Cumberland County schools review virtual reality options to expand learning
Posted at 3:48 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 2022
CUMBERLAND — Field trips are expensive. It’s also not cheap to build physical labs. So how does a rural school district get around these problems? For schools in Cumberland County, officials hope the answer comes through virtual reality (VR).
Cumberland County schools are currently testing a virtual reality program called Z Space. The California-based company has worked with multiple school districts, here in Virginia and across the country, to give students access to virtual reality learning.
Their program allows students to enter the world of virtual reality to better learn about various topics. The school system is currently studying the program, to see if it is possible to dedicate a laboratory to it and what the idea would require.
To accomplish this, Cumberland’s Z Space setup has five devices that allow a few students to see while one is in control. Cumberland hopes to expand this to allow entire classes to participate at once instead of just a few.
Virtual reality is the most popular right now as a video game experience. Users can put on a headset and be transported into a game rather than watching it on their computer or TV screen. For schools, virtual reality works the same way.
How it works?
According to Jeff Dingeldein, chief technology officer for Cumberland County Public Schools, students can have many experiences using virtual reality. Anatomy and biology teachers can have students view the bodies of humans and other animals to see how organs work without having to dissect real bodies. Students can also go under the sea, visit sites around the world, and step back in time to see the construction of the Roman Colosseum.
“The VR lab could provide a hands-on opportunity to explore careers, virtually visit places outside of the local community, and make connections to classroom learning,” said Chip Jones. He is superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools.
The goal here is to give students the same experience they have in real life. But instead of having to travel to Rome to see the Colosseum, with the plane tickets, hotel rooms and other bills that would entail, anyone can do it right from the classroom. It also opens up hands-on learning opportunities that many small school districts often cannot afford.
It has also been shown to have a positive effect on test results. A March 2019 report from EdTech found that students who used virtual reality in their biology class performed better than a class at the same school that didn’t use the technology. This same EdTech report also shows that students who studied in 2018-2019 in a virtual reality classroom showed “an almost 9% increase in retention.”
At the head of this project is high school student Jack Williamson. For his senior project, Jack is researching to find the right computers online to set up this virtual reality lab. He hopes to find some online at a good price or consider building them himself if necessary.
How are schools in Cumberland County doing?
This project is still in its exploration phase as they still need to find funding and a location for this lab. Fortunately, Virginia High School in Bristol allowed Cumberland to visit their virtual reality lab and provide resources to help them get started. Depending on how long it takes to secure funding and find a location, they hope to have this lab ready by the start of the next school year.
“It takes a long time to get everything looking nice and put together,” Dingeldein said. “Fortunately Bristol has shared a lot of resources with us so we can get a head start.”
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