COVID-19 is not going anywhere soon, and people are looking for ways to live with it. In response, many online platforms have sprung up, allowing people to safely interact in meaningful social environments. In particular, metaverse, an online social platform that offers an advanced version of virtual reality and enables social and cultural activities, is attracting attention for its limitless potential. Due to its merits, it not only is used for special occasions but also is emerging as a platform for future education.
This year, Ewha hosted the Invitation Training for Foreign Specialists of Korean Language and Reunion on Metaverse on Gathertown, a metaverse platform. Ewha Voice interviewed Lee Hai-young, professor and vice president for International Affairs from the Graduate School of International Studies, who was in charge of these online events.
Lee was planning to invite the educationalists who participated in the Invitation Training to Ewha this year, in celebration of its fifth anniversary, but faced challenges due to the pandemic. She had to come up with a way to hold the event without meeting in person, which led her to plan the conference and union in the metaverse using the Gathertown platform. This allowed the participants to network without having to come to Korea in person.
“After the event, the participants said they were surprised at how close they felt with each other after the meeting, having conversations and sharing knowledge,” she said. “Although live communication is also available via Zoom, interacting with others in a virtual space is a whole new experience.”
While planning this event, Lee set three priorities: embodying the original place where past events were held, enabling multiple participants to interact online at the same time and feeling as if they were together in person.
“Participants created 2D characters that resemble themselves with diverse props,” Lee mentioned. “After entering the metaverse space, everyone gathered in the conference room to greet each other. Participants were able to give a speech or interact with each other in the audience.”
Afterwards, a space was created where participants from 2017 to 2021 could gather in small groups to communicate with each other. Participants were able to sit together and chat about their busy lives. Furthermore, an exhibition room showcasing the history of Invitation Training for Foreign Specialists of Korean Language was presented to display photos and videos of the past for the audience to reminisce together.
“This year’s conference was very meaningful in that it overcame the limitations of in-person events, including required costs and travel time,” Lee said. “Additionally, one of the best aspects of meeting in a metaverse is that the space created will remain as a venue where people can communicate frequently even after the event.”
Despite these advantages, the metaverse didn’t satisfy all of the participants’ wants. Even though foreign participants wished to experience Korean culture and food in person, this was not possible in the metaverse platform. However, Lee mentioned that the vivid virtual space of the metaverse was the best available alternative during the pandemic.
She also emphasized that forming a new environment in a virtual space is not as complicated as people think.
Lee said this new platform could be used in education to complement the limitations of a real-time lecture. She imagines what it would be like if students cross the ECC hallway, enter the classroom and chat with other students in the metaverse. They can stay in their own respective space but can feel as if they are together. This way, they would be able to form a stronger bond with each other, which is what most students are currently hoping for.
“If metaverse were to be used in education, there would be a need to narrow the gap between students familiar with the platform and those who are not,” she noted. “Although there are companies and researchers making efforts to bridge the educational gap in the face of COVID-19, there is still a need to provide an environment that can be a satisfying experience for both instructors and students.”