How Mark Zuckerberg is reimagining the classroom

How Mark Zuckerberg is reimagining the classroom

Imagine boarding a school bus and being transported on an immersive educational tour of the inside of the human body — and no, not on a fictional episode of “The Magic School Bus.” This is the kind of experience Meta hopes to enable students, digitally, through the Quest virtual reality headset.

Later this year, Meta will launch new software for educators aimed at making it easier to use its VR headset in the classroom. The tool will allow teachers to manage and program multiple Quest headsets at once, giving them access to a variety of education-related apps and providing greater oversight and control over how students use the devices.

Bringing VR into more classrooms could enable new types of learning opportunities, such as allowing high school drama students to feel like they’re having an immersive real-time experience watching Shakespeare perform at the Globe Theater in the 17th century. But VR also raises strange questions about digital safety and the potential dangers to humans who have more digital interactions and fewer face-to-face interactions, as well as questions about whether incorporating technology in the classroom will actually improve learning.

“You’ll be able to teach biology and chemistry without having to have a full lab in the future … you’ll be able to walk the streets of Ancient Rome with students,” Meta’s President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, who has overseen Quest’s education initiatives, told me in an interview chat conducted through virtual reality before the announcement. The push to make VR more accessible to teachers and students is part of Meta’s long-term multibillion-dollar bet on the so-called metaverse: The company believes that in the coming years, humans will use virtual reality headsets to spend more time working. , learn and interact in a digital version of the world.

One selling point, according to Meta, is that VR enables things that are impossible in the real world due to limitations such as time, space and gravity. For example, when I interviewed Clegg, I was sitting in an office in Manhattan and he was in an office in London, but thanks to VR, it felt like we were sitting at the table together. (I say “sort of” because the bodies people inhabit in Meta’s virtual world still look like legless video game avatars that vaguely resemble their human users.)

However, it is still unclear how useful virtual reality is in helping students learn better.

“I think that (VR) is an area that would really benefit from having some additional research,” said Vincent Quan, an education researcher and joint executive director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. “With technology, of course, it can have a lot of promise, but at the same time, it can also be a lot of hype, and I think it’s important to carefully evaluate this type of technology … sometimes you don’t know if it’s just flashy and innovative and cool versus actually making an impact.”

Quan, who in 2020 was part of a group of researchers who published a broad review of studies on the impact of educational technology, said the findings on whether classroom technology leads to better learning are mixed — and depend on which tools are used and how. Meta, meanwhile, points to early studies on the benefits of VR, such as a PwC report from 2022 that found that students who received “soft skills” training in VR felt more engaged than those trained in a more traditional learning environment.

Clegg said the new Quest features are just a response to requests from teachers already using the device, as well as a growing group of developers building educational apps for the headset.

The University of New Mexico is using headsets to teach criminal justice students to investigate virtual crime scenes, and Morehouse College has developed a “digital twin campus” to teach students various subjects through VR, both through a partner program with Meta to test educational applications of the technology the said.

“They want this technology available to them out of the box, they don’t want to make a mess, waste time individually configuring each of them, and of course, importantly, they want full, complete visibility and control of student behavior. experience,” Clegg said of the feedback from educators who have used the device that informs Quest’s new educational software offerings.

For students aged 13 to 17, Clegg added that the new software includes special safeguards, such as restricting access to the Meta Quest app store so they can only use apps pre-programmed by teachers on the device.

Questions about VR in the classroom
The cost of including VR headsets in the classroom can be a barrier to adoption for many schools already struggling with limited resources. While cheaper than some other headsets on the market, Meta’s Quest 3 devices still start at $499 each.

“Sometimes with these new ed tech tools, they look so promising, it looks in theory like they should level the playing field,” Quan said. However, “the kids who benefit the most from additional instruction, they don’t have the infrastructure resources to use the technology or they don’t really know about the technology, so they don’t use it and then. actually makes the inequality gap widen.”

Clegg acknowledged that cost is “always, frankly, an issue when you have new technology introduced into education.”

“It costs something, so any cost is of course more burdensome for those with less income,” he said. However, he added that an experience like being able to take students virtually to a “museum instead of having to spend the expense of transporting them to your nearest museum … I think it could make a lot of really valuable educational experiences a lot cheaper” in the long run.

I also asked Clegg about the concern that having a classroom full of students wearing headsets and interacting in the digital world instead of talking face-to-face — or running a virtual biology lab instead of engaging with the physical world — could be felt by some. quite dystopian. He did not agree.

“I think in years to come, we’re going to look back and think it’s a bit dystopian that we ordered rows of kids to sit quietly behind desks staring at pages in books and I think we’re actually going to think, wow, that generation “previously they were basically directed to this non-fun way of learning,” Clegg said.

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