The Metaverse Is Being Built

I know that Facebook has generated a lot of talk about the metaverse, but the metaverse will be built and contain many companies and persistent virtual worlds. Those places will interoperate with one another. They will also interoperate with the physical world. Microsoft has described the metaverse as “a persistent digital world that is inhabited by digital twins of people, places and things.”

It will certainly create its own economy, much like what happened from the early days of the Internet. Many metaverse stories seem to portray as a leisure and game environment, but it will take in much more serious industries and markets. It will certainly include eventually finance, retail,  health & fitness and others. (I think it will be incorporated into education too, but that will be an upcoming article.)

Do you recall when Niantic launched its very popular Pokemon Go in 2016? That launch moved the idea of merging the physical world and AR and VR experiences. I read recently that Niantic CEO John Hanke had once called the metaverse a “dystopian nightmare,” but now they are looking to create their own version that will be AR-focused. Their augmented reality development kit is called Lightship. It is intended to make it easier to build AR experiences.

An article on gizmodo.com listed other companies besides Facebook and Niantic that are already building their way into a metaverse.   

Microsoft announced efforts to pursue an enterprise, office-focused metaverse by integrating AR and VR from its Microsoft Mesh platform into Teams which it sees as a “gateway to the metaverse."

Nvidia's OmNVIDIA Omniverse is an open platform where creators, designers, researchers, and engineers can connect major design tools, assets, and projects to collaborate and iterate in a shared virtual space. The company's announcement shows it as part of their broader “omniverse” ambitions. Omniverse is their own branded name for the metaverse and I suspect other companies will also try to brand their part of the metaverse, although a true metaverse will contain all of them. The Internet contains many portals, platforms, domains, and websites, but they are all the Internet or World Wide Web.

Meta, which people consider something new, actually has years of experience building its VR and AR applications. They already have their Horizons Workrooms platform available as a free beta on the Oculus Quest 2. It is a virtual office space designed for workers at home, in the office, or anywhere else. (Note: The Oculus brand


NOTE: In October 2021, Facebook, Inc. announced that it would change its corporate name to Meta, and that the Oculus brand name would be phased out in 2022. Future VR hardware produced by the company is expected to fall under the "Meta" brand rather than Oculus, while "Horizon" will be used for immersive social experiences operated by Meta, including those previously operated under the Oculus brand.

 

 

Farewell to Baccalaureate Degrees?

graduation caps
Image by Gillian Callison from Pixabay

The University of Al Qarawiynn appeared 12 centuries ago in what is now Morocco. In 1088, the University of Bologna was founded. It seems that colleges and universities have always been with us and many of us expect them to always be the leading paces for serious education and research, launching careers and changing the world.

But enrollments for undergraduates have been declining in the 21st-century. InsideHigherEd reports that enrollments dropped by 600,000 (3.5 percent) in the past year and they report on the "demise of the baccalaureate degree."

Why? This past year the pandemic certainly had an impact on enrollments but the trend goes back further. Quick answers include the cost, outdated methods and employers who increasingly find less value in the degree.

Both employers and students seem to be wanting shorter credentialing than the traditional four-year (sometimes) baccalaureate, and alternative credentials. 

If higher education hasn't kept pace the past few decades with technological and social change, it's not shocking. "Change from 1821 to 1822, or 1921 to 1922, was likely somewhat less frenetic than we see from 2021 to 2022."  Somewhat is an understatement.

In the article cited above, Ray Schroeder asks if higher education has kept up by changing: courses, prerequisites, general education requirements, curricula, competencies, emphases and anticipating and incorporating social shifts in working and leisure. He thinks it means "teaching for the future rather than the past."

He asks, "Who on your campus is leading the charge to update the curriculum, to cultivate alternative credentials, to promote revised transcripting that will turn the process over to the student as owner with the university becoming one of a whole host of participants offering documented credentials? Will your institution be left behind, charging $100,000 or more for an outdated and less relevant baccalaureate while others will be offering less expensive, more relevant, just-in-time credentials that are valued by both employers and students?"

