Into The Metaverse, We Go…

Two years ago, if I had announced to a class that we would “go virtual,” I would have received a variety of confused looks. Those blank stares would have looked exactly like the ones I received two weeks ago when I announced that our class before Thanksgiving Break would be “virtual, but not in Zoom.”

I’m a big believer in making sure that students are not only learning from textbooks, assignments, and lectures. They need to know about what is currently happening in the spaces that I’m teaching about. As a Business Professor, I start every class discussing the latest news, technology, and other topics that the students bring up.

When Facebook changed its name to Meta, it led to a lot of discussions. A few weeks later, when I lectured about emerging technologies, I started by talking about my time overseeing the construction of our agency’s Second Life island and then our Virtual Thirst project for The Coca-Cola Company.

I had fun informing all of my students that they’ve already spent time in the metaverse that is being talked about everywhere these days. We talked about their first memory of connecting with strangers on the computer, which led to laughs and smiles about Webkinz, Club Penguin, and Neopets. More recently, many had spent time playing Minecraft, Fortnite, or Pokemon Go. They hadn’t realized all of these were part of what they were learning about.

A floating head avatar of Professor C.C. Chapman inside a virtual log cabin with other various avatars floating around him.

To truly drive the point home, I set up a room in Mozilla Hubs and invited all of my classes to jump in there instead of coming to our regular classroom. This way, they could potentially go home early for the break and still attend class. Attendance was better than it typically is for an in-person class the day before break.

I chose this platform because it is free, can be launched from any web browser, and works on any device, including a phone. I did not want any student to struggle with jumping into virtual reality, and plus, I love what Hubs is building and how empowering they are for experimentation in this space.

An aerial view looking down on a class happening inside of Mozilla Hubs.

I chose to start us in a rather dull dome. My thinking was that this would allow even the slowest of connections to get in and hear what I was talking about. I would later change the setting to various spaces, including an outdoor festival setting and a snow-covered cabin decked out in holiday fun.

Multicolored avatars gather in a virtual fair ground.
Avatars float around an open air art gallery in a virtual space.
Virtual holiday log cabin filled with floating avatars.

We had some audio issues and glitching that come anytime you try something like this. I showed the students how they could draw and drop objects. Some took my suggestion of customizing their avatar ahead of time at Ready Player Me, and it didn’t take long for them to figure out how to set up a selfie cam.

The reactions were mostly positive, and I feel good about how it went as my first attempt at this sort of thing. I know it won’t be the last time I bring my students into a virtual setting to further their learning.