Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore pushed the colonial classroom outside in 1901. No longer surrounded by brick-and-mortar classrooms, students were educated in the shade of mango trees that stood on the cool tranquility of the red laterite soil of Birbhum. .
It was as if holistic learning was only possible in the open air – through a dissolution of factory-modeled teaching spaces and a rigidity of mind. Aside from Tagore, the importance of curiosity, play, and disruption were ideas that continued in the development of education.
However, very few have taken it to a material level where the cookie cutter itself as a space has been rudely disturbed and rethought. In his 2015 interview with architect Larry Kearns, who worked on co-educational learning spaces for Chicago Intrinsic Schools, author Michael B. Horn notes how Kearns disrupted the architecture of classroom design of a cellular model by pushing “the teacher’s desk to the margins.” and rearrange the classroom into open study rooms and “pop-up classrooms.”
But these instances of pushing the class out of the definitive walls or disrupting the spatial hierarchy automatically assigned to the teacher have found a strange resurrection in the metaverse. I talked to Dr. Alex Howland, co-founder and president of the virtual world platform Virbela, to understand how the meta-verse disrupts traditional teaching and learning spaces.
From physical to metaphysical
Virtual reality platforms like Virbela demonstrate that it is architecturally possible to move from the physical world of a classroom or corporate training space to a hyper-realistic learning space. While it is safe to say that Zoom, YouTube, and other platforms already offer learning opportunities that are not limited to physical buildings, Metaverse dives a little deeper by focusing on spatial immersion.
Dr. Howland compares it to the active experience of reading a novel and immersing yourself in the plot, the setting, and the characters’ lives. Unlike the passive consumption of learning material from a talking head or voiceover in a video, learning in virtual reality creates an elusive sense of movement and action. On the Virbela platform, a student can e.g. accompany his avatar to a community center to learn about global warming, dance to a rooftop concert, stop by to greet another avatar, or join a lineup. wirelessly waiting to raise a technical issue with IT staff. . With a number of custom architectural features, several universities, including Stanford, which hosts some of its leadership programs on this platform, have begun to take their courses in the metaverse.
Not limited to mimicking the real architectural constructions of campus environments, Virbelas Frame products allow complete customization of environments by people with “technical skills who are beginners” to build their own environment. Some teachers have constructed environments based on snippets of ocean life taken from the Great Barrier Reef and sent their students on a journey into the blue underworld of ancient corals. Some took their student avatars to Australia’s extraterrestrial coasts in 18
Prison ships from the 20th century to learn about the history of penal deportation and settlements. Referring to an e-commerce company that uses the Virbela campus for employee training, Dr. Howland, how the company’s virtual fulfillment center serves as a classroom for new employees being coached on the machines. , security, boxes entering and leaving the center, etc. without the hassle of having to attend a busy distribution center.
This shift from traditional learning spaces and passive learning forms to the atypicality of intangible campuses and immersive learning environments in cyberspace indicates a major shift in the spatial identity of learning habitats.
From teacher to student
The consumer culture and democratization of Internet-based teaching has decentralized the teacher’s desk.
The figure of the teacher is no longer a single source of authority in the classroom because the student, endowed with innumerable hyperlinks and free access to information, has become at the center. Metaverse platforms like Virbela focus on centering the student in its playful environments, ranging from cellular classrooms to alternative peer-to-peer learning, virtual outdoors and other spaces.
This break with formalism in physical learning spaces has led to the meta-verse creating more interactive and fluid learning environments capable of integrating students from different parts of the world who cannot travel in the same physical space from learning.
But like most things in life, changing tides also have complex consequences. In his post, “Why Digital Avatars Make the Best Teachers,” Professor Jeremy Bailenson talks about the ability of virtual reality to ensure that no students are left in a virtual classroom.
This is possible thanks to a follow-up of the teacher’s and student’s bodily movements. Bailenson explains: “In a video game, a person must act intentionally to produce a behavior. But in virtual reality, equipment tracking [can be integrated to] discover what a person is doing and … redraw the avatar that performs the same action … However, users can change their feeds in real time … For example, a teacher may choose that their computer should never display an angry expression, but always replace it with a calm face. Or it can filter out distracting student behaviors, such as talking on cell phones.
Although he warns that “we must be careful not to cross the line between strategic transformations and outright deception”, one wonders whether such changes herald an era of mechanical utopia that does not care much about effects. Psychological effects of such altered behavior patterns on both teachers and students.
While the meta-verse promotes a fluid and democratic learning space with a decentralization of the teacher / coach and a refocusing of the learner, one must look for other forms of social engineering that take the place of the teacher’s authority.
Dr. Jayendrina Singha Ray’s research interests include postcolonial studies, spatial literature studies, British literature, rhetoric, and composition. Prior to teaching in the United States, she worked as a writer at Routledge and taught English at colleges in India. She lives in Kirkland.