The Meta Immersive Learning Project rolled out to ten universities and allows institutions to offer virtual-reality classes through a VR headset.
For one institution without a physical campus, the University of Maryland Global Campus, Iowa-based company VictoryXR has created a virtual campus with buildings, a grassy lawn, and a pond. According to a university official, students can put on the headset and enter an administration building, where they can chat with the financial aid avatar. Five metaverse courses are being offered this fall at the university, including courses in biology and astronomy.
No extra charge for students
Universities have long considered virtual reality teaching spaces. However, they have been reluctant to adopt the technology due to bulky headsets and engineering costs. But the pandemic forced learning institutions to consider virtual and augmented reality solutions more seriously.
Meta is well-positioned to take on this space, accounting for 90% of the current headset market. It is using the education initiative to allow companies and their engineers to learn the process of creating virtual environments.
But this is still just a pilot. All the universities involved said they would loan the VR headset to students. Students would not be required to pay extra for the use of the headsets. They would also spend a limited time in “metaversity,” conducting experiments or taking an excursion. In the case of a nursing school, it would allow students to interact with patients from diverse backgrounds instead of using one mannequin.
Courses at other institutions will include organic chemistry and anatomy classes, even history and English classes.
Downsides of VictoryXR’s tech
VictoryXR is optimistic about the future of virtual universities. It hopes to have 100 digital universities designed in one year, each costing the real institution about $50,000.
But it seems for now that the headset is the limiting factor, which can only be comfortably worn for one hour, dashing any hopes that it might ever supplant physical facilities. One commentator from Hacker News pointed out that its graphics rendering capabilities are also limited. Motion sickness for the wearer can also be an issue when moving, as it can appear like the ground is coming out from underneath a person.
There is also the issue of whether this attempt at virtual teaching spaces can be called “the metaverse” since virtual classes exist very much in a siloed environment. No mention has been made of the interoperability of the virtual teaching spaces of different universities.
Keeping Meta’s bigger play in mind
Meta is helping universities pay for unique digital environments. But one shouldn’t forget that Meta’s ultimate ambition is to monetize the metaverse. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company hopes to generate billions in revenue from the metaverse.
Cryptocurrency payments in the metaverse seem increasingly likely as Meta launched its own virtual currency for a limited number of creators within Horizon Worlds, its first VR application.
Zuckerberg envisions the metaverse, at some point in the future, as a place where one could buy digital goods and have them be transferable between worlds. Creators will monetize user experiences, making Meta the gatekeeper of a new virtual economy.