LTE 2022: Metaverse Will Change the Education Ecology: Teachers and Students Embrace its Opportunities and Challenges
The concept of the Metaverse has swept the entire world since its advocation by the world’s largest social media platforms and multinational companies. In fact, the technology behind the Metaverse is nothing new. Why does the Metaverse suddenly stimulate such a heated discussion in society? The education sector in Hong Kong has started to think about its influence, potential and challenges in education. How exactly will the Metaverse affect future education ecology? How can teachers get prepared to work with students in embracing the Metaverse environment in the future?
The Internet Shaping the Metaverse
The origin of the Metaverse can be traced back to the virtual reality world described in the science-fiction novel Snow Crash in 1992. Professor Guo Yike, Vice-President (Research and Development) of Hong Kong Baptist University, said he believes the recently popularised Metaverse, which involves virtual reality, blockchain, cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, are all products derived from the Internet. ‘In considering the entire concept of the Metaverse, I think the Metaverse is actually a brand new internet infrastructure realised by the combination of technologies developed during the last 10 years, and this infrastructure has brought many changes to the Internet ecosystem,’ Professor Guo added.
Changing How Humans Form their Communities
Professor Guo explained the Metaverse that works similarly to technological tools invented all these years has improved how the people communicate and form social groups. He illustrated with some examples to prove progressive advancement as such: the invention of wheels promoted human mobility and communication, expanded the accessible distance, and opened up the agricultural era; the invention of automobiles, trains, and airplanes followed by the invention of the steam engine have further expanded the accessibility. Besides, the invention of telephones and emails have enabled a swift delivery of information, and the reachable distance of human tends to be infinite. The virtual reality supported by the Internet involved in the Metaverse not only breaks the physical distance, but also changes our way to form communities. Humans are no longer bounded by geographical and temporal limitations, and can enter the world with zero distance freely. ‘Our organisational structure has always been determined by our physical distance: we gather for meetings and establish a company with an office, a school with a campus, and classes with teachers and classrooms. With the new internet infrastructure, the accessibility becomes infinite, and (the way) how we organise has changed,’ Professor Guo said. The ‘decentralised autonomous organisation (DAO)’ is formed.
Taking education as an example, Professor Guo said that it has already been an exemplification when schools started to conduct online classes during the epidemic, enabling the communication between teachers and students and giving rise to social organisations. He also added the Metaverse will change the way how schools are formed. Teaching may become a service and students no longer need to physically go to schools and be bound by a specific education institute. Professor Guo found it changes the concept of diplomas as well. ‘It could be a virtual university when two thousand people are recruited to learn online. The diplomas issued by such university should be very notable if reputable teachers, scholars and Nobel prize winners are teaching online in this university. As such, a world-class school can suddenly be formed on the Internet as a DAO,’ he said. Nevertheless, Professor Guo added that physical schools will not be gone, but they would evolve to another form, providing facilities and research environment for professors and teachers to conduct online class.
Breaking the Boundaries while Keeping Dexterity and Interactions
Breaking geographical restrictions, online teaching allows for a more diversified curriculum in the future for students to enrol in their preferred overseas courses online anytime. Professor Guo said that universities have introduced a number of cross-regional and cross-disciplinary courses, and shared campuses have emerged attributed to the Metaverse. He expected content for students’ learning will become personalised in the future. Regarding the comment that emotional support is hardly available to students with virtual reality, Professor Guo responded that teachers can still teach students to face adversities through virtual environments. ‘You can create a virtual environment, say a typhoon disaster, and teach students how they can deal with it,’ Professor Guo said. He also indicated that the Metaverse world can also be a two-way interactive tool. For example, smart gloves can enhance the user’s tactile sensation, and an immersive virtual environment with various sensors installed can actualise the information interaction between people and the environment.
Teachers of Different Talents as Inheritors of Human Civilisation
The role played by physical schools will be diminished when students can easily access courses around the world. Professor Guo stated that the Metaverse brings both opportunities and challenges to us. As a member of the Metaverse, teachers need to learn to make good use in this gigantic and free platform to impart knowledge. Professor Guo cited an example of a teacher at the High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China. The teacher, Mr Yongle Li, who graduated from Tsinghua University, has millions of followers on the Internet. It did not sound possible in the past, but the Metaverse has created an opportunity as such, allowing capable teachers to educate more people, and at the same time help themselves to grow. ‘Teachers need to learn much as well. When they teach more, they learn more. As there are just so many people to learn from, a good teacher becomes a true inheritor of human civilisation,’ he added.
On the other hand, Professor Guo anticipated that teachers will face huge challenges in future because students will tend to choose teachers with high teaching proficiency. The future education environment will set high standards for teachers. Teachers will need to redefine their roles in education and strengthen their own advantages in order to apply them to the fullest in the competitive education sector. ‘I think it is fair to have competitions as such. The competitions will give rise to stratification: maybe you are not good at delivering your lectures, but you could be good at counselling. You could then redefine your role in that aspect. When everyone is playing their best role in the Metaverse, the diversity in education emerges,’ Guo explained.
Equip Students in Distinguishing Right from Wrong in the Metaverse
If all kinds of educational programmes are readily available in the Metaverse, how can we ensure the quality of education? Professor Guo said he believes that courses in the Metaverse will be subject to social evaluation and monitoring, and that the government must think about how to change the mode of management to render valid and quality content. Professor Guo pointed out that the process of transformation cannot be optimised in one step. While keeping an open attitude towards new things, teachers should equip students with ‘Digital Thinking’ skills. Students who possess such skills are able to verify the validity of the information circulating in the Metaverse in the future and to comprehend the products of the new era such as smart contracts and asset codes.
Hong Kong, who acts as the bridge connecting China and western countries, enjoys a great extent of freedom in different aspects. Professor Guo hopes Hong Kong will leverage its advantages in education, creative arts, and finance to seize the opportunities brought by the Metaverse, rather than simply thinking from a utilitarian perspective. ‘If everyone’s understanding of the Metaverse is relatively narrow and utilitarian, the development of the Metaverse in Hong Kong will not make much progress, probably just promoting virtual reality experience and initiating transactions of virtual currency. However, if we recognise the advantages that the Metaverse can bring to our society, we can embrace the opportunities, accept the challenges, and lead ahead of the times.’