Mid-Plains Community College is on the cusp of something big.
Thanks to new technology, the way students learn is about to change – forever.
“From the student perspective, I think we’re going to see this technology spark a lot of interest,” said Paul Knopick, MPCC area director of early entry and program development. “From the college perspective, it will give our faculty another creative way to teach and engage students.”
Knopick’s comments were made in reference to the eight new zSpace units the college recently purchased that instructors will begin training on in March. Each offers an explorative and experiential learning experience through the use of virtual and augmented reality.
VR and AR provide lifelike simulations in fun, immersive and interactive ways. By transforming the delivery of educational content, VR and AR promote creativity and curiosity, stimulate interest and offer visualizations not always possible in traditional classroom settings.
“With zSpace, our programs can have topics and resources at their fingertips at the click of a button,” Knopick said. “For example, classes won’t have to have a cadaver because there’s an app for that. They won’t need an electric car to learn about one because there’s an app for that, too. In this day and age, technology is king, and this is a great way to create more opportunities for students and take the education we provide them to another level.”
The zSpace units consist of eight oversized tablets that will be mounted onto carts for portability purposes. Each tablet is installed with apps for anatomy and physiology, biological sciences and chemistry and comes with special glasses that allow wearers to view scenes in 3-D – as though they were part of them.
The eyewear provides students with the freedom to move and interact with the objects they are studying. Two experiences are available. Students can either view objects on their own or see what their instructor is seeing. Accompanying styluses allow students to pick up and hold 3-D objects to better examine them.
Images can also be projected thanks to a zView camera.
“It’s similar to a GoPro but can be set up to record what the instructor is doing and cast the activity to other screens for online and distance learning classes,” Knopick said.
MPCC campuses in McCook and North Platte will each receive two zSpace units. The remaining four will be sent to campuses in Broken Bow, Imperial, Ogallala and Valentine. For now, the tablets will primarily be used by the biology and chemistry departments, but they will have the ability to be moved around wherever needed.
“Data shows that the biggest need currently is for training in the area of health sciences,” Knopick said. “We’re hopeful that we can secure more funds to purchase additional apps and eventually roll the units out to the applied technology programs and other departments as well.”
Two laptops were included with the equipment purchase. They will be used by the nursing and emergency services departments to provide electrocardiogram training. When not needed by those departments, the laptops will be housed in the Learning Commons areas on the McCook and North Platte campuses so all students can access them.
The total cost of the new equipment was $60,998, all of which was paid for with federal funding from a Perkins grant.
MPCC students could begin using the units as early as this spring. They will be fully implemented into curriculums by fall.