"We will soon almost drown in data because everything will be stored," he says.
The importance of data security should not be underestimated
XR in education is not only about new technologies, state-of-the-art devices and added value in education, but also about values and ethics. For instance, how does XR affect the design of education and students' perceptions? And how inclusive and safe is XR?
John Walker (SURF) and Thomas Ginn (UL) are concerned with the ethical side of XR. They say there is still much to do in that area.
User-friendly but scary
When it comes to XR, data and privacy, Ginn says there is a world of difference between public education institutions and the Big Tech market. "We are rightly concerned about issues like security and privacy, while Big Tech's main focus in its lobbying, including towards the government, is on opportunities and possibilities." A good example are the VR glasses that Big Tech regularly provides to educational institutions free of charge. A nice gesture, but: nothing goes for nothing. "A simple pair of VR glasses can compile a unique and recognisable profile of a student in three minutes based on 95 measuring points. This means, for example, that as a student, you don't have to log in the next time you use them because the glasses recognise you. Very user-friendly but also quite scary. Incidentally, this is already technically possible now but not yet an option for users," Ginn said.
"An ethics committee can play an important role."
Drowning in data
Your profile and all your behaviour are recorded and stored. Where does that data go and who can access it? The importance of data security cannot be underestimated, Walker believes. "We will soon almost drown in it because everything will be stored. How you walk, how you talk, what your facial expression is, you name it. You have to protect that well by making very clear agreements with these companies." Ginn regularly worries about the influence of Big Tech players anyway. "For example, when small companies come up with interesting innovations, they are often quickly bought up by Big Tech. These then determine whether the innovation becomes available or not. In doing so, they also largely determine how institutions can shape and organise their education in XR. Fortunately, the Big Tech dominance still gets some backlash from the open source corner."
Ginn and Walker are both also interested in what happens to students when they spend a lot of time in a virtual world. "For example, little is known yet about the influence of avatars or violent and violent virtual worlds. Perhaps students develop different and possibly more risky behaviour or develop mental health problems as a result. You have to be careful with it." Inviting, but not too intense. That, according to Walker, is a great starting point for using VR in education. "Think of VR as a kind of scary movie that you show in class and, as a teacher, ask yourself whether every student can handle it. What all does it make them do?"
Citizens of the future
Over the next few years, VR and headsets will undoubtedly play an increasing role in education. According to Walker, this will affect students anyway. "Maybe they will start to appreciate the virtual world more than the real world and get lost in imagination," he says. If they are regularly confronted with excesses in that virtual world in terms of, for example, weapons, racism and violence, Walker says this could affect how students see and experience the real world. "They are then likely to interact with reality differently and in new ways. And that, in turn, can have a major impact on the choices they make, for example in the political sphere. Using VR, we are not only shaping the students but also the citizens of the future."
"Using VR, we are shaping the students and citizens of the future."
Ginn thinks an ethics committee can play an important role when it comes to values and ethics. "The great thing is that universities already have experience with ethics committees with regard to their research. It would be good to include digital education in this as well." Within the Netherlands, SURF could take this up institution-wide, but it seems to Ginn even better to take it to a European level. "That ties in well with the fact that Europe is finally getting serious about having its own values, rules and legislation on data protection," thinks Walker. And speaking of Europe, he thinks the development of its own non-commercial Metaverse is quite an attractive idea. "In any case, it would be a good way to make the world of XR more democratic and less capitalistic."
Especially when XR becomes a regular part of an educational programme, Ginn and Walker say it is very important to have all the ethical issues well aligned. "Because you have to take into account that not every student can or wants to join that virtual world all the time. For example, from their religion or philosophy of life or for a physical or mental reason. For example, what do you do with students who are blind or deaf, missing an arm or suffering from anxiety disorders or ADHD? These are not reasons to slow down XR developments in education but they do deserve serious attention."