Could virtual reality start making its way into Cincinnati classrooms?

Posted at 11:00 AM, Nov 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-08 11:00:07-05

CINCINNATI -- Human dissections could be a reality -- or at least virtual reality -- for some Cincinnati students exploring science through zSpace.

Created 10 years ago, zSpace is a conglomeration of teaching and learning systems that combine virtual and augmented reality to allow users to view and manipulate 3-D images.

Augmented reality allows users to interact with their environment in a way that is different or modified. Virtual reality enables people to explore a separate, computer-generated environment.

"We have a system that enables students to do virtual experiments, investigations, labs … as well as use virtual math manipulatives and to see things in three dimensions," said Nick Pinchok, Midwest sales director for zSpace.

Demonstrations led by zSpace representatives featured 10 to 12 stations where Scarlet Oaks students could see and experiment with different virtual reality offerings. Photo provided

To explore with zSpace, students wear special 3-D glasses to view images on a computer screen while using a stylus to manipulate them by turning them or stripping away layers.

Unlike virtual reality systems that use headsets, the glasses allow students to interact with their teachers and each other while using the technology.

"Glasses, which you can see through, do sort of enable collaboration and interaction with others a little better than some other devices," Pinchok said.

The technology is particularly useful for classes like anatomy and physiology, where students are limited to dissecting pig or cow hearts for firsthand experience studying cardiovascular systems.

"It was really good that they actually see the human heart in the body," said Linda O’Hanlon, who teaches anatomy and physiology at Scarlet Oaks.

Scarlet Oaks was one of multiple schools in Ohio at which zSpace representatives recently offered a demonstration of the company’s technology. The demonstrations featured 10 to 12 stations where students could see and experiment with different virtual reality offerings.

"The demonstration was more hands-on than any other thing I’ve done for science," said Olivia Baker, a junior cosmetology student at Scarlet Oaks.

The hands-on nature of the simulations not only helps teach topics like anatomy and physiology or earth and space science; it also keeps students’ attention.

"My biggest thing was every single one of the students were engaged, which is sometimes difficult as a teacher," O’Hanlon said.

"Just, like, seeing it and being able to turn it and it pretty much being alive, it’s a lot easier for me to understand," Baker said.

The ability to learn from and undo mistakes may be part of the appeal, especially for students who approach science with apprehension or fear, Pinchok said.

"You can practice on an animal, a physics experiment, a part of the human body, a circuit board and make a mistake and be able to start over again with no negative consequences or ramifications," he said.

Although zSpace has been around for 10 years, it was only within the past four that the company began to focus on education. There are currently 440 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lessons and activities available through the company’s apps.

"We got our start in science, but we have continued to develop in other content areas," Pinchok said.

The technology is increasing in popularity, too. A year after zSpace began its first partnership in Ohio, the company’s virtual reality apps are being implemented in about a dozen schools around the state, including Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. Others include Akron Public Schools, Hudson City Schools and Saint Ignatius High School.

"We’re starting a journey with all schools to explore how this technology can best be brought to the classroom," Pinchok said.