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"Future So Bright, We All Gotta Wear Shades"

Today’s peek into the metaverse topic makes us wonder at the innocence and hope of that Timbuk 3 song. In our now compressed, cyber-crypto-climate-Covid times, things look darker in so many pockets of American life, with clear challenges looming ahead.

In higher education, we are wrestling with redefining our mission, methods, and business models so that we can:

  • bring down costs;

  • raise retention and graduation;

  • provide better equity and inclusion;

  • create new pathways for non-traditional students; and

  • prepare students for new workforce roles and experiences.

The current transformation of higher education is hard work. Change too often happens in slow, consensus-built increments. But then, it happens very fast, with innovation that may take your breath away.

It looks like a few universities are moving very fast in rapid bursts of innovation. Students will soon be entering a Metaversity replica of their campus, walking about in realistic 3D worlds, built by VictoryXR on a social VR platform. The students will, via an amazingly realistic technology, walk through their campus, access services, and then take classes where they will enter the human anatomy, time travel through history, or take a space ship to study astronomy. At Morehouse College, students already shrink down to the size of Ant-Man to tour the inside of the human body.

If you’ve never put on a virtual reality headset you cannot fully appreciate the power of these new innovations. When you do you will experience the cognitive dissonance of knowing you’re in a familiar space, but in some inexplicable way, you feel you’re elsewhere: running rapids, walking the streets of Paris, traveling through passages in the human heart.

Recently, I traveled (via my headset) to the International Space Station, where I spent the first few minutes after arrival terrified to step through my pod doors and float across space to enter the ISS. Until you put on the headset, you don’t understand how transformative it will be for a school to offer their students experiences where they transcend limitations of time, space, and access to choose direction, make choices, solve problems, reconsider, and independently move through space and time.

This is a game-changer for learning, problem-solving, comprehending…immersing. Arizona State University is now using the VR platform Dreamscape Learn for their entry-level, required BIO 181 and 182 courses. The students no longer enter a biology lab, but instead move around in a virtual environment, where their actions, movements, choices, and decisions are all up to them.

In the new Metaversities, students become scientists and explorers. They experience worlds they could never know without VR. Depending on the software and the course, this can be done from home, or specially equipped locations on the physical campus. Pilot campuses are demonstrating that it’s time to change, leverage new technologies within our grasp, and that higher education can and is moving in the right direction.

Future so bright, we all gotta wear shades.


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