As Facebook changes its name to Meta, the company wants to bring education into its “Metaverse”

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Facebook changed its corporate name to Meta yesterday, as part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s broad vision to create a next-generation, science-fiction-inspired “embedded” Internet, where users, like described it, it will be “in the experience, not just in looking at it”. And it’s targeting education as a core part of that vision.

What that metaverse will look like is still a bit vague, but the company has provided some hints in the prepared statements and in one hour video He released. And it has committed real dollars to the educational part of its effort, promising that its Facebook Reality Labs will invest $ 150 million in an educational program to assist with technology development and train people to use augmented and virtual reality tools.

And Facebook (um, guess now Meta) has announced that it will partner with Coursera and edX to help push Meta’s curriculum into augmented and virtual reality, which it calls the Spark AR curriculum. A spokesperson for edX, which started out as a nonprofit at Harvard and MIT, but … is in the process of being sold to 2U. for profit, said the group will share more information on the partnership and its broader changes in the coming weeks.

The choice to bet the future of Facebook on the word “metaverse” is interesting at a time when Facebook is under tight control for its growing power and after the recent leak of internal documents suggesting that the company has moved on with the features. despite internal research showing social harm. Apparently, the term “metaverse” was coined in a dystopian novel that is highly critical of the growing corporate control of society and Internet technologies.

That book that spawned the term is the 1992 science fiction novel. “Snow accident, ”An action adventure set in a world where much of everyday life is lived in an immersive digital world that ultimately replaces the Internet. In the novel, the metaverse emerged after a global economic meltdown, in which governments handed over power to private corporations and entrepreneurs, leading to a huge gap between the haves and haves. It’s basically about as far as you can get from a sales pitch for a visual Internet run by a giant company, even though it has somehow become a model in Silicon Valley over the years for what a shared visual cyberspace might look like.

Zuckerberg’s interest in virtual reality is nothing new. In 2014 the company bought virtual reality company Oculus for $ 2 billion. And in his statements yesterday, Zuckerberg said the idea for the name change precedes recent criticism of the company.

The version of the metaverse imagined in the one-hour video Meta released yesterday involves a mix of technology, including what appear to be holograms. This is the case of a scene (around 31:00 in the video) in which a student receives help with her astrophysics homework by sliding her hands to manipulate a giant image of the solar system, magnifying the rings of Saturn by gesturing with her arms. .

“If you take astrophysics, you could study in the multiverse,” said the narrator of this portion of the video, Marne Levine, Meta’s chief business officer.

But even high-end VR headsets seem part of the meta-metaverse vision for education.

The next example shown in the video is a student wandering around ancient Rome, thanks to an immersive VR world where the student is transported as an avatar.

“Imagine standing on the street listening to sounds, visiting markets,” Levine said in the video’s narrative. To get an idea of ​​the rhythm of life more than 2000 years ago. Imagine learning how the forum was built by actually watching it being built right in front of you. “

Most of the graphics shown in this part of the video appear to be a rendering of the artist rather than a demo of current technology, as the video shows a possible future rather than specific products (although one VR Documentary by David Attenborough developed for Oculus VR headsets was shown briefly). At times it felt more like an optimistic ride to a Universal Exposition or Disneyworld than a sales pitch.

One challenge to bring this vision to life is that VR headsets have failed to take off widely, despite years of trying on Facebook’s part. The company discontinued the Rift headset this year after lackluster sales, though it now sells a VR headset called the Oculus Quest 2. which says it is selling better (although the company has not released sales figures). This week that the headset was renamed Meta Quest to match the new corporate branding.

VR headsets remain clunky and expensive, and it’s also expensive to develop materials for them for education or any other purpose.

And with all the problems and challenges educators are facing during a global pandemic, adding bells and whistles to more Hollywood-inspired teaching materials doesn’t seem like the best way to devote time and resources to many educators. Earlier this year, Arizona State University touted a company it is supporting to develop educational material for VR headsets at the ASU GSV Summit. The demo attracted curious interest, but also a lot of shrugs from the officials EdSurge spoke to, who were more interested in making better use of existing tools than investing in expensive new equipment.

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose said one reason for Facebook’s strategic shift may be concern that is losing younger users (of student age) to other social media platforms.

“The metaverse could help with the company’s demographic crisis if it encourages young people to wear their Oculus headsets and hang out with Facebook’s social VR app, Horizon, instead of watching TikTok videos on their phones,” he said. written Roose.

Disclosure: EdSurge received support from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic organization owned by Mark Zuckerberg.

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