Rural school districts go "virtual" with new technology

HASTINGS, Neb. (KSNB) - Four local school districts are bridging the gap between rural areas and technology with virtual reality.

Four local school districts received a $200,000 state grant to use virtual reality in their classrooms. Educators trained on how to use the device on Wednesday. (Source: Kelsey Dickeson, KSNB)

With help from ESU9, Adams Central, Kenesaw, Doniphan-Trumbull and Harvard School Districts received a $200,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Education using the reVISION process to bring virtual reality devices to their schools.

The device is called Zspace. Educators from all four districts trained on how to use it Wednesday at ESU9.

They sat in front of the screen wearing special 3-D glasses. Teachers used a pen to move images around. They did that from about a foot away from the screen.

"One of the nice features that I'm seeing with this is if I click, and expand that out...the object that I'm looking at through my glasses will appear almost in front of my nose," said Jay Cecrle, a science teacher at Adams Central.

Zspace has virtual and augmented reality. Teachers said it'll allow students to see and do things they normally can't. One example is dissecting a human heart.

Students at Doniphan-Trumbell will dissect cow hearts and lungs in their anatomy and biology classes. Teachers there said this type of technology will get them more prepared for that.

"To be able to get them in and have something to where they can manipulate, and zoom and pull, and it feels like a heart or a layer of the atmosphere is right in front of you, I think that's just going to be a big draw for the students to get engaged more," said Jordan Binfield, a biology teacher at Doniphan-Trumbull.

Adams Central will be getting ten Zspaces, and the rest of the schools will get six each.

Educators said they expect the device to provide a more immersive learning experience in the classroom, one they hope provides a more clear path to what careers students might consider.

"It's doing something for the kids that's not done in Nebraska, but having that collaboration piece, being able to work with other schools, it takes you off that island. It helps build that program and it puts technology in our hands that nobody else has," said Chuck Roe, a counselor at Kenesaw School District.

Each district took home one Zspace unit after training on Wednesday. They'll get the rest mid-October.

For now, teachers will work on incorporating the virtual reality devices into their lesson plans.