Tohoku University and VRChat Sign Metaverse Education Partnership

Tohoku University and VRChat, one of the world's largest metaverse platforms, have signed a partnership agreement to integrate metaverse-based education into existing hybrid and HyFlex classrooms that combine in-person and online learning.

The agreement will enable Tohoku University students to engage with their international peers in the metaverse using head-mounted displays (HMDs). It will also make it easier for students from partner institutions around the world to actively participate in Tohoku University's classes.

Masako Hayashi, an associate professor at Tohoku University's Institute for Excellence in Higher Education, has been using multimedia and virtual reality technology in her classes since 2021. This past winter, students in her "Multimedia-based Mutual Understanding of Language and Culture" class were tasked with creating virtual worlds featuring aspects of their country's culture.

"The HMDs give students a more immersive and realistic experience so it really enhances their understanding of the different cultures. It's also interactive, so students are more engaged in class," said Hayashi. "With VRChat, we are now able to use extended reality (XR) to incorporate nonverbal communication into education."

"The recognition that online spaces can be practical to interact and learn in is very refreshing," said Alisa Yoshida-Belotti, a marine biology student from America who was a member of Hayashi's class. Together with Leevi Hiltunen from Finland, she created a virtual world around the theme of music.

"We had to think about how we could take something that is usually just auditory and create a VR world around it. After some research, we realized that music is also an experience, like going to church and listening to gospel," she said. "I really liked learning about each country when I was creating the virtual world. I remember thinking 'Oh wow, Finnish barn dancing is so cool! Japanese music is so elegant!'"

For some students, the class was their first foray into the virtual world.

"I knew nothing about VR but I took the class because I wanted to try something new," said medical student Shen Zizai. "To be honest, this class required a lot of effort and I had to ask for a lot of help. But the experience was worth it."

Shen, who's from China, was in a group that explored the different new year traditions in China, Japan and Malaysia. "It was an effective way to learn because we were not just listening to a lecture or looking at pictures. This was interactive so I felt more motivated and involved."

"When I first saw the description of this class I was intrigued because we usually think of VR as being mainly for games," said Tasuku Ishii, a Japanese engineering student. Ishii's group introduced mythical monsters and their legends from Japan and China. "Using VR to communicate with people from other countries in an online space is very new to me. I enjoyed it and I think it can change how we communicate with people in the future."

Hayashi also reached out to a student from Singapore, who participated in the class as a representative of one of the overseas partner universities. Tiw Kang Xu, who is studying at the National University of Singapore, joined the classes online and created his virtual world in his free time. "For me, there were two upsides," he said. "I learnt a lot about other cultures from the groups, but I also learnt a lot about my own culture when I was building my virtual world."

The partnership between Tohoku University and VRChat was facilitated by the Institute for Excellence in Higher Education and the Head Office of Enterprise Partnership.

The agreement also led to an international symposium on the role of XR technology in education and society, hosted by the Tohoku Forum for Creativity last December.

It is hoped that the agreement will encourage the further exploration of metaverse-based education, foster more creativity and international collaboration in classes, and make learning more engaging and fun.



Associate Professor Masako Hayashi
Tohoku University Institute for Excellence in Higher Education
Tel: 022-795-7972

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