid, computer-generated universe where every corner invites interaction and exploration, blurring the lines between the virtual and the real.

The metaverse doesn’t just simulate reality; it immerses you in a realm where being physically present becomes a notion of the past. Imagine yourself embarking on grand adventures: wandering through the ancient pyramids of Egypt, soaring towards the red plains of Mars, journeying back in time, or even walking through a digitally reconstructed campus—all from the comfort of your home. These once unimaginable educational expeditions are now within your grasp, thanks to the metaverse’s ability to transform digital spaces into rich, immersive learning environments.

Step into this new age of education, where the impossible becomes possible, expanding the horizons of what and how we learn. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is partnering with 15 U.S. universities to advance its vision of the metaverse by offering virtual reality (VR) classes and investigating the use of immersive technologies, such as VR and augmented reality (AR), in educational settings. The goal of this endeavor is to broaden educational prospects and encourage the incorporation of VR into teaching practices.

At Houston Community College (HCC), we have successfully integrated the metaverse into multiple courses across disciplines. HCC’s exploration of the metaverse is innovative and demonstrates the transformative potential of technology in education. Other institutions, such as Morehouse College, have facilitated metaverse-based classes for nearly 700 students, covering biology, African studies, and education.

This article delves into the metaverse’s influence on education and its capacity to ignite a pedagogical shift in higher education. Beyond simple success stories, these accounts spark faculty and staff creativity. The aim is to weave the metaverse into teaching practices, enrich the educational environment, and open doors for heightened student engagement and learning.

Anatomy and Physiology

In conventional anatomy and physiology courses, students typically assume a passive role as they receive information. The students watch video lectures on topics such as the functions of the human heart, supplemented by slides containing text and images, and listen to the instructor’s explanations. The technique, albeit informative, begs more participatory involvement.

At Fisk University, the metaverse completely revolutionizes this experience. Imagine students wearing virtual reality headsets and using handheld controllers to navigate a virtual setting and examine a simulation of the human heart. They can manipulate the heart, dissect it to examine its constituents, and even virtually penetrate it to observe blood circulation, interior chambers, and abnormalities such as septal holes or disconnected veins. The immersive metaverse experience transforms students from passive spectators into active participants, fully engrossed physically and psychologically in the learning process. Interactive and immersive learning facilitates accessibility and comprehension of anatomy. It enriches the educational experience by enabling students to engage with a dynamic, virtual human body.

Construction and Architectural Design

The metaverse is transforming the construction industry, highlighting the importance of higher education institutions to assess their influence on educational approaches. This evaluation is crucial to preparing graduates for a successful career in the rapidly evolving, tech-driven construction sector. For example, the metaverse facilitates the generation of virtual construction sites and offers a secure and simulated training setting for trainees before their engagement in actual construction work. Integrating Metaverse technologies with Building Information Modeling (BIM) enhances collaboration in design and construction processes, reducing errors and increasing project efficiency. In the metaverse environment, students can collaborate on design projects and test various construction models with no physical site visits. This virtual collaboration enables hands-on learning and experimentation in a risk-free setting, fostering innovation and practical experience in construction methodologies.

The metaverse’s integration in construction foreshadows a forthcoming period of employment prospects in the field. As virtual reality technology improves, experts competent in designing and constructing virtual structures will experience an increased demand, as will those capable of running and managing this technology in real-world construction scenarios. The progress makes a big step in building and architectural design, bringing up new options for innovation and skill development.

First Respondent Training

The metaverse’s integration in construction foreshadows a forthcoming period of employment prospects in the field. As virtual reality technology improves, experts competent in designing and constructing virtual structures will experience an increased demand, as will those capable of running and managing this technology in real-world construction scenarios. The progress makes a big step in building and architectural design, bringing up new options for innovation and skill development.

Faculty at New Mexico State University teaching an online criminal forensics course have adopted the use of virtual reality headsets. This innovative approach allows students to explore simulated crime scenes virtually, eliminating the need to reconstruct crime scenes in a physical classroom setting. The metaverse is transforming the training environment for first responders, encompassing police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers. Training these professionals in uncommon and dangerous circumstances has historically been expensive and logistically intricate. However, the emergence of virtual reality (VR) training provides a practical and cost-effective answer.

Virtual reality (VR) enables customized and realistic training experiences by utilizing immersive simulations in a virtual environment. The CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) system is an exemplary instance of this technology. The device casts holographic images onto the surrounding surfaces, immersing the user in a comprehensive training setting. The configuration allows unimpeded mobility and engagement with virtual and physical entities, accompanied by directional auditory cues, to replicate lifelike situations. The training method is not only cost-effective but also provides a higher level of safety. The technique enables first responders to simulate and navigate through difficult circumstances in a controlled environment with no risks. Government institutions, such as the New York Police Department, have already begun incorporating virtual reality (VR) into their training programs, primarily to simulate scenarios involving active shooter responses. The metaverse represents a significant advancement in first-responder education, offering them tools and experiences that are groundbreaking in effectively managing critical scenarios.

Learning Language

The metaverse has substantial potential to enhance language learning experiences. Conventional language acquisition, especially in listening and speaking, frequently necessitates context-specific surroundings that are difficult to recreate within a standard classroom atmosphere. Practicing airport dialogue should occur in an actual airport setting. However, this is not feasible from a logistical standpoint. The metaverse provides a solution by generating simulated environments, such as airports, where learners can participate in authentic role-playing scenarios and conversations with avatars or intelligent non-player characters (NPCs). At HCCS, we have incorporated Ovation platform to enhance students enrolled in ESL classes, and assist students in overcoming their public speaking fears. This innovative tool provides students with repeated exposure to virtual simulations that mimic the real-world scenarios they find intimidating. Through this practice, students can gradually build their confidence and improve their public speaking skills in a safe and controlled environment.

Despite the metaverse being in its initial development phase, it offers substantial opportunities, particularly within the higher education sector. Mastery of these technologies will become essential as students move from academia into their professional careers. Research has informed us that immersive learning boosts student engagement and hones their social skills working with peers. Therefore, it makes sense that our educational methods should evolve to include the metaverse, focusing on understanding how students interact within this space, developing their problem-solving and virtual collaboration skills, and ensuring ethical data practices. By integrating these aspects, we can leverage the transformative potential of the metaverse. This approach will also prepare our students with the vital competencies and knowledge to thrive in a progressively digital world.

About the author

Dr. Siddiqi has served as the president of Central College in Houston since 2017. Before assuming this role, he held positions in various higher education institutions in Chicago. Prior to transitioning to academia, he held senior leadership positions in corporate sectors both nationally and globally. Dr. Siddiqi is recognized as a researcher, educator, and administrator with a focal interest in leveraging technology to enhance students’ teaching and learning experiences.