For several years I’ve been promoting virtual environments as a way to help build STEM skills in students. This work culminated in the creation of the educational holodeck ― a hybrid learning space that blended the physical world of furniture with the virtual world of computers. For example, we converted a room into a virtual mission to Mars, with a large viewscreen in the front of the room where students could see where they were going.
As enticing as this environment was, the images were flat 2-D representations. Even so, the environment was quite compelling to most students.
About two years ago a friend of mine encouraged me to see a new environment ― zSpace ― that generated highly interactive 3-D models of everything from living organisms to physics experiments. This system uses a special computer and glasses with markers on them so that, as you move your head, your point of view changes. Using a special stylus, you can reach into a model and pull pieces of it apart. The traditional frog dissection, for example, is supported in this system quite nicely, and without the mess!
One of the things I saw in the original demo was a physics modeling environment incorporating ramps and balls. The behavior of the system mirrored that of real-world experiments, without having loose parts falling on the floor or getting lost.
The timing of zSpace couldn’t be better. With the roll-out of the Next Generation Science Standards in many states, the emphasis is on experimentation and modeling, not on lectures and textbooks. Of course educators need to set the stage, but once that is done, the students are expected to explore topics by modeling the behavior of real scientists. In other words, the shift is from learning about science, to actually doing experiments.
The fact that experimentation using zSpace is virtual is not a problem because objects have true 3-D representation. The potential of this technology to transform STEM education is very high!
If you want to see this environment for yourself, free educational seminars are being offered across the country by zSpace. Please register at http://zspace.com/eduseminar. In my opinion, this is a technology worth watching closely