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zSpace computers immerse students in virtual reality

Dee Dickens, center, a professional services provider with zSpace, demonstrates the zSpace 300 3D computer consoles to Margarita Porter, left, principal of New America School and Patricia Dahlin-Dunne, right, a science teacher at the school. (Las Cruces Sun-News)

LAS CRUCES – When classes began at New America School in downtown Las Cruces last month, students were able to dissect an eyeball with the click of a mouse.

They also can feel heartbeats at their fingertips while examining a cross-section of a human heart, watch the entire life cycle of a butterfly before their eyes, and later solve a crime through the latest forensic science technology.

All of which was made possible through five recently purchased computers featuring technology that combines virtual reality and augmented reality to create an immersive and interactive learning experience.

Principal Margarita Porter said the new computers – the newest models by zSpace – were an ideal choice to bolster the school’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum.

“We looked at these computers and we thought this was a great way to bring the technology and the science into our classroom while keeping our students safe,” Porter said, “and they don’t have to have a large, fully equipped science lab when we can bring it just to a computer.”

The school purchased the computers with funds it receives from Spaceport America, Porter said. Each computer features a 24-inch high-definition, flat-screen display and comes with a stylus, 2D conversion glasses, passive stereo glasses, as well as a mouse and keyboard.

The computers also feature the zSpace curriculum, which includes applications and lessons in several areas of science – physical science, life science, Earth and space science, and social sciences. There’s also a creative application that allows students to create art in 3D, in addition to separate math programs.

About 200 students enrolled at the school are using the computers. In preparation, Porter and two other teachers were trained on the computers by a representative from zSpace.

“Oh my gosh, I was blown away,” science teacher Patricia Dahlin-Dunne said of her first experience using the computers. “To feel the heartbeat in the stylus when I am looking at (the heart) – and I can see what it looks like when your heart’s at rest (and) feel what my heartbeat would be doing after I’ve been exercising.”

She added: “You see it, you hear and you feel it. It’s just an incredible feeling.”

She expects that students will be “fully engaged” in learning when using the computers. “They’re not going to want to leave,” she said.