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 to learn from what is gone over, what is peak the interest of youth for the adult and the learning market. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect eedu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Ray Schroeder, senior fellow at both University of Illinois Springfield and UPSEEA Ray. Welcome back to the show. Thanks so much, eeric. It's great to be here, where holds the record for most frequent enrollment growth university guest of all times. Super excited to have you back for the fourth time to introduce us to the metaverse and its implications for Higher Ed. But before we dig into that rate, can you give us a quick refresher on the University of Illinois Springfield and your will there. Absolutely well, the University of Illinois Springfield was one of the pioneers in online learning, launching degree programs in one thousand nine hundred and ninety seven, and I was fortunate to be engaged at that time in that project and we have since evolved. We've got two dozen degrees, certificates, professional continuing education. It's really an exciting environment, especially in online learning. Right really recently we've seen a lot of the major tech companies right about their land grab claim to the metaverse. People who follow the higher and news outlets might have seen you writing about the metaverse the last few months prior to this one. So, as always, you're ahead of the curve. Ry to kick us off today, can you give us a definitional on definitional understanding? What is the metaverse? Well, the miniverse is a bit a morphic. It is evolving, it is using multiple tools online. It's an immersive, virtual, persistent environment. So, going through those terms, 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 environment is created that exists twenty four hours a day. Three hundred sixty five days a year so that you can go back and pick off, pick up where you 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 have in traditional websites. And one moves through...

...this environment using avatars. So you can struct an image, you build an image of yourself and that that Avatar, you know, can represent you very precisely, or it could be of a 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 you interact with others who have done likewise within the metaverse. And you you actually physically, you can gave it appears that you walk using the controls. You can walk, you can jump, you can fly, you can move around this environment and interact with videos, interact with tools. It really is kind of an exciting environment and you know it's interesting, Eric, that many of our kids have have found this recently. You know, throw mine craft or through row blocks and and they're doing pretty exciting things. They're building, in designing, 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 seem to shift technological ones and or vice versa. It's almost like we all saw a ready player one a few years ago and then tech companies went all right, 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 to position their entire company around it? Well, one could say, because it's time for 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've stagnated within the marketplace. And at the same time we have to develop technologies and the ability to use technologies that previously existed, but we couldn't use it online. For example, for quite a while we've had virtual reality, you know, vre and we use it go to locations and use it in games and whatnot, and we put on our masks and and do that, but but 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 a high 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, they would 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 G is low latency, and not only that, that star link. You know that Elon 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, ten get a bit is what it's about. Is Really fast enough and with low enough latency that you can support virtual reality and augmented reality. So these tools now are available to be used in a virtual environment online. I love that concept that our technology is finally catching up to our science fiction writers and that's what's unlocking this future. But let's talk about several years ago, a couple decades ago, before we were quite there yet. Can you remind us of even higher educations, previous toe dips into the metaverse, as far back as the early s? Absolutely, you know, and unfortunately I was able to work with some of these technologies back in two thousand and five and six. Yeah, Linden labs had develop what they called second life, which continues and Linden labs, who's recently acquired by a group of investors, because they too realize now it's time. The time has come. But what second life allowed us to do at the University of Illinois Springfield and many other universities is that we could replicate images of our buildings, and we did a little bit of that. We could also create new buildings. Well, I build a new student union for the UIS and it didn't cost three thirty million dollars. It was it was just virtual image, but nevertheless you could walk into the Union and step in front of a video screen and select any of a number of videos to play. You could play a video about the university or an instructional video about computer science or whatever, and as you did that there would be other 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 speak in one language, the other avatar would hear it in their native language and they could speak in their native language, in the person to whom they're speaking would even you would hear it in there...

