Virtual reality learning tool wows fifth graders, and teachers too

Virtual reality learning tool wows fifth graders, and teachers too
(David Whisenant | WBTV)
(David Whisenant | WBTV)

SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - Talk about a revolutionary way to learn; imagine being in a school biology class and dissecting a frog, without ever using a frog.

That, and a nearly unlimited number of other possibilities using virtual reality are coming on strong in education, and on Wednesday fifth graders at Bostian Elementary School in Rowan County got to take the system for a test run.

Even at age 11, Grace Gilley may be considered "old school."

"I like pencil and paper," Grace told WBTV.  "I like classy stuff, yes, I love Beatles music…"

But on Wednesday Grace and her classmates were all over a new learning tool called zSpace.

"zSpace is a virtual reality platform on your desktop that allows you to reach in pull out and interact directly with objects within the computer." Elizabeth Lytle of zSpace told WBTV.  "The sky is the limit when you think about what you can take apart and look inside."

Animals, human hearts, houses, engines, butterflies, anything from the simplest form to complex images can be turned over and around, taken apart, and probed to the finest high definition detail.

By wearing special glasses and using a stylus, both calibrated to cameras on the computer screen, students Madison Morgan and Carys Roberson can look at every body part of a German Shepherd, for example…or take a starfish, turn it over, and move it right off the screen.

"When they first turn it on it's wow!  What?  And that lasts for about 5 seconds, and then they are in doing things with it," Lytle added.

On Wednesday the Bostian students used the program to study several subjects, and created displays. 

"One of the ideas that the students had today was to dissect multiple types of animals so that they could see differences between them," said Lytle.

Grace Gilley's team worked on understanding the atom and creating a design application.  The students presented their projects not only to classmates, but also to zSpace designers watching live from Silicon Valley.

It was enough for a self proclaimed lover of the classics, to embrace the future.

"I think it's a better learning experience," Gilley said.  "You can use that to move the object into thin air."

This was the first field trip for zSpace as they brought the technology to this school from Sunnyvale, California.  Bostian Elementary won the free demonstration when a zSpace representative met Rowan-Salisbury's Amy Pruitt at a technology conference in Atlanta.

zSpace would like to sell the technology to the Rowan-Salisbury system, and local administrators are exploring possibilities and partnerships to bring the technology to Rowan County.

"2014 was our big education launch," Lytle added. "Districts that have zSpace now are all across the United States from California to New York, Florida as well. We absolutely hope that zSpace will be in every school system."