Learning in the Metaverse: Gather.town as an Engaging Online Virtual Classroom Environment
Concurrent Session 4
Gather is a teleconferencing environment where users can create avatars and move around a virtual online environment, interacting synchronously or asynchronously. In this session, we will tour a Gather virtual classroom created in Spring 2022 for a Department of State grant-funded virtual exchange program between universities in the US and Japan.
Millions of instructors around the world use Zoom, Teams, and other video conferencing platforms for synchronous class sessions, and many of them continue to struggle to engage students in online learning. Gather, which has branded itself as a “Metaverse, a virtual layer over the physical world where people can work, socialize, and learn,” is a refreshing live meeting environment that involves users creating avatars that they can control and move around a virtual, interactive online environment. Users move their avatar close to others to see and hear others more clearly, just as one would having conversation in real life, in a space that resembles a classroom or school building. Gather also includes private spaces where users can participate and collaborate, either synchronously or asynchronously, in group activities, breakout rooms, study rooms, or one-on-one consultation with an instructor. Instructors can use the virtual space for office hours for students to drop in. Some organizations and institutions have used Gather as a conferencing platform and it has the capability to host online poster presentations. Gather also allows for interactivity with anything that has a shareable link, such as a Padlet or Google Doc, for synchronous or asynchronous collaboration without having to leave the virtual classroom. It is a complete digital online classroom environment.
In this session, we will have a tour of a Gather virtual classroom that was customized and used in Spring 2022 for a Department of State grant-funded virtual exchange program between universities in the US and Japan. We will cover the features of Gather, as well as considerations for inclusivity and accessibility. We will also go over students’ and instructors’ perceptions of Gather as a virtual classroom and how it helped improve student engagement in online learning, especially during difficult times.