Watch out, Zoom! VR could be the next popular digital classroom.
“Death is like yanking a plug out of a computer,” a VR class participant said. “You can tap on the keyboard, but you’ll get no response — it gets thrown in the trash and that’s it. The only difference is that our bodies decompose much faster than a hunk of junk.”
“Nah,” another chimed in. “Our bodies die, but our consciousness doesn’t. Think about it! Here we are standing together in virtual reality. Our bodies are not here, but our minds, our consciousness are present. This will be our future. We’ll ‘die’ on the physical plane, but we’ll remain ‘alive’ by uploading our consciousness to the cloud.”
A friendly “Death Q&A” participant waving hello (Image credit: Future)
A fiery, Black Mirror-esque debate about cyber immortality broke out in a death class inside AltSpaceVR, a social-VR platform that hosts free classes, open-mic nights, comedy shows, and more. People from all over the world come together in these virtual spaces via their headsets (I use the Oculus Quest 2). AltSpaceVR is the safest way to socialize in large numbers without violating any pandemic-related mandates.
“Death Q&A,” the name of the class I attended, was hosted by Tom Nickel, a silver-fox avatar with a wise, eloquent personality reminiscent of Dumbledore or Gandalf, and Ryan Astheimer, a calm-and-collected cool cat who seemed just as eager to learn from other participants as he was to teach.
The “Death Q&A” hosts (Image credit: Future)
In real life, Nickel is a teacher with an impressive resume. He’s got a Ph.D. in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, and he’s currently working on a VR development project in Cambodia. He’s also been practicing transcendental meditation for a whopping 50 years. On top of that, he was once a hospice volunteer and now offers end-of-life training to mental health professionals. Considering Nickel’s background, it’s no wonder the Death Q&A class dove into discussions about transcendental philosophies and VR cyber immortality. Astheimer is equally intriguing; he’s a life coach who specializes in the philosophy of Enlightenment.
You see, AltSpaceVR classes aren’t taught by dolts; the platform has real-life experts with a wealth of knowledge to share. I learned about different afterlife philosophies inside a colorful, intricately decorated Tibetan-esque temple as AltSpaceVR members offered their theories on what happens after we kick the bucket. It was, without a doubt, an incredible experience.
I entered the class being fearful of death and left with a new, optimistic perspective of mortality. Sure, it’s an outlandish concept, but if there’s truly a possibility of “uploading” my consciousness into a cloud server after death — just like Black Mirror’s “San Junipero“ episode — what’s there to be afraid of? Living in VR, in my personal opinion, sounds a hell of a lot more fun than fading into nothingness.
The meditation class
The meditation space in AltSpaceVR (Image credit: Future)
I also joined a meditation class to get my oms and ahs on. I quickly realized that meditation isn’t for me; I’ve got too many ants in my pants to sit still. Plus, my immaturity kicked in as I laughed at some hilariously deformed avatars in class. Hands and heads were being cocked at unnatural angles as a result of users putting their VR headsets and controllers aside to meditate. Thankfully, no one could hear my goofy guffaws; the meditation leader muted everyone to thwart class clowns (like myself) from disrupting the relaxing session.
How an avatar looks with the VR controller placed aside. You’d laugh, too! (Image credit: Future)
A few participants had colorful aura glows around their avatars — an option only offered to paying meditation members. The meditation VR space was serene and peaceful with life-like clouds drifting in the distance. After the teacher completed the guided meditation, many first-timers thanked him for leading such a calming, therapeutic session. Although it’s not my cup of tea, I’d recommend the VR meditation class to anyone seeking total relaxation and stress relief.
The social-media marketing class
The campfire at AltSpaceVR (Image credit: Future)
Next, I hopped into a social media marketing class. The Tibetan temple and meditation space were stunning VR locales, but nothing beats having a class in a snowy campsite near an ice skating rink and a roaring fire. I was even offered some hot cocoa — not that I could drink it or anything, but it helped to spice up the camping-in-the-woods ambiance.
Forget Facebook, Instagram and TikTok — Andy Fidel, the host of the social media marketing class, said that VR is the next big thing. With the Oculus Quest 2 offering a budget-friendly price to consumers (which helps to make VR more accessible), the VR community is growing, making it an increasingly attractive place for promoting one’s brand. Artists, for example, have used AltSpaceVR to launch exhibitions that increase the visibility of their artwork, allowing users to walk through their virtual galleries. In my VR dating piece, I had my first VR date in a museum simulation curated by the New Orleans Photo Alliance.
