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Educators Have Some Pointed Advice For Tech Companies Building the Metaverse

Talk of the metaverse is everywhere, even though the new, more immersive internet isn’t exactly here yet.

Even so, some educators are trying to get ahead of the curve to help influence what kinds of education products and services emerge in the metaverse.

This week the Brookings Institution released a brief policy titled “A Whole New World: Education Meets the Metaverse.” It offers advice to tech companies that are jumping into the metaverse, with principles from learning science for how to shape the development of their products and services.

The report is clear that the tech offers promises for education. But it notes there are worries about potential missteps as well.

So what do educators want these metaverse world-builders to know?

On this week’s EdSurge Podcast, we dig into education and the metaverse, with Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and one of the authors of that new Brookings paper.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page.

EdSurge: Why write about the metaverse now, when it isn’t even here yet?

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek: That’s actually why we decided to enter this space. A lot of us who study what we call the science of learning have been very, very interested in the quick rise in technological alternatives for young children. But quite often they’re introduced so fast and come on the market so quickly, that by the time we do our research already, it’s [too late because what we studied is already outdated].

So there’s a disconnect right now between how kids really learn and what they need to learn and what’s going on in the tech industry. And we’ve finally got to get in front of it, not behind it. And so that’s what we tried to do in this paper.

What are some of the basic points you’re calling for in how the metaverse can help learners?

We want it to be culturally responsive. We want it to be equitable—so it’s accessible by all kids and not just kids who can afford it. We want to make sure that it’s not just about, ‘take what was on the apps and plop it into the metaverse.’ That’s not what real learning is about. Real learning is deep learning, not superficial learning. And it’s more than just reading and math.

It’s still mostly an idea, but how do you define the metaverse?

It’s not just a really big screen. You’re kind of giving people the opportunity to experience a reality that they might not otherwise see.

So there are many experiences you can have through virtual reality once we solve the speed problem, which is what 5G is trying to do. We can create more opportunities, which is what Web3 is trying to do. [And we can] Create technological advances that allow this to be as is easy to use and maybe as cheap to use as sort of a kiddy Google glasses.

So you do see potential in this technology for educators?

We’ve made a lot of mistakes in technology for young kids [in the past]…. But if we can think ahead of time, intentionally about how to merge a hybrid education that uses the best of technology and makes things come alive. I think the opportunities for deep learning are endless.

Maybe [students] could meet Socrates when they go back. But Socrates knew that having a conversation, a dialogue and experience, is so much better than being lectured at. How many times has your audience been lectured at and how much do they remember about the lectures they got? Probably not much. But they probably do remember the experiences they’ve had.

[The goal is] playful learning. All you need to add is whatever your learning goal is and ta-dah, you have done it. And what do you get at the other end? Not just a better reading and math score, but the kids are able to remember it, to have deep learning, to transfer it to a new situation and to learn a suite of skills—like how you get along with others, collaboration, how to communicate about what you’ve learned, communication, the content of reading, math and science and social studies and learning to learn critical thinking, creative innovation and the confidence to give things a try.

It has taken many years to get to a point where schools have access to computers and internet, and it will probably take time to ramp up to whatever new technology is required to use the metaverse. What are your thoughts on the challenges of making sure the technology is accessible, especially in the early days?

Once we invented the car from the horse and buggy, then it was easier to invent the next car. So I mean, once you’re laid down the infrastructure, your speed of access should be kind of an exponential growth now.

Are there downsides? Sure. There are downsides. What if this becomes, so co-opted that really more-resourced places are the only ones that can afford it. That would be very problematic.

Are there solutions to it? Maybe it’s that city governments band together to say in each, in each town we will create a kind of metaverse area … where schools can go on field trips and we will have what they need to make sure that they can visit [virtual] Greece … and they can engage in citywide themes where people have different or some shared facility.

Find the rest of the interview on the EdSurge Podcast.

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