Meta wants to bring students as young as 13 into metaverse


  • VR
  • Tuesday, 16 Apr 2024

An AI-generated image of VR headsets in a classroom. Meta’s foray into education is the latest prong of the company’s massive, expensive pivot to virtual and augmented reality. While uptake of the technology has been slow, the company hopes that introducing it into classrooms could help boost visibility and familiarity, especially among younger users. — Image by freepik

Meta Platforms Inc wants to bring its virtual reality headset into classrooms.

Students as young as 13 years old could take a trip to ancient Rome or tour the Metropolitan Museum of Art from a classroom in the Midwest, according to the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, as it prepares to launch its new educational product. The push comes as Meta and other social media platforms face congressional scrutiny over the lack of protections for kids online.

Meta’s foray into education is the latest prong of the company’s massive, expensive pivot to virtual and augmented reality. While uptake of the technology has been slow, the company hopes that introducing it into classrooms could help boost visibility and familiarity, especially among younger users.

“We are moving with immense, strategic patience,” said Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs, speaking in an interview. “As a general philosophy in our company, what we want to do is to try and encourage the use of this technology.”

Meta’s expenses this year are expected to ramp up to US$94bil (RM450bil) to US$99bil (RM474bil), with most of the spending going toward the technology infrastructure needed for virtual reality and artificial intelligence tools.

Education technology was thrown centre stage during the pandemic when shutdowns forced students into virtual classrooms and many districts placed large orders for computers and tablets to connect pupils with teachers. New York City, for instance, spent US$360mil (RM1.72bil) on 725,000 devices, according to Chalkbeat.

The technology, which has yet to be named, would allow teachers to program and manage multiple student headsets at once and give them access to education apps on the company’s Quest devices.

The product would likely be a subscription service similar to Quest for Business, which Meta launched last year and allows businesses to manage a group of headsets for office work. The company didn’t provide details on pricing for the subscription, but plans to have the product available for use in the fall.

If adopted in school settings, virtual reality headsets could follow in the footsteps of popular classroom technology like iPads, Google Chromebooks and smart whiteboards that facilitate teaching.

Clegg said the education product stems from demand from teachers, and cited a 2022 report that found students who learned in the metaverse version of Morehouse College outperformed those who attended in-person.

Still, there is limited research on the benefits of immersive virtual reality in education, in part because the landscape is developing faster than researchers can keep up. Some early studies have shown the technology can boost student motivation, while others have found it can overwhelm students and cause them to learn less.

Meta shares traded up as much as 1.3% on Monday after the stock set record highs earlier this month. – Bloomberg

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