University Life Goes Meta in Japan & Around the Globe
By the end of 2022, the University of Tokyo has decided to offer courses in the metaverse, mostly around engineering and science-related subjects. This is a sign of a rising trend, with many other universities across the world embarking on virtual courses and campuses.
Japan has ushered in a new technological era, with the University of Tokyo offering virtual courses in AR environments. The officials stated that the opportunity to study in the Metaverse will help bridge the gap and make information science and engineering accessible to a wide range of students, regardless of gender, age, social status, or area of residence. This doesn’t only include college students, but junior high and high school students, as well as employed adults and anyone interested in the matter.
Although cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and blockchain technology aren’t explicitly mentioned in the announcement, it’s likely that these subjects will become a part of the curriculum. This is especially true, given that the metaverse is intertwined with a number of popular brands in the blockchain industry.
Japanese high school students interested in the Metaverse are given an introductory tour of the space, with a glimpse of the potential career paths in engineering, information technology, neuroscience, and similar fields. This can greatly help them pick their ideal career and make a clear distinction between different scientific roadmaps. Lessons are conceived as a mixture of online and face-to-face sessions.
The goal of this reform is to reach out to groups that are less likely to pursue careers in the IT and AI industry, including women, individuals with disabilities, students living in remote areas, or coming from low social standing. Unemployed and underskilled people will be given the opportunity to upskill and earn a living in this brand new field.
Japanese Students Already Throwing Virtual Graduation Events
In 2020, Japanese high school students used the Minecraft platform to throw online graduation ceremonies and parties. This is not the first time that young people have harnessed the power of technology and used it in a creative way, as an alternative to real-world ceremonies.
Other examples of this include the use of virtual reality headsets to simulate real-world experiences, such as going to a concert or visiting a museum. VR technology has also been used to create immersive experiences for gamers. For example, the game “Beat Saber” has been turned into an “arcade-style” game where players can compete against each other in a virtual space.
The use of technology to create alternative realities is not new, but the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated its adoption. With the world in lockdown, people are increasingly turning to technology to fulfill their social and entertainment needs. This trend is likely to continue in the post-pandemic world.
Reaching Out to Hikikomori
The opening of Todai (University of Tokyo) to the idea of Metaverse seems to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the practical application of the platform. Japan has found other useful ways to implement technology, namely to help out those in need.
There has been an increasing problem with young people withdrawing from society, which was further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are millions of young Japanese people that end up isolated in their homes and they require professional help to cope and reintegrate back into society. Many of them cite lack of emotional support, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues as the main causes of their isolation.
Fukuoka-based support group named JACFA has created a virtual room in the SecondLife Metaverse platform. This room was created with the goal of reaching out to the social recluses (hikikomori) in a context that would be less overwhelming for them.
They understand that many users of online platforms find an escape in the virtual world. In turn, the virtual platform can also be used to bring them back, step-by-step, to healthy functioning. The virtual office serves as a way to provide counseling services, as well as assess if the hikkikomori are ready to take on bigger challenges in the real world.
Other universities around the globe follow suit
It’s not just Japan that’s at the forefront of technology and Metaverse courses. A number of other prestigious universities have announced their plans to offer similar opportunities to their students.
The Stanford University School of Engineering will be offering a class called “Engineering in the Metaverse” which will explore how to design, build, and experience interactive 3D worlds. The course is carried out by Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab as a part of the wider research, aiming to learn how can virtual technologies can be harnessed in educational settings.
South Dakota State
Similarly, the South Dakota State University (SDSU) has announced plans to offer a new course on “Building Virtual Worlds” which will focus on the design and development of 3D virtual environments. Students and faculty members from SDSU will be trained by Victory XR and the university’s Center for Enhancing Teaching and Learning. Students will be given the opportunity to attend classes using VR sets and future students may have a virtual tour of the faculty.
University of Pennsylvania
The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania also announced a new course called “Doing Business in the Metaverse” which will focus on the business opportunities and challenges posed by virtual worlds. The course is the first one in the Ivy League and it’s all a part of the rising trend, ushered in by technology giants like Samsung and KPMG. This isn’t Wharton’s first attempt at covering blockchain technologies. In January 2022, the school launched an inaugural six-week course on the subject “Economics of Blockchain and Digital Assets.”
Summary / TLDR
Metaverse is becoming an increasingly popular topic of discussion, not just among scientists and researchers, but also among the general public. The pandemic has shown us that there is a great potential for virtual platforms to be used for education, work, and social interactions. It is likely that we will see more and more universities offering courses in the Metaverse in the near future.