What the Metaverse Means for Higher Education

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at both University of Illinois Springfield and UPCEA, returns to the show to remind us of higher ed’s previous toe-dips into the metaverse back in the early 2000s and how institutions might start positioning themselves for the metaverse future that so many tech companies seem bent on bringing us to.

We're going to learn from the youth, I think, and we're going to learn. The marketers are going tolearn from what is gone over, what is peak the interest of youth forthe adult and the learning market. You're listening to enrollment growth university from HelixEducation, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollmentat their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques andstrategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's getinto the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member ofthe connect eedu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're heretoday with Ray Schroeder, senior fellow at both University of Illinois Springfield and UPSEEARay. Welcome back to the show. Thanks so much, eeric. It'sgreat to be here, where holds the record for most frequent enrollment growth universityguest of all times. Super excited to have you back for the fourth timeto introduce us to the metaverse and its implications for Higher Ed. But beforewe dig into that rate, can you give us a quick refresher on theUniversity of Illinois Springfield and your will there. Absolutely well, the University of IllinoisSpringfield was one of the pioneers in online learning, launching degree programs inone thousand nine hundred and ninety seven, and I was fortunate to be engagedat that time in that project and we have since evolved. We've got twodozen degrees, certificates, professional continuing education. It's really an exciting environment, especiallyin online learning. Right really recently we've seen a lot of the majortech companies right about their land grab claim to the metaverse. People who followthe higher and news outlets might have seen you writing about the metaverse the lastfew months prior to this one. So, as always, you're ahead of thecurve. Ry to kick us off today, can you give us adefinitional on definitional understanding? What is the metaverse? Well, the miniverse isa bit a morphic. It is evolving, it is using multiple tools online.It's an immersive, virtual, persistent environment. So, going through thoseterms, it's immersive because the all users actually take actions and interact with it. It's virtual, it's online and it's persistent and that means that an environmentis created that exists twenty four hours a day. Three hundred sixty five daysa year so that you can go back and pick off, pick up whereyou left off. You can engage people in different locations within this virtual environment. So it becomes much more of a visual and interactive environment then we havein traditional websites. And one moves through...

...this environment using avatars. So youcan struct an image, you build an image of yourself and that that Avatar, you know, can represent you very precisely, or it could be ofa different race, a different gender, or it could be a different species. Even you can represent you yourself in many ways and under that representation youinteract with others who have done likewise within the metaverse. And you you actuallyphysically, you can gave it appears that you walk using the controls. Youcan walk, you can jump, you can fly, you can move aroundthis environment and interact with videos, interact with tools. It really is kindof an exciting environment and you know it's interesting, Eric, that many ofour kids have have found this recently. You know, throw mine craft orthrough row blocks and and they're doing pretty exciting things. They're building, indesigning, in clothing and doing all kinds of innovative and creative work within that. If you will, virtual game environment. It is fascinating how cultural innovations seemto shift technological ones and or vice versa. It's almost like we allsaw a ready player one a few years ago and then tech companies went allright, I guess that's the futures. Let's start building it to that point. Why is the Meta vers such a big deal that facebook seems willing toposition their entire company around it? Well, one could say, because it's timefor facebook itself. It's time that they renew their initiatives. They've been, if you will, if not on a steep decline, at least they'vestagnated within the marketplace. And at the same time we have to develop technologiesand the ability to use technologies that previously existed, but we couldn't use itonline. For example, for quite a while we've had virtual reality, youknow, vre and we use it go to locations and use it in gamesand whatnot, and we put on our masks and and do that, butbut it's not done interactively online. Thing and and the reason has been that, for G and many of the earlier cable services had what is called ahigh latency. So when a signal was...

...sent from you as a remote user, to the Internet, to a server, and the the response came back,it took too long. So people using it online would trip, theywould fall, you know, and I shouldn't laugh at a laughing thing,but but some people became quite nauseous over it. So so now five Gis low latency, and not only that, that star link. You know thatElon Musk has put up low latency and now they call it ten G. it's a different technology than G, but ten G on cable, tenget a bit is what it's about. Is Really fast enough and with lowenough latency that you can support virtual reality and augmented reality. So these toolsnow are available to be used in a virtual environment online. I love thatconcept that our technology is finally catching up to our science fiction writers and that'swhat's unlocking this future. But let's talk about several years ago, a coupledecades ago, before we were quite there yet. Can you remind us ofeven higher educations, previous toe dips into the metaverse, as far back asthe early s? Absolutely, you know, and unfortunately I was able to workwith some of these technologies back in two thousand and five and six.Yeah, Linden labs had develop what they called second life, which continues andLinden labs, who's recently acquired by a group of investors, because they toorealize now it's time. The time has come. But what second life allowedus to do at the University of Illinois Springfield and many other universities is thatwe could replicate images of our buildings, and we did a little bit ofthat. We could also create new buildings. Well, I build a new studentunion for the UIS and it didn't cost three thirty million dollars. Itwas it was just virtual image, but nevertheless you could walk into the Unionand step in front of a video screen and select any of a number ofvideos to play. You could play a video about the university or an instructionalvideo about computer science or whatever, and as you did that there would beother people coming around. Someone walk up and say, May I help you, and these avatars would interact one with another. They could shake hands,they could speak and in fact, you know, it's much better now,but with automatic language translation in a hundred languages, you could you could speakin one language, the other avatar would hear it in their native language andthey could speak in their native language, in the person to whom they're speakingwould even you would hear it in there...