...their own language. So they are once that capability and it was really exciting. You know, you could move around and we even I had some difficulty getting permission. In fact, I think 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 that was it was frustrating for you, because what that wowed you to do in second life was have an environment where other things wouldn't be built up right next to you and impinge upon your campus. So so we got it donated by someone who persisted, but but you could have an island. So we're devoted to instruction and then we had faculty members who would have their classes. In their first session they would create an Avatar and they would get general instructions and then they would continue the class with me things in second life and those kinds of 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 have readings come to class. And we're going to talk about this today and interact one with another, and you know well, we did not do a formal study of it, it seemed to us that people were more willing to be candid in their discussions. I'm certainly their formal studies and online learning that that is the case in discussion boards, but we found it also true in second life 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 make an expression. So imagine, if you will, the kinds of things that we do in our learning management systems, of be, you know, blackboard or canvas or whatever, and many of those can be done real time in the kinds of discussions and interactions, but also in providing a synchronously providing textual material, of course that could be downloaded, but also video clips that could be watched, watched in small groups, or even lectures that could be streamed through through the metaphors. So it provides you that kind of environment. And you know, Erik Kin, they had had a very fascinating discussion with Dr Craig Wilson, whose vice provosts of online and distance education at the University of Arizona, and one of the topics we talked about was what about race and what 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 represent that, you can then see how other avatars respond to you and through that Volois of that person, you can create the perception that that is who you are and it's not that you misrepresent yourself, but it gives you an opportunity to enter an environment and see how people react to one another, if you will 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 do using this kind of immersive environment. That's no not done nearly as well through the kind of learning management systems that are common to the it was really fun being able to try to picture myself in this immersive environment as you were explaining it. I think some of the benefits feel fairly intuitive. I love the potential globalization through instant language translation. That's super exciting. I think the concept of full immersion and feeling more communal, especially for an online learner seems really exciting. What else is there beyond novelty, where we're going to start seeing some high read use cases that we believe truly may not only just improve the satisfaction of our online students, but but they're learning outcomes as well. Yeah, you know, the opportunity is particularly important in simulations. So you can create a business environment, you can create something specific to your industry and in a 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 and before they actually walk right into the operating room. And those are the kinds of things that we can do, not just for medical students, but we can do it in business and we can do it in customer relations and we can do it in advertising and we can do it in journalism and, you know, so many other fields where we can have simulations that are really useful and 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 teams and 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 we see coming in the future for higher ad you know, it's really interesting to watch how this comes together. And yet, you know, we are novices at it and if we're looking for the real experts, we have to look at the ten year olds and twelve year olds and eight year olds who are who are using minecraft and who are using roadblocks, and they're doing all of that right now. They're creating things, are they're building buildings, their participating and numerous kinds of games and simulations, if you will. They're creating clothing and 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's some speculation that roblocks and and minecraft, actually robots, is a little older than 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 a huge investment and massive experience in this field and they're they're going to be growing too. It's funny. Ray, while I'm again I have too much science fiction. I have too much ready player one in my heads. But as I'm picturing these environments, I'm curious about the land grab opportunities or if it's an entirely different game. Fifteen years ago you were trying to grab in island within this Linden labs world because that's where it took place. Do you anticipate higher ed building spaces in a shared platform, whether facebook owns it, whether course Ara owns it, whether Roblox owns it, or institutions creating their very locked, closed, gated Meta verses of their own? Well, I think that we in a higher ad will benefit from the kinds of support that learning management systems offer. Now, how that's integrated into the metavers will be will be fascinating. You know, is it that the current lms has will build these, or will they provide software that we can implement in our own or you 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 Microsoft and others are investing heavily in this, you know there's a lot of momentum behind it and there's a lot of history...

...behind it. So it's going to evolve. And yet to be determined is who's going to own, if you will, the virtual real estate. You know, will a university build it entirely of its own, or will it be part of a contract with a learning system that will provide this and you will be given space, just like now you're given space for your classes, your discussion boards, etc. You mentioned the fact of the timing, relevance of the fact that every tech company is talking about metavers about a month after you did. That tech is finally caught up. Are there any further constraints that exist today in terms of current technology, limitations that, once solved, open up even really much more exciting metavers possibilities that were going to unlock five, ten, fifteen years away? Well, you know, part of this hearkens back to a prior discussion we had with quantum computing, because it's really processing power. If we're able to process images, if we have a bandwidth and a little latency, we can create increasingly refined environments online so they don't look like cartoon characters but rather they look like real human beings and and the fidelity of it becomes more like a movie 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 about virtual reality, but then we talk and have it our terms. We don't talk 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 same with we are. We can do it today, but we don't have full deployment of Ig we don't have a large reservoir of V are out there to work with. We've got to catalog a lot of stuff in order to be able to use it in this environment and then we can begin to implement it in all kinds of fields. But but imagine going to a virtual chemistry lab and now at all becomes much more real. Your avatar picks up the beaker and pours a chemical into another chemical and and then you tie traded and then you read it on. You know on the scale. All of that can be done, whereas up to this point we've only had a limited number of those we could do within certain limitations. Becomes much more robust when we build out the metaphors. Very wonderful, wonderful...

...stuff. As always finally, any next steps? Advice for institutions listening in probably trying to decode your talk in terms of stock tips and cryptocurrency investments, but but they're more so looking to land grab in the Higher Ed metaverse future. Today. Where should they start? What should they start thinking about? Well, I think you begin by spending spend a few days and an evenings with ten year olds. That's that's where you start, with ten, twelve, fifteen year olds maybe, and see what they're doing. See how they're using roblogs, how they're using mine craft and associated how they're building games, which we are be equivalent of simulations in roblocks, how they're putting those pieces together. So those are the kinds of 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 is gone over what is peak the interest of youth and for the adult and the learning market. So that's the first spot. The second is to to invest in make a minor investment in the field, and there are many providers out there that you could use that are doing online and you can just look for them. I'm not going to endorse any particular commercial venture. Other than note that Microsoft, I mean everybody's familiar with their product and probably uses their one product or another. Others that their Mesh will be an interesting piece to look at, but also we'll see that from facebook whenever they end up calling this piece. Ray, thanks so much of your time today. What's the best place 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'm Ray Schroder at, Ray Schroder on twitter and Ray Schroder at Gmail. All of 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 future a 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 new post 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 this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for...

...free at Helix educationcom playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (248)