Giving students an opportunity to use digital avatars with the metaverse for learning is a relatively new phenomenon, but one with tremendous potential. Despite their novelty, avatars can appeal to a generation of students who have grown up using technology in almost every aspect of their day-to-day lives. It is important that educators understand how metaverse technology can benefit students and learn how to use it effectively.
Keep reading to learn more about how to teach tech-savvy students using metaverse avatars or visit UNIVERSE, ViewSonic’s metaverse education solution.
Digital technology is integrated into almost every aspect of a modern student’s life, which is why students of this generation are often referred to as digital natives. A digital native is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “a person who is very familiar with digital technology, computers, etc. because they have grown up with them,” and this level of familiarity means that these students are often more tech-savvy than many adults, including their own teachers.
Students today make use of technology in so many different ways, for entertainment, socializing, learning, and engaging in activism. Educators need to acknowledge this reality, as a new way to help students with their studies and boost engagement is through specific, personalized learning strategies. It is also important to adapt to the times and meet students where they are with technology, rather than maintain the status quo. After all, a significant advantage of using technology in the classroom is the ability to prepare students for the future.
In this article, we will explore the topic of the metaverse, explain what a metaverse avatar is, discuss why these avatars can be beneficial, and cover some of the different types of learning that this technology makes possible. As a result, you should gain a better understanding of how to use metaverse avatars to teach digital natives.
The Metaverse and Metaverse Avatars
The metaverse is one of the emerging ways in which schools and other academic institutions are trying to cater to the needs of tech-savvy students, but what is the metaverse, how is it defined, and what does it mean in practice?
Broadly speaking, the metaverse can be described as an immersive, virtual world where meaningful social interactions and connections can occur, powered by technology like the internet, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and blockchain technology. Although the metaverse has been made popular by Meta in recent years, this is not the only one available. The metaverse is being developed by several companies to enhance virtual experiences. An article published by XR Today highlights its ability to provide spaces for “rich user interactions” that resemble the real world, while the Education Next website published an article that emphasizes the fact that the metaverse can be experienced synchronously by multiple people who all retain their agency.
In truth, there is still some debate about precisely how the metaverse should be defined because different companies have different approaches, while users also have varying expectations. Nevertheless, a good way to think about the metaverse is as a virtual world, which functions as a ‘third space’ beyond work/education and home life.
It is also important to understand that there are different ideas about how to integrate the metaverse into the sphere of education, with some prioritizing gamification. On the other hand, others emphasize social experiences or boundless learning. Another area where metaverse benefits are manifesting is in regard to diversity, equality, and inclusion (DE&I). In particular, UNIVERSE by ViewSonic is interested in how the metaverse can function as a tool for creating a sense of belonging and inclusivity within an online learning environment.
One of the most effective ways to deliver this kind of belonging and feeling of acceptance and support is through the creation and utilization of a digital metaverse avatar. These can then be controlled and used within a digital environment to interact with teachers and other students so learners can ultimately gain knowledge and get familiar with the course material.
Digital Identity vs. Digital Twin
One of the most common features associated with metaverse platforms — and a feature present within UNIVERSE by ViewSonic — is the ability to create and control a metaverse avatar. It can be considered a digital representation of a person within an online environment. A simple way to understand it may be through a comparison to a video game character. This avatar is used to traverse the digital world and interact with avatars controlled by other people.
One key point to understand is the fact that metaverse avatars can take two main forms, depending on the metaverse platform being used and, in some cases, the preferences of users. These two types can be broadly described as digital identities and digital twins, and you can learn more about the distinction below.
Some metaverse platforms promote the idea of a digital identity, which involves the creation of a customizable digital avatar. Within the context of education, this means that students will have the ability to create their own avatars, potentially deciding on things like hair color and clothes. In some cases, these digital identities could even be something other than a human, meaning the avatar could be an animal, a fictional character, or even an imaginary creature.
There are some significant advantages to this approach, especially with regard to accessibility. Using an avatar of this kind can allow students to bypass some of the aspects of their own individuality that they have anxieties about. For instance, an avatar of this kind could help a student who has difficulty making eye contact. Alternatively, it could be beneficial for a student who is anxious about a physical feature that disrupts concentration or communication.
The main alternative to the digital identity approach of metaverse avatars is the creation of a digital twin, which is essentially a digitized version of the user. Again, within the context of education, this would mean that the platform allows students to create a digital version of themselves, complete with their own unique features and the sense of individuality associated. It is also a way to bridge the gap between the real and digital worlds.
Depending on the platform, digital twins could be controlled from a first-person perspective or from a third-person perspective, where users are capable of seeing themselves. Regardless, this approach is good for ensuring that every metaverse avatar is completely unique and a true representation of the person controlling it.
