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Catch a class on campus without leaving your bedroom

The metaverse is a series of virtual worlds you can explore on a VR headset, your phone or desktop, and it can take you and your avatar into lots of unexpected places.

CBC Ottawa explored five ways people are harnessing its power and possibilities for work, education and fun.

Fly through data visualizations in space | Dive into a new career as an underwater welder | Swim with sharks on a first date | Rock out at a concert in ancient Egypt

After years of pandemic schooling, Jordan Cook didn’t enjoy learning online. That changed when her school, Georgian College in Barrie, Ont., began to offer classes inside a virtual world called The Immersive Learning Research Network.

“Once I got used to the platform, it was a great alternative for not being able to go into class,” said Cook, who lives in Dundulk, Ont., about an hour away from campus.

Classmate Chloey Savoie said she appreciated getting to know her classmates through their avatars. She also enjoyed activities with her peers between classes, like taking a virtual boat ride, dancing in the dance hall, taking a walk on a virtual beach, or hiking the virtual campus.

“My first day learning in the metaverse was a very unique experience,” said Savoie.

The first step of going to school in the metaverse is picking out your avatar. Here's what dressing for the first day of school could look like in virtual reality. (Ash Abraham/CBC)

If you haven’t visited “the metaverse,” that’s the term broadly used to refer to the next level of the internet — where people use virtual reality or augmented reality to explore different virtual worlds to work and play.

Educators are beginning to carve out spaces of learning in the metaverse with platforms such as iLRN. There, students can create their own avatars to gather in a virtual classroom. Their instructor can project videos and slideshows, make the desks disappear, or use other controls to make their classroom more dynamic.

For example, for breakout sessions, Georgian College instructor Kat Ennis draws a blue circle around desks — so only people sitting at that desk can hear the discussion.

Here's what running late for class in the metaverse could look like. (Ash Abraham/CBC)

Ennis, who taught geospatial technology to Savoie and Cook in the metaverse, said she prefers teaching a class of lively avatars in the metaverse over lecturing to a grid of black squares on Zoom when students turn off their cameras.

It also has the added advantage of helping her stay up to date on the latest advances in teaching, both for herself as a professor and as a mom.

“I’m a parent of two boys who are eight and 10. And one of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity to teach in the metaverse was because I want to make sure I know and can use the technology that my boys are going to be using in the future,” said Ennis.

virtual students and teacher sitting at a desk
From left to right, Chloey Savoie, Jordan Cook, Kat Ennis and Jessica Thomas, who is the school's iLRN Coordinator, sit at a desk in a metaverse classroom at Georgian College. (Ash Abraham/CBC)

Georgian College instructors have used metaverse platforms to teach a number of topics that lend themselves to immersive learning, from anatomy classes where students can go inside the body, to Indigenous language classes where students can move around a space while learning the Anishinaabemowin words for the items there.

Even though in-person classes have resumed at Georgian College, the school plans to continue to offer classes in iLRN, while Ennis plans to teach in the classroom and in the metaverse.

“It was definitely a leap of faith, but it really worked out at a time when students were really isolated and lonely. It gave them, I think, a bit of a boost to come and learn something new that was awesome fun,” she said.

Check out other ways people in Ottawa are experiencing the metaverse

Fire someone in virtual reality | Explore a new career on another continent | Go on a first date on the moon | Watch a concert from atop a virtual tree

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