...their own language. So they areonce that capability and it was really exciting. You know, you could move aroundand we even I had some difficulty getting permission. In fact, Ithink I failed and had to go a different route in buying an island.I are purchasing office. Could understand why to buy an island, and thatwas it was frustrating for you, because what that wowed you to do insecond life was have an environment where other things wouldn't be built up right nextto you and impinge upon your campus. So so we got it donated bysomeone who persisted, but but you could have an island. So we're devotedto instruction and then we had faculty members who would have their classes. Intheir first session they would create an Avatar and they would get general instructions andthen they would continue the class with me things in second life and those kindsof meetings allowed the kind of discussions that normally you would have. So,for example, you could look at a video clip or you could just havereadings come to class. And we're going to talk about this today and interactone with another, and you know well, we did not do a formal studyof it, it seemed to us that people were more willing to becandid in their discussions. I'm certainly their formal studies and online learning that thatis the case in discussion boards, but we found it also true in secondlife and in the metaphors, because you're not looking at the other people,you know, right in their eye and your you have a little social distance, if you will, because of your Avatar and it allows you to makean expression. So imagine, if you will, the kinds of things thatwe do in our learning management systems, of be, you know, blackboardor canvas or whatever, and many of those can be done real time inthe kinds of discussions and interactions, but also in providing a synchronously providing textualmaterial, of course that could be downloaded, but also video clips that could bewatched, watched in small groups, or even lectures that could be streamedthrough through the metaphors. So it provides you that kind of environment. Andyou know, Erik Kin, they had had a very fascinating discussion with DrCraig Wilson, whose vice provosts of online and distance education at the University ofArizona, and one of the topics we talked about was what about race andwhat about gender and what about all of...

...those kinds of aspects of approaches?Or were international students? If, through their advotars, you're able to representthat, you can then see how other avatars respond to you and through thatVolois of that person, you can create the perception that that is who youare and it's not that you misrepresent yourself, but it gives you an opportunity toenter an environment and see how people react to one another, if youwill walk in someone else who's shoes for a day or for an entire semester, and so you know, they're just so many things that we can dousing this kind of immersive environment. That's no not done nearly as well throughthe kind of learning management systems that are common to the it was really funbeing able to try to picture myself in this immersive environment as you were explainingit. I think some of the benefits feel fairly intuitive. I love thepotential globalization through instant language translation. That's super exciting. I think the conceptof full immersion and feeling more communal, especially for an online learner seems reallyexciting. What else is there beyond novelty, where we're going to start seeing somehigh read use cases that we believe truly may not only just improve thesatisfaction of our online students, but but they're learning outcomes as well. Yeah, you know, the opportunity is particularly important in simulations. So you cancreate a business environment, you can create something specific to your industry and ina sense we've kind of evolved that way through virtual reality and medical schools,you know, where, fortunately, a number of the residents, surgical residents, will go through an operation once or twice before they caught on you andbefore they actually walk right into the operating room. And those are the kindsof things that we can do, not just for medical students, but wecan do it in business and we can do it in customer relations and wecan do it in advertising and we can do it in journalism and, youknow, so many other fields where we can have simulations that are really usefuland and and they become much more real, they're immersive. Or d you know, just yesterday it was Microsoft that announced Mash, which mash for teamsand it's a metavers for meetings. Well, you know, teams maybe not ubiquitous, but why do we used?...

