Nov 10, 2016 | By Benedict

Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron, 3D printing experts and co-founders of consulting firm Nonscriptum LLC, have started a project to help teachers of visually impaired students receive 3D printed tactile maps and teaching aids from sighted students learning about 3D printing.

Slowly but surely, 3D printing technology is proving itself to be a valuable asset for the blind and visually impaired. Using 3D design software and a 3D printer, it is becoming increasingly easy to create things like 3D printed tactile maps, tactile models, and objects with braille written on them. Teachers in schools for the visually impaired have recognized the value of 3D printed items like these, but the adoption of such materials has actually been quite limited in educational settings. With so much on their plate already, many teachers simply don’t have time to learn about CAD software, 3D printers, and all the rest, and have therefore found themselves distanced from the opportunities afforded by the new technology.

Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron, co-founders of Nonscriptum LLC, a consulting and training firm that teaches educators and scientists how to use 3D printing technology, saw that teachers in schools for the blind and visually impaired were struggling to take full advantage of 3D printing, and decided they would try and remedy that problem. Their latest ambitious project, which was submitted for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, involves linking up teachers who require 3D printed teaching aids with students who are learning how to use 3D printing and who need real-world projects to carry out.

By establishing a network to connect teachers of the blind and visually impaired with printer-savvy students, Horvath and Cameron have built an ideal foundation on which teams can create useful 3D printed items for learning purposes. Teachers of the visually impaired know what kind of tools a blind learner needs to, for example, learn about abstract mathematical concepts, while students taking design or engineering classes have the digital skills to turn those teacher-provided specifications into a physical, 3D printed item.

These invaluable connections between teachers and students are currently being made through a public Google Group, established by Horvath and Cameron, where teachers of sighted students (those doing the 3D printing) can respond to requests from teachers of the blind and visually impaired to accept a specific design proposal. All parties can then contribute specific advice on how certain objects can be best designed to suit the needs of their target user. 3D printed maps, for instance, must not contain too much or too little information—make the “landmarks” too detailed and the user may not recognize what they are; make them too crude and the information (proximity, scale, etc.) may not be accurate enough to be of use.

While the modular 3D printed Dtto robot ultimately won the Hackaday Prize, Horvath and Cameron’s project was chosen as a semifinalist, and the duo believe the project has a great deal left to offer. “Creating a model for a blind student is just an extreme version of making models for tactile learners who generally don’t fare well with typical equations-on-the-whiteboard ways of teaching math and science,” they said. “Creating a physical model requires a deep understanding well beyond what might be needed to squeak through a quiz. We hope our Google Group will catalyze a new style of collaborative learning between student and teacher.”

Horvath and Cameron now plan to work more with teachers of the blind and visually impaired to learn more about what kind of 3D printed objects could be useful for students, while also attempting to recruit more teachers of sighted students to take part in the efforts. The pair may also create a wiki-style guide to the best practices of 3D printing models, maps, and teaching tools for blind and visually impaired students.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Howat Labrum wrote at 11/10/2016 8:21:09 PM:

Great. My English tensemaps could be examples of the tactile maps you are talking about for visually impaired students. I believe my maps have the right balance of simplicity and detail for your purposes. I have many examples on Twitter @Howie7951, if you are interested. I am a retired ESL/EFL teacher with many years of years teaching experience in Thailand, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea as well as Canada. More importantly I have a deep interest in the synergy of content and grammar, especially the English verb system. I would be happy to share my ideas with students who are willing to transform my tensemaps into tactile maps with 3D printers to help those who are visually impaired and would like to learn English more deeply.

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