In the wake of the Omicron variant, Whitman College has prepared a plan to move classes online effective Feb. 14. However, Whitman, unlike other schools, has opted to move classes to the “Metaverse”, the virtual reality meeting space currently championed by Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg’s Metaverse is designed as an immersive online meeting space that can be substituted for actual human contact, like those featured in films such as Ready Player One, The Matrix, Tron, and that one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (just pick the appropriate pop cultural touchstone based on what year you were born).
People select their digital avatars and meet in different spaces to play games, have salient and civil discussions on the hot-button political topics of the day, and exchange procedurally generated drawings of monkeys in different hats.
Professors and students alike have criticized the school’s decision. Most do not own the hardware necessary to fully use the Metaverse, and the last few years of news about Meta (née Facebook) have raised cybersecurity concerns.
Additionally, the user experience leaves much to be desired.
“Zoom classes were bad enough,” said one professor, “but now, with students customizing their own avatars, things are out of hand. I can’t hold a class discussion when all I see are twenty astronauts from Among Us staring back at me or calling each other ‘sus.’ That way lies madness.”
A lack of privacy is also a concern. Unlike a cloistered private Zoom meeting, the Metaverse allows strangers to wander about, popping into classes as they please. While this does make class more exciting, it comes at the expense of learning. One professor, when testing out the Metaverse school concept, struggled to explain general relativity as a horde of strangers descended upon the digital classroom as part of a pitched lightsaber battle.
Given all of this, the school’s decision to use the Metaverse for online school is baffling, and little in the way of an explanation has been provided. However, some suspect a large donation made by an entity identified in the college’s ledger as “Zarc Muckerberg” may be to blame.