Future Foresight: The Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands

Author: Yentl Croese, Tanja de Bie, and Monika Theron

In a rapidly evolving digital age, imagine a university liberated from the constraints of physical space, where the walls of classrooms extend beyond continents. Through the lens of Future Foresight, we at LLInC have delved into the possibilities of the Metaverse, using Massive Multiplayer Forecasting Games as our guidepost.

As we navigated the intersection of reality and the virtual realm, we were confronted by a thought-provoking question: how will we, together, shape the future of education in such uncharted territories? Join us as we uncover our answers step by step.

Welcome to the second part in our blog series surrounding Future Foresight – a powerful methodology which encourages a strategic, forward-thinking approach to decision making. While the first article provides a broad introduction to the concept, its follow-up concentrates upon our first (internal) experiment, namely The Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands. In doing so, it addresses the project’s structure, execution, strengths, weaknesses, and key take away aspects, emphasising both that which has been achieved thus far and how such achievements can be built upon in the future.

Accordingly, what was the initial motivation behind this pilot? 

In a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by the name of Collaborative Foresight: How to Game the Future’, Massive Multiplayer Forecasting Games (MMFG) are discussed: games in which a large community collaborates to contemplate future scenarios. Experiencing alternative future scenarios, albeit in the mind alone, allows us to better assess which challenges, problems and opportunities may be possible. Moreover, it aids us when contemplating a variety of possible futures, actively helping us to shape the future instead of becoming a passive subject of external agency.

Once the pilot began, participants we able to view a promotional video and were asked to fill out a character sheet.

At the former Centre for Innovation (now Leiden Learning and Innovation Centre), we elected to apply this methodology to tackle the often intimidatingly-perceived concept of the Metaverse, posing questions such as ‘what would a university look like within a virtual world?’. 

Just as with the internet in decades past, with time, this technological development will almost certainly become an integral part of society. By thinking about the consequences of our opportunities and decisions in the present, we hope through Future Foresight to demonstrate that we can help shape the Metaverse. This, in turn, helps us to prepare for its possible consequences. It was with this aim in mind that we formulated the concept of the Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands as a test case. 

What is the Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands? 

In this alternative future, each and every university in the country has collaborated to create the virtual platform of the Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands – a place where everyone is welcome, provided they are open to inspiration.

At the start of the pilot, participants received an email from Pauline Rombach, the Rector Magnificus of the university. At this stage, they could choose whether to receive the student or the staff email. The following was sent to students:

“Welcome dear [insert name here],

…With the new merger of all the Dutch Universities, and as a new student of the Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands, we would like to share the highlights of your terms of agreement:

  • Differences in language have ceased to be a problem due to the new and improved universal translator function, which can translate any type of speech to the language of your preference, including all sign languages.
  • If you are joining us through VR, keep in mind that with the current technology, your real-life facial features will be imitated by your avatar.
  • The organizational structure of the MetaUniversity is as follows: The Rector Magnificus is the head of the university, advised by the University Council.
  • Everything you create during your study at the MetaUniversity will be transferred into NFTs (Non-fungible tokens), which are owned by the MetaUniversity.
  • Since the MetaUniversity is now open 24/7, you can be even more in charge of your learning. You can decide when and how long you want to be online, as well as which classes to follow.
  • You are not required to live in the Netherlands, or be physically present on campus, and you are able to customize your own educational schedule.
  • To maintain the highest quality of education in our university, you elect which professor you want as your instructor without limitation. Besides this, the grades you give your professor have a significant impact on future changes to the MetaUniversity’s  education programme.
  • I hope you are looking forward to joining us on this new adventure in shaping the future.”

What steps did we take to develop this pilot? 

We played the game in a Teams Environment, asking each of the 10+ participants to create a character sheet detailing their personal skills, potential obstacles, and interests in this hypothetical future. We also created several Non-Playing Characters to interact with the participants, including the fully digital non-binary Pedel and the Rector Magnificus.

The setting was described as a campus that was both hybrid and sustainable. The scenario anticipated several incidents taking place during the period of game play, all of which could be influenced by the participants. In many aspects, The Royal MetaUniversity of the Netherlands was a role playing game, yet only certain of the participants had prior experience with this form of interaction. 

Key Take Aways 

  • The experiment asked too much of participants at any one moment. Only those familiar with the nature of roleplaying immediately caught on and began to interact owing to the format’s unexpectedly complex nature. 
  • The purpose of the experiment was not immediately clear, thus reducing engagement. 
  • It took considerably longer than anticipated for participants to write out their posts and fully engage. Unfortunately, this fitted within neither their busy schedules, nor the tight time frame of the experiment itself. 
  • Participants struggled regarding intrinsic motivation. Having perceived the project as work related, their interest was compromised. 
  • A game such as this should be played over a longer period, allowing participants the necessary time to become more invested and involved. 
  • The number of participants was possibly too low to spur engagement. Games with formats of this nature benefit from having a wide variety of individuals as players and – as their name suggests – being massive. 
  • Despite these mishaps, participants developed insightful thoughts regarding the potential future functionality of the Metaverse integrated within a Dutch university. There was a method to this madness. 

Overall, it must be admitted, the experiment was a failure. Much did not unfold as we had anticipated, yet it is in failure that we often learn the most about innovation (a principle known as Fail Fast). After concluding the experiment, there were two principal areas for follow up: first, the further exploration of XR within the university and, second, the path of Future Foresight as a method for campus use. So what’s next for us?

We are currently working on a new, simplified version of the Royal MetaUniversity able to be trialed in the future. Additionally, this test helped us to gain deeper insight into the workings of Future Foresight as a method, resulting inFuture Foresight: How to See the Future Coming” having become an Honours Course at Leiden University in its own right. 

Whether you’re a seasoned educator or a curious student, Future Foresight holds immense potential. Curious? Reach out to us through Yentl Croese.

Moreover, to take a look at the prospectus and perhaps even sign up, click here!

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