The former Facebook also purchased Oculus, the largest maker of consumer VR headsets, in 2014, and rebranded it Reality Labs. This partnership released the Oculus Rift and Quest VR headsets. VR headsets became available in the early 1990s from gaming companies like Sony, but the Oculus headsets helped popularize the technology to become more mainstream with gamers. While clumsy to wear compared to smart glasses, VR headsets provide an immersive experience with better miniature video screens and the ability to block out environmental light. Unfortunately, this immersive experience can cause motion sickness or dizziness for some users, although children and young adults are usually less sensitive to headset motion sickness than adults. Researchers at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere have reported high rates of motion sickness with VR headsets, up to 70% of users after only 15 minutes of use. If VR headsets are utilized for virtual classroom education in which students wear the devices for extended periods of time, motion sickness may prove too prevalent for practical use.
Despite the current lack of curriculum, many tech companies are working on virtual education experiences for students, including Microsoft and Meta. A wide variety of startups have emerged as well, and one of the biggest is Decentraland, a massive, 3D world overseen by the nonprofit Decentraland Foundation where users can buy virtual plots of land and interact with legions of other digital avatars. Decentraland uses cryptocurrency for transactions, making the purchases secure using the Ethereum blockchain. Other popular, growing, digital worlds in the metaverse include The Sandbox, Axie Infinity, Enjin, and WEMIX. Finding proven educational curriculum in these online worlds is still challenging.
Some tool makers are achieving modest success already, especially Roblox. The company currently provides a game-making platform which is used by gamers as well as teachers to demonstrate principles of computer programming. And Roblox appears to understand the huge need for proven curriculum. They have already announced a program to spend $10 million to support development of immersive virtual STEM curriculum for its metaverse platform.
Meta is similarly spending money to incentivize developers to create educational content. Their Spark AR curriculum is available on Coursera and edX to help developers access the tools needed to build content. But even Meta knows they have their work cut out for them in building content. Marne Levine, Meta’s chief business officer, noted at their late 2021 name-change press event, “In order to get there, we’re going to need to help build the skillsets of the people who build these experiences.” She also promises that “learning won’t feel anything like the way we’ve learned before.” Meta has set the bar very high.
One ground-breaking school has already gone all-in on the metaverse for education. The Optima Classical Academy (https://www.optimaclassical.org) hopes to open in 2022 as a 100% virtual charter school. The school will be available tuition-free to Florida students in grades 3-8, but will accept students from anywhere. They plan to have virtual classrooms with a wide variety of themes, from underwater classrooms to Greek temples. Children will work from their own homes or other suitable locations, and use VR headsets like the Oculus to participate. Their goal is to combine the latest virtual technologies with a “classical tradition and sequence of education.”