We're going to see that virtual reality, rather the virtual environment, used for meetings and it's very much what wesee coming in the future for higher ad you know, it's really interesting towatch how this comes together. And yet, you know, we are novices atit and if we're looking for the real experts, we have to lookat the ten year olds and twelve year olds and eight year olds who arewho are using minecraft and who are using roadblocks, and they're doing all ofthat right now. They're creating things, are they're building buildings, their participatingand numerous kinds of games and simulations, if you will. They're creating clothingand and designing and and they're doing it at eight and ten years sold.So, you know, it's interesting. This is where it's going and there'ssome speculation that roblocks and and minecraft, actually robots, is a little olderthan minecraft. You know, one might think it's the other way around,but in any of them that they may dominate this market. They have ahuge investment and massive experience in this field and they're they're going to be growingtoo. It's funny. Ray, while I'm again I have too much sciencefiction. I have too much ready player one in my heads. But asI'm picturing these environments, I'm curious about the land grab opportunities or if it'san entirely different game. Fifteen years ago you were trying to grab in islandwithin this Linden labs world because that's where it took place. Do you anticipatehigher ed building spaces in a shared platform, whether facebook owns it, whether courseAra owns it, whether Roblox owns it, or institutions creating their verylocked, closed, gated Meta verses of their own? Well, I thinkthat we in a higher ad will benefit from the kinds of support that learningmanagement systems offer. Now, how that's integrated into the metavers will be willbe fascinating. You know, is it that the current lms has will buildthese, or will they provide software that we can implement in our own oryou know, I'm uncertain of how this business model is going to move,but I am certain that it's going to move quickly because if facebook and Microsoftand others are investing heavily in this, you know there's a lot of momentumbehind it and there's a lot of history...

...behind it. So it's going toevolve. And yet to be determined is who's going to own, if youwill, the virtual real estate. You know, will a university build itentirely of its own, or will it be part of a contract with alearning system that will provide this and you will be given space, just likenow you're given space for your classes, your discussion boards, etc. Youmentioned the fact of the timing, relevance of the fact that every tech companyis talking about metavers about a month after you did. That tech is finallycaught up. Are there any further constraints that exist today in terms of currenttechnology, limitations that, once solved, open up even really much more excitingmetavers possibilities that were going to unlock five, ten, fifteen years away? Well, you know, part of this hearkens back to a prior discussion wehad with quantum computing, because it's really processing power. If we're able toprocess images, if we have a bandwidth and a little latency, we cancreate increasingly refined environments online so they don't look like cartoon characters but rather theylook like real human beings and and the fidelity of it becomes more like amovie than it does in a kind of virtual reality, if you will,so that you know, and that's another problem we have. We talked aboutvirtual reality, but then we talk and have it our terms. We don'ttalk about the virtual potential of immersing individuals in full fidelity, if you will, into an environment. And so I think that's coming, and the samewith we are. We can do it today, but we don't have fulldeployment of Ig we don't have a large reservoir of V are out there towork with. We've got to catalog a lot of stuff in order to beable to use it in this environment and then we can begin to implement itin all kinds of fields. But but imagine going to a virtual chemistry laband now at all becomes much more real. Your avatar picks up the beaker andpours a chemical into another chemical and and then you tie traded and thenyou read it on. You know on the scale. All of that canbe done, whereas up to this point we've only had a limited number ofthose we could do within certain limitations. Becomes much more robust when we buildout the metaphors. Very wonderful, wonderful...

...stuff. As always finally, anynext steps? Advice for institutions listening in probably trying to decode your talk interms of stock tips and cryptocurrency investments, but but they're more so looking toland grab in the Higher Ed metaverse future. Today. Where should they start?What should they start thinking about? Well, I think you begin byspending spend a few days and an evenings with ten year olds. That's that'swhere you start, with ten, twelve, fifteen year olds maybe, and seewhat they're doing. See how they're using roblogs, how they're using minecraft and associated how they're building games, which we are be equivalent of simulationsin roblocks, how they're putting those pieces together. So those are the kindsof things. That's we're going to learn from the youth, I think,and we're going to learn the marketers, are going to learn from what isgone over what is peak the interest of youth and for the adult and thelearning market. So that's the first spot. The second is to to invest inmake a minor investment in the field, and there are many providers out therethat you could use that are doing online and you can just look forthem. I'm not going to endorse any particular commercial venture. Other than notethat Microsoft, I mean everybody's familiar with their product and probably uses their oneproduct or another. Others that their Mesh will be an interesting piece to lookat, but also we'll see that from facebook whenever they end up calling thispiece. Ray, thanks so much of your time today. What's the bestplace for listeners to connect with you they have any follow up questions? Well, you know I'm available. I'm on Linkedin as Ray Schroeder. I've I'mRay Schroder at, Ray Schroder on twitter and Ray Schroder at Gmail. Allof those get to me, so I'm always happy to talk to you.You're in particular, but but others, about the potential in our field.Ray, you're the absolute best. I love that you get to the futurea few years before the rest of us and can help guide us there.Thanks against so much for joining us today. Thanks a lot. Attracting today's newpost traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven,enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in thisnew education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollmentgrowth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's mostpressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for...

...free at Helix educationcom playbook. You'vebeen listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you nevermiss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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