Metaverse Avatars and Different Types of Learning
The use of metaverse avatars opens up the possibility for different types of learning. In particular, the technology can help facilitate peer-to-peer learning between multiple students and enable the platform to deliver greater digital accessibility. You can learn more about the use of the metaverse for these purposes below:
1) Peer-to-Peer Learning
Peer-to-peer learning, or peer learning, is a process in which students learn by actively helping and supporting one another. Essentially, it can be used to build confidence and social skills while learning course material.
A metaverse platform can serve as a perfect space for students to interact with one another. Virtual worlds like UNIVERSE by ViewSonic, which are focused on meaningful interactions and emotional connection, also allow students to share ideas and learn from one another in much the same way as they would in the real world. This then opens the possibility for student-to-student tutoring to take place outside of usual school hours.
The use of online personas or avatars can help some students to overcome issues like shyness or social anxiety, meaning they are better able to handle these kinds of interactions. As a result, it becomes possible for teachers to pair up students based on their ability levels and needs at that moment, allowing those who require extra support to receive it. This kind of tutoring can also help the students involved build trust and even establish lasting friendships.
One of the more interesting ways in which students can learn using metaverse avatars or digital characters is by becoming more culturally responsive. The internet is a vast digital space utilized by people all over the world, which means the metaverse provides the opportunity for students to meet other learners from different locations. For all students, the cultural norms and expectations they are exposed to will inevitably shape their thinking.
However, by connecting with people in a virtual world, students have the opportunity to share ideas, interact with other people, and break down prejudices in their own ways through first-hand interactions, as opposed to only learning to break down prejudices that are overcome through help from educational systems and the media. In many cases, well-designed metaverse avatars can also showcase cultural differences in a completely safe environment, with signifiers such as clothing.
Another area where peer-to-peer learning is relevant to the metaverse is in concern to the potential for cross-campus collaboration. In simple terms, this means that students attending one academic institution can potentially communicate with, share ideas, and otherwise learn alongside students at other academic institutions.
This is an especially exciting development because students may participate in classes or lessons that are not offered by the school, college, or university they attend. The metaverse can also be used by colleges and universities to recreate their physical campuses in the digital world. From there, students who are considering an application can explore the campus from their own digital device, using their metaverse avatar.
2) Digital Accessibility
The concept of digital accessibility is vitally important and should be a key focus when teaching tech-savvy students using metaverse avatars. Broadly speaking, digital accessibility is about ensuring that all students can perceive and use digital technology, regardless of their personal circumstances and physical or cognitive impairments.
One of the single biggest accessibility obstacles is physical health and its capacity to prevent classroom attendance. However, classroom attendance can also be impacted by other personal circumstances, which may make it difficult to travel to and from school, college, or university. One of the major ways in which the metaverse can be used to boost accessibility is through online attendance.
Essentially, the metaverse can remove distance barriers entirely, making it possible for students to virtually attend a class and participate, or allow students to attend extracurricular sessions even if they cannot be physically present. At the same time, the metaverse can overcome some of the problems with conventional distance learning, such as negative feelings connected with not being seen and not seeing others.
A Level Playing Field
Finally, a noticeable accessibility benefit connected with metaverse avatars is a general leveling of the playing field for students, who are all represented by a digital avatar that will share basic similarities. This can be of value to students who may otherwise feel different from their peers or singled out because of a disability.
As an article for Happy Game Changers outlines, gamification elements can be beneficial for neurodivergent people. This could include students with autism, dyslexia, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By making sure your metaverse for education tools have these gamification elements, you can help students learn in an environment that can bring about positive experiences and outcomes.
The metaverse is still an emerging concept, and it is essential for educators to understand that there is likely to be a further evolution of some of the current ideas. Nevertheless, it has already been established that the use of metaverse avatars has some significant benefits that should not be ignored by academic institutions.
In particular, the use of metaverse avatars can help facilitate more peer-to-peer learning, which can include tutoring and even cross-campus collaboration. This is important because peer learning can help boost student engagement and deepen their understanding of a topic. It can also be important for building the kind of communication and teamwork skills that will serve students well in future careers and in everyday life.
Going further, the metaverse and the use of metaverse avatars can help deliver a greater level of digital accessibility by removing barriers based on physical location. Meanwhile, gamification elements can help neurodivergent students, and avatars can help students circumvent areas of anxiety, like eye contact or public speaking.
Learn more about how the metaverse can create an immersive virtual world that students can thrive in or visit UNIVERSE by ViewSonic, an education-focused metaverse platform that may be used to promote immersive learning, meaningful community creation, and boundary-free collaboration.