The Education Metaverse Has Arrived: Get Sucked In

The Digital Twin Culinary Arts Kitchen on the VictoryXR Campus

In this article you will learn:
- What it means to be on a digital twin campus

- How a digital twin is superior to to an atom-based campus
- How schools will be driving hybrid remote learning using a digital twin and Webinar learning like Zoom and Teams.
- How a digital twin campus opens up new revenue streams for schools and universities.

By Steve Grubbs, founder of VictoryXR

Digital twin campuses are all the rage, in light of Covid-19, anger of parents paying for a ‘Zoom’ education, and the advent of worlds built in virtual reality. Stanford has offered an anatomy class in VR and Arizona State has announced their intentions to do the same.

A digital twin is closely related to ‘the metaverse,’ which is defined as: “a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users.”

Wikipedia defines it as: “The Metaverse is a collective virtual shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the Internet.”

Perhaps this story, by Cathy Hackl gives the best indepth description: https://www.forbes.com/sites/cathyhackl/2021/05/02/defining-the-metaverse-today/?sh=3c1618876448

Digital twins can stand on their own or, they can be a building or machine or object that you interact with in a metaverse.

Our friends at IBM, explain the concept of a digital twin like this:

In plain English, this just means creating a highly complex virtual model that is the exact counterpart (or twin) of a physical thing. The ‘thing’ could be a car, a tunnel, a bridge, or even a jet engine. Connected sensors on the physical asset collect data that can be mapped onto the virtual model. Anyone looking at the digital twin can now see crucial information about how the physical thing is doing out there in the real world. [https://www.ibm.com/blogs/internet-of-things/iot-cheat-sheet-digital-twin/]

Astronomy comes alive as students travel through a Star Trek-style transporter to the VictoryXR starship and prepare for a space walk.

Whether students are quarantined or not, in the digital world to which we have become accustomed, an online campus should exist where students can gather to talk, learn, plan and exist together. Microsoft has Altspace, Facebook just released Horizon, and VictoryXR built the largest academic campus in the world on the Engage platform, partly owned by HTC Vive.

In light of this new paradigm in e-learning environments, here are answers to questions that may clear up a few issues.

How does a digital twin campus make an institution more efficient and innovative?

A digital twin campus is unlike early virtual reality experiences in that it is a group setting which allows for live instructors and real-time classes interacting as if they were in the same space. This is very much like the real-world. But unlike the real-world, objects are digital which allows for manipulation and duplication in ways never before possible. Consider these examples:

  1. An anatomy class has a human cadaver, but students gets their own heart to hold and learn from and then, can make that heart 8-feet tall and step inside the heart and learn while standing inside a human organ.
The VictoryXR Quad — also known as the commons — is a place for students to gather, study and debate.

How can a digital twin campus strengthen an educational delivery model beyond the quarantine days of Covid-19?

  1. Post-Covid, when students can again join together on a physical campus, the world will have changed and expectations will have changed. Requiring students to gather in one physical location will not be the only model, but staring at a 2D computer screen expecting a superior education won’t either. The better option is to supplement both (and in some cases, replace them) with a digital twin of the campus where students can gather for meetings, classes, and private sessions with professors regardless of geography. The key here is real-time conversation in a spatial 3D world just like existing in the physical world (NOTE: I understand this is almost impossible to understand without experiencing it, but this short video may help take the mystery out of the concept.)
Students gather for a lecture in a virtual reality auditorium and interact with conversation and questions in real-time.

How does a digital twin campus improve the revenue model of a college or university?

  1. It’s expensive to build science labs, planetariums, history museums and new building wings in the real world. Additionally, it’s very expensive to purchase learning objects like human cadavers, artwork, desks and bricks and mortar. In the digital world, the costs for these assets plummet. In many cases, a digital twin campus and classroom will work as a more-than-suitable substitute. Instead of building the new planetarium out of bricks and mortar, build it in the digital world for 1% of the cost. A digital twin campus provides many opportunities to save money in a time of tightening budgets WHILE giving students a learning opportunity they will gush about to their parents and online.
Students learn Spanish — specifically the various names for “grande” — at the Pyramid of the Moon, just south of Mexico City, on the VictoryXR campus.