 

 

The Virtual Internship

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The in-person internship

Internships for college students (and sometimes high school students) have long been a good experience. They help young people develop a professional aptitude, learn real-world skills, and often create an opportunity for a follow-up job. They took a hit during the pandemic with offices closed and a reluctance on both sides to be out in the world.

Virtual internships became a thing. I assume some existed before but not in great numbers. I read about some undergrads at Brown University who began Intern From Home in March 2020. They wanted to salvage internships during the pandemic for classmates with a free, simple-to-use platform. They were connecting students at more than 200 colleges with virtual internships and it looks like they have doubled that.

They were not the first to do this. Sites like virtualinternships.com offer college and high school students internship opportunities.

When I was a college student many moons ago, internships were rare. When my sons were undergrads, internships were fairly common but often unpaid and in some cases, students had to pay tuition in order to get credit for the experience. If money is an issue for you as a student (as it was for me), then an unpaid summer or semester was not likely. The National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) reported that the average hourly wage for undergraduate interns rose from $16.35 in 2014 to $18.06 in 2017.

Career exploration is a big plus for internships. I knew several fellow undergrads who did internships or worked in the field that they planned on after graduation and the experience led them to decide that they did not want to pursue that career. That is disappointing but important.

Reading a report from the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions CCWT and other sites all list similar benefits for the internship experience.

    Gain valuable work experience
    Explore a career path
    Give yourself an edge in the job market
    Develop and refine skills
    Receive financial compensation.
    Network with professionals in the field
    Gain confidence
    Transition into a job

 

infographic

Infographic - for larger size see ccwt.wceruw.org

It is disappointing that a new study of online internships shows that, among more than 10,000 students at 11 colleges, most virtual internships last year went to students in middle- and upper-income families. Also more positions were unpaid than paid. (Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions at the University of Wisconsin- Madison) They also found that there were higher levels of dissatisfaction with virtual internships compared to in-person experiences. Not unlike online learning, students listed limited opportunities for engagement and learning.

Should Students and Their Parents Be Taking Fake News 101?

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A podcast from Marketplace offered this question: Should kids be taking Fake News 101? My first thought was that they are already getting that class. I based that on my friends who teach in K-12 schools and who have information literacy as part of their curriculum. Validating sources and information has been part of the curriculum for a very long time. It was there when I started teaching almost fifty years ago. Of course, the Internet as a news source is a more recent issue. Has information literacy changed?

The headline says "kids" which suggests K-12 but the "Fake News 101" sounds like an introductory college course. I know that information literacy online and offline was required at a community college I worked at, and validating sources online was part of my social media and communications courses I taught at the undergraduate and graduate level. 

The term "fake news" came into the discussion with President Trump who used it to attack media reports he didn't like and broadly all mainstream media. That isn't something you want to teach. But news that was inaccurate has been around as long as there has been news. I'm sure town criers sometimes called out things that turned out not to be true. 

The term "fake" isn't really the correct term. "Fake" means a thing that is not genuine or a forgery. The news items often being labeled fake in those Trump days were not being singled out because they were not really news. It was news. It generally came from a credible news outlet, such as The New York Times or Washington Post, and in the majority of instances had facts to back it up. 

But, as the podcast points out, from politics to COVID-19, there is a lot of false and inaccurate information on the internet. I would be very reluctant to tell students that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are credible news sources, but we know that many people get their "news" from these places rather than newspapers.

Helen Lee Bouygues was the guest on that podcast and she is the founder and president of the Reboot Foundation, which teaches critical thinking skills to combat fake news. She says we’re just not inclined to second-guess information when it’s flooding our social media feeds.

Some points she makes:

"It’s actually just a natural human reaction to not want to seek challenging views. And then the second point, there have been studies already conducted that if you are pounded by lies about the information, over time you actually do start believing it."

She prefers that rather than just having teachers "give the facts and get to the answer" that teachers and parents of children, especially of younger age, have children challenge what they’re reading on websites."

She is correct that "this is a skill that can be taught, but it’s not something that [is] innate."

Lee Bouygues based is based in France and she says that there is a standard pedagogy to have students writing papers differently. Students are told to "hone in on your own convictions and the way you write a paper is by thinking about opposing views and counter-arguments that will help you better refine your own thinking. So by looking at counter-arguments, you’re actually doing more metacognition also, which is obviously thinking about your own thinking, which is so important for critical thinking."