Drinking hot cocoa in AltSpaceVR (Image credit: Future)
The social-media marketing host also gushed about a recent AltSpaceVR red-carpet event launched by a film studio. The film studio originally planned to host an in-person premiere with celebrities and influencers to promote its new project, but due to the pandemic, it had to find another way to advertise its new release. Instead of streaming another ho-hum digital event (ugh, that’s so 2020), the film studio opted to host a VR event for the growing community of Quest users. That — you have to admit — is pretty cool. I wouldn’t even have to fret about buying a dress; I’d just swap out my avatar’s casual, laid-back outfit for a fancier ensemble.
Family genealogy class
Finally, in my last class of the week, I ended up at a family genealogy lecture, which was hosted by a woman named Lorelle — the most I-mean-business teacher I’ve ever encountered on AltSpaceVR. Side conversations will get you booted from her class, so make sure to shut your mouth and pay attention. At one point, an avatar whizzed itself in front of the Lorelle (likely a slip-of-the-finger accident) “Um, that’s rude!” she said before booting the poor sap out of the room. “Trolls will get you nuked without any explanation!”
Family genealogy class in AltSpaceVR (Image credit: Future)
I could tell Lorelle has dealt with her fair share of trolls, hence her zero-tolerance policy for in-class shenanigans. Despite her austere teaching style, Lorelle’s family genealogy lecture was the most informative class I’ve ever attended. “I’m curious! Has anyone discovered whether they’re related to anyone famous via genealogy research?” she asked the class. One woman raised her avatar’s hand and said, “I have! I found out that I am a direct descendant of a French emperor: Napoleon Bonaparte.”
A chorus of “wow,” “cool” and “that’s awesome!” filled the room, but Lorelle didn’t seem impressed. “Did you verify this through records?” she asked.
“Yes,” Napoleon’s descendent said. “I tracked him down via my paternal lineage.” But Lorelle rained on her parade with some bubble-bursting facts. “Er, Napoleon only had one legitimate son and he died at 21 with no children, so you’re not a direct descendant. You might be related to another member of the Bonaparte family, though.”
An awkward silence filled the room. I chuckled after suffering a little bit of second-hand embarrassment, but thankfully, I had myself on mute — I would have definitely been nuked out of the class.
In an “I already know the answer, but I’d like to see how much the class knows” tone, Lorelle asked, “Does anyone know the purpose of the census?” A handful of participants served up answers that had something to do with demographics, but in a charismatic response, she said, “Nope! Many believe that the census is all about collecting ethnicity data for ‘record-keeping,’ but no! It’s about money!” She explained that the government relies on census data to figure out how to manage taxation, distribute funds and assign congressional seats (I learned something new).
My avatar inside the family genealogy class (Image credit: Future)
So why did Lorelle bring up the census? Well, she wanted to use the census as an example of why you should always know the true motives behind government-based record-keeping; it helps to illuminate fascinating details about your ancestors on a macro level. For example, knowing that the US census once calculated your enslaved ancestor as only three-fifths of a human being paints a revealing story about the arduous life they lived.
In her closing remarks, the family genealogy teacher urged us to collect information about our family history while our older family members are alive — and don’t forget to extract personality-defining information like their favorite color, memorable life moments and more. “I’m sorry, but I’ve been researching dead people for decades and it breaks my heart every time I see ‘name, date, place,’ and nothing more. I don’t know who these people are!” she said, encouraging us to immortalize our family history with pizazz for posterity.
My class-hopping adventures in VR — all thanks to my Oculus Quest 2 — compelled me to reflect on what the future of education looks like in a post-COVID-19 world. AltSpaceVR eclipses what Zoom classes can offer. Not only does AltSpace offer simulated spaces for convening virtually, but VR is far more interactive and immersive than our current video conferencing platforms.
For example, an anthropology professor could lead their class through a virtual museum of ancient Egyptian artifacts and have their students interact with them. A chemistry teacher could have their students mix different substances together and the virtual concoction would react exactly like it would in real life. The possibilities are endless.
For now, AltSpaceVR — and other social VR platforms — are mainly focused on fostering friendships and encouraging networking events, but with the price of VR headsets plummeting, it’s not too far-fetched to say the Quest could potentially become a new portal for remote teaching and learning. Personally, I can’t wait to leave behind the 2D video conferencing world filled with Brady Bunch-like boxes of participants and endless “you’re muted!” warnings.
Image credit: Future