Consider these 10things that happen on a digital twin virtual reality campus that cannot happen in a real-world, physical campus:

Students travel back in time to see a herd of wooly mammoth after viewing mammoth fossils scanned and offered by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
  1. Expand a human organ and step inside it.
If a fetal pig is going to be big enough to walk through and learn about the organs, it might be too big for the science lab. But, it’s not too big for space!

The final consideration is the limits of video conferencing and the result has come to be known as Zoom fatigue. From Advisory Board:

More Americans today are using online video conferencing platforms such as Zoom to host work meetings or chat with friends and family. But the constant use has spurred complaints of so-called “Zoom fatigue,” and researchers say the condition’s causes go beyond just having too many virtual meetings on our schedules, Betsy Morris writes for the Wall Street Journal.

How does a college or university get started developing a virtual reality digital twin campus?

First, find a developer. There are a handful out there right now, but the technology is still a bit nascent, so there are not a lot right now. Of course, VictoryXR is always willing to have an initial conversation.

Second, get buy-in from administration. This is a far smaller project than raising a new physical building on campus, but the impact is likely to be much bigger. So, administration needs to embrace the effort.

Third, find a handful of professors willing to teach a lab or a few classes in virtual reality on the digital twin campus. While age does not matter, a true embrace of new technologies helps and a natural curiosity is a big benefit. Three to four professors is a great starting point for the launch.

Fourth, decide what buildings need to be a digital twin and which classrooms can be branded from existing pre-created classrooms. This is the single biggest factor in cost. The more buildings or classrooms that need to be developed as digital twins, the more expensive the process gets. If you can choose a couple key buildings and perhaps an iconic quad/commons, this will keep the cost down, rather than recreating every building. In the VictoryXR model, we already have many classes created, so rebranding the auditorium, planetarium or science lab is more efficient and less costly than starting from scratch.

The VictoryXR Science Lab

Five, professors work with the VR curriculum team to convert their lessons into a VR environment. This is important because lessons need to be reimagined with assets that may not be available in the real world. For example, in the real world, human cadavers are expensive. In the virtual reality world, every student gets to hold a human heart in their hand.

Six, invest in the professional development to train professors how to teach on a digital twin campus. This includes using the platform, managing a class, manipulating objects, moving around and loading media. While this may sound complicated, our high school science teacher — Wendy Martin — will tell you it took her about 3–4 hours to be comfortable with these tools. So, it’s not too big of a lift. In fact, VictoryXR has created a full suite of professional development lessons inside of the virtual reality experience.

Seven, choose your hardware. The Oculus Quest 2 is the least expensive headset at $300 each, but it requires each headset to be tied to a personal Facebook account. If this doesn’t work for your campus, then consider the Vive Focus Plus, or the Pico Neo II. These range in cost from $600-$800 each. The key is, they are all 6DOF headsets, which you need for true spatial learning. These are all powered by Qualcomm chips that are the industry standard right now for mobile graphics computing. The Quest 2 also has the latest Snapdragon chip which integrates 5G into it. Do not settle for an inexpensive 3DOF headset for virtual world learning and your digital twin campus.

However, for medical-grade graphics — useful for the sciences and healthcare fields, there’s no better headset than the HP Reverb 2. The sharpness and clarity of this headset leads the group. It will need to be tethered to a graphics computer, but the graphics computer along with the HP Reverb 2 should cost less than $2500 per station. For students conducting professional-grade procedures or experiments, this is the only way to go.

Eight, have a training day for students. Remember the first time you sat down at a computer and began finding your way around. It took a couple hours. Remember when you first got behind the wheel of a car, it took a few weeks. It’s the same with VR, students will figure it out quickly — especially the gamers, but having an afternoon where students are trained and come to know and understand their way around a virtual reality campus is a great orientation.

That’s about it. While I cannot speak for other development teams, at VictoryXR, our team will hold your hand through the process. Our curriculum specialist, Rene Gadelha, has helped many educators come to understand how to seamlessly integrate VR into a teaching environment and she uses her friendly charm to bring along even hesitant educators.

Colleges and universities will begin rapidly adopting digital twin campuses over the next 2–5 years. Early adopters will benefit from first-mover advantage.

INTERESTED IN A TOUR of the VictoryXR campus? Learn more or sign up at: www.VictoryXR.com/campus.

Steve Grubbs is the founder of VictoryXR, the world’s leading virtual reality curriculum company. He is a former Chair of the House Education committee in the Iowa Legislature and has degrees in finance and law from the University of Iowa.