Certainly, this skill needs to be honed in older students and in entire communities. I taught an undergraduate critical thinking course and was continually surprised at the gaps I saw in my students' ability to do more critical thinking.

Teaching how to question assumptions, reason through logic, separate facts from opinions and emotions, validate sources, and seek out a diversity of thoughts, facts and opinions are life skills that need to be learned and relearned as the world of information changes.

Schoolhouse World

The organization schoolhouse.house hits a lot of things that I am interested in wth education. It is a free, peer-to-peer tutoring platform on which anyone, anywhere can receive live help. It is no surprise that Sal Khan of Khan Academy is working with them (CEO) since the share similar goals.

The thing that sets schoolhouse.world apart from other free services (such as MOOCs) is that you can earn shareable certifications in the topics you learn about. You also have the option to become a tutor in the topics that you have mastered.

Their current focus is on high school math and SAT prep, with plans to expand to other areas soon. All the small-group tutoring sessions happen over Zoom. During the pandemic and learning from home by choice or necessity, this is surely something many of us felt there was a need for in the K-12 world.

But there is also a higher education connection. The University of Chicago is one institution supporting schoolhouse.world in their effort to connect high-quality peer tutors with students around the world. Those tutors also have the opportunity to showcase their contributions on their college applications.

Jim Nondorf, Dean of Admissions at the University, and Sal Khan joined a group of schoolhouse.world tutors on Zoom to discuss the new program and what it means for the future.

Says Khan, "It was wonderful to hear the stories of these amazing young people admitted to one of the top universities in the world based on their ability to certify their knowledge and tutor others! I suspect more colleges like University of Chicago will value this type of evidence soon."

I hope Sal's suspicion will be confirmed.

The New Roaring Twenties

roaring 20sYou may have heard it said that since the decade after the 1918 flu epidemic was the Roaring Twenties in the U.S>, there is a theory that when the current pandemic ends we might have another Roaring Twenties for the 21st century. The roaring 1920s roared in economics, invention, and cultural craziness.

Much of the roaring was based on “pent-up demand” and I'm hearing that again now even in this spring when the vaccines are being distributed and some people seem to think the pandemic is over. I hear people say that at least we can see "the light at the end of the tunnel." Of course, when you do see the light, you are still in the tunnel.

With the virus under control, local restrictions lifting and spirits improving, the idea is that consumers will be rushing out to spend their government stimulus checks and money saved while sheltering in. 

As far as economics, we have all kinds of indicators, such as consumer confidence (how Americans are feeling about the economy) and recently it was at its highest point since the pandemic started.

The post-pandemic and post-WWI decade had a wide range of inventions: quick-frozen foods, the Band-Aid®, electric blenders, early television, vacuum cleaner, bulldozers, cheeseburgers, the radio altimeter and penicillin. The war had contributed to innovations and now that soldiers were home and money shifted from wartime needs to other things, inventions roared.

There is also a pent-up desire to get out and enjoy life again. I don't know that we'll have some of the cultural craziness we often associate with the 1920ss, but certainly, people are eager to go out to restaurants and go on vacations again. The hospitality and entertainment industries are eager for a comeback.

But will there be a comeback? I wonder if movie theaters will return to pre-pandemic levels ever again, even if there is a brief pent-up surge early in the recovery. We have become very comfortable with watching movies on streaming services including brand new films and libraries of old and new programs to binge comfortably from our home couch.

What about the 9 million jobs that still need to return? Not everyone has been saving monet the past year and eager to spend. Millions of people struggled and are still struggling.

Finally, I don't hear much discussion about a roaring twenties for education. There is pent-up desire to get back to "normal" schooling in K-12 and higher education. It seems like that will happen this fall. But will it last? Parents are eager to have their childdren return. Some students and some teacher are also ready to return, but not all. I suspect that some teachers and students have found online learning appealing. It would not surprise me if in the 2020s we see more online learning than pre-pandemic and more hybrid education with online and some face-to-face.