Dr. Nabil EL KADHI, Provost and Board Member of Vernewell Academy (UAE) has almost 30 years of experience in the academe, and more than 15 years of experience in the management of higher education institutions with exposure to European and Middle East and North Africa academic systems. He started his professional career in the early 90s; assumed positions ranging from Project Manager and Department Head to Lab Director, Master Programs Director, Dean, Provost, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Vice-Chancellor, and President where he remarkably contributed to institutional excellence, and several applied research and industrial projects related mainly to Data and Cloud Security and Privacy, Smart Cities and Internet of Things, Digital Transformation and Artificial Intelligence, Secure Payment, Smart Card, Block-Chain and Crypto Currency.
Education is an agreed-on backbone for country development and economic prosperity everywhere. Education models, frameworks, and processes have been established for decades and even centuries. The Teacher-learner Model places the teacher as the center and the ‘truth’ provider, the classroom controller, and the sole decision maker. This model has been disrupted in the last decade with an initial paradigm shift where learning and teaching approaches are deviated toward being learner-centered with a focus on reshuffling the concept to learner needs, sensitivities, and particularities. Another paradigm shift happened with the need to tackle learner particularities and specificities and that was commonly known as the personalized/customized learning paradigm shift.
The COVID-19 Pandemic proved that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and educational methodologies are agile and resilient enough to adapt to unexpected and unprecedented contexts and constraints. The Pandemic was also a disruptive factor combined with high-speed internet, efficient Artificial Intelligent (AI) tools, and immersive visual experiences through the metaverse and web3 technologies that are today raising earnest questions. What would tomorrow’s university look like? Are we to shift to a full MetaVersity (a university fully based on the Metaverse approach)? Is there an in-between or unpredicted scenario that will dictate and govern tomorrow’s higher education shape?
We will discuss the Metaverse and DARQ technologies’ impact on education, present opportunities and threats, and defend our Humanized EduVerse model that we believe will be the new D-Facto standard for educational institutions.
Metaverse, Web 3.0, and DARQ Technologies
Let us first agree on some basic definitions and ordinary understanding of these keywords:
Metaverse: “Metaverse” is a hypothetical iteration of the Internet as a single, universal, and immersive virtual world that is facilitated by the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets. In colloquial usage, a “metaverse” is a network of 3D virtual worlds focused on social connection. The term “metaverse” originated in 1992 and is often linked to advancing virtual reality technology due to the increasing demands for immersion” -Wikipedia-
Web3: Web3 (or Web 3.0) is an idea for a new iteration of the World Wide Web, which incorporates concepts such as decentralization, blockchain technologies, and token-based economics. The term “Web3” was coined in 2014 by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood, and the idea gained interest in 2021 from cryptocurrency enthusiasts, large technology companies, and venture capital firms.”
DARQ Technologies: DARQ technology refers to Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), which is a decentralized database to provide a safe and highly secure transfer of data. When thinking about DLT, blockchain and cryptocurrency usually come to mind. Blockchain is just one type of DLT and is best known for the technology behind bitcoin. Extended reality (XR) includes immersive technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and Mixed reality (MR). Lastly, quantum computing is the most experimental technology from DARQ. It is an area of computing that is based on the laws of quantum physics.
These technologies and advanced solutions are having various implications on education from different perspectives covering not only teaching-learning methodologies but also the expectations on both scientific- and content-side as well as delivery methodologies. In fact, Z-Generation is tech-savvy enabled and is expecting their learning experience to equip them with added-value knowledge and skills that allow them to perfectly master the emergent and trending technologies. By default, the new generation believes in the need for technical mastery. From another perspective, the Z-Generation engages naturally with games, VR, simulations, and social media and has a pre-readiness to learn via such experiences. Consequently, it is more likely that any learning experience, from a Z-Generation perspective, should offer such an immersive experience and should more or less reproduce the same enthusiastic feeling and motivating experience they used to pass through in various new technologies experiences (games, social media, etc.).
Opportunities for Higher Education
Metaverse, DARQ Technologies supported by Web3.0 offer unprecedented opportunities for education sectors summarized as follows:
- Gamification of knowledge transfer is becoming a click of a finger; and catching and maintaining the learner’s attention, interest and focus are assured with an immersive virtual experience cultivating curiosity and creative thinking within the virtual environment (EduVerse).
- Simulation and experimentation possibilities are unlocked via these technologies allowing learners to have more hands-on learning experience and to deep-dive into complex concepts, prototypes, and more made at their availability in a digital environment recreating high fidelity simulation and experiences mimicking the tiny detail of the real-life aspects.
- A 24/7 educational environment offering the flexibility of delivery at the learner’s convenience and allowing to capitalize on teachers and expert know-how worldwide made available for a much larger learner population
- Cost-effective resource usage by sharing the experimentation environment and equipment with a large population of users enabled by Internet connectivity, EduVerse Environment, and DARQ technologies’ various applications.
Challenges and Risks
Embedding emerging technologies in educational institutions require content redesign and remodeling. Educators are requested not only to master the use of such tools and technologies but also to rethink their content, course structures, and delivery methodologies accordingly. Additionally, the below risks are to be considered:
- Redesigning the learning material to be technology dependent carries a high risk of a double dimension system offering various learning experiences depending on the availability of technology and Net connectivity.
- Inclusivity at-risk where less developed countries and learners may face exclusion or non-access to the same unlocking capabilities
- Soft skills delivery and human-related experiences are at-risk in case full education experience is based on the EduVerse environment. Even if the institution will provide an equilibrated learning environment, Z-Generation learners will tend to favor immersive experiences and hence dedicate less implication to courses where such environment is not heavily used.
Face-to-face EduVersity Blended Campus
Between opportunities and risks, how should educational institutions integrate the new technologies, and what is the safe way to navigate through such unprecedented changes? Obviously, it is impossible to ignore the change and to take benefit from the EduVerse opportunities. However, there should be a well-designed integration approach with clear steps, guidelines, and blended approaches. It is important to have blended EduVersity where students alternate face-to-face human interaction-based experience and virtual immersive experience. The following elements are to be considered:
- Blended approach where all education modules and components are offered through a balanced delivery mode having human interaction focusing on critical thinking, communication, and empathy and an optional immersive experience to unlock student engagement and optimize their learning and skills acquisition.
- Inclusive educational system where students from all over the world and with limited access to technology and the Internet still benefit from an equitable educational experience. Such requires an appropriate and creative model for financing.
- Specific training and support programs for educators to develop their capabilities for efficient EduVerse integration and human capability development with a more engaging and transformative learning approach.
Tomorrow’s campuses are for sure a blended environment cultivating both human interaction and Metaverse experience with a clear goal of developing and unlocking creative thinking and communication skills for Z-Generation having the opportunity to master more easily and efficiently complex and pluri-disciplinary core competencies. We are heading toward a Face-to-face Blended EduVersity where the added value of Metaverse and DARQ technologies are appropriately integrated with an inclusive educational high engaging environment preparing tomorrow’s leaders for an unpredictable future. Critical thinking creativity and agility are to gain importance and are to be, sooner than expected, the focus of the new educational standard delivery methodologies as generative AI tools are increasingly helping (replacing) core skills acquisition needs.