During the October 2023 cohort of The Executive Program (TEP), Professor Tim Laseter stood in front of an empty lecture room, wearing large white goggles, holding controllers in his hands and listening to Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.”

“There’s a couple of empty seats,” he shouted over the jazzy beats of the 1999 hit. “Oh, Dorothy grabbed one. Good job!”

OK, now for some context.

Laseter was leading a session on emerging technologies and the metaverse. The participants, also equipped with VR headsets, were in a series of rooms down the hall from Laseter. But they were all looking at the same thing – a virtual classroom identical to the one they had physically occupied just an hour earlier.

Last year, after learning from faculty members that a number of Darden alumni have begun using the metaverse to enhance their own businesses, Anne Trumbore, Chief Digital Learning Officer for Darden’s Sands Institute for Lifelong Learning, commissioned a study that discovered 10 universities nationwide were investing in this kind of technology for higher education.

Darden leaders were intrigued and soon, thanks to help from the Frank M. Sands donation, worked to create a metaverse version of a Darden classroom to use in The Executive Program as a pilot.

“The purpose is to give our participants experience with the newest technologies,” Trumbore said. “And it’s also to get our faculty comfortable with these technologies and thinking about how you use them in the classroom so that we can be more adaptive as these new technologies roll on.

“The metaverse is really a stepping stone for whatever is coming next.”

Read the full story, Look Into These Goggles and Glimpse the Potential Future of Education, on UVA Today.