3D-printed map models are being used as a learning tool to teach visually impaired students after a two-year research project.
Researchers, Joan Horvath and Rich Cameron directed two Los Angeles educators and a group of Pasadena City College students in the working of a 3D printing project. Mike Cheverie and Lore Schindler, early adopters of 3D-printed models to teach visually impaired students, were put together with the Pasadena pupils to create a tactile map of a school that had a large number of visually impaired students.
Tactile maps comprise of raised symbols, Braille and outlines of structures to allow the blind to navigate a space. In this case, it would help them get about the school grounds.
Creating a completely original 3D map of a ground with many obstacles, did not always prove easy.
“Some standards were emerging at the time describing the best way to 3D print Braille and what symbols to use on maps, but for the most part we had to invent things as we went along,” wrote Horvath and Cameron. “This did not always go well. One time we thought we would invent a symbol to show where a doorway was and succeeded in using the existing symbol for ‘ladies’ room’.”
The team also had to strike a balance between physical and abstract information on the map model. If they overloaded the map with too much Braille and symbols, the map would be almost unreadable. Ultimately, the educators were able to mentor the students into creating a number of viable 3D maps.
The Pasadena City College students involved in the project
They also entered the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Though beaten to the award by a modular robot designed for search and rescue operations, their entry created a public Google Group where teachers could post requests for designs. One teacher’s request for designs of objects with the same volume to be shaped differently. Teachers also wanted the objects to be hollow and have one open side, so students could pour water from one to another to demonstrate that their inner volumes were the same.
Sharp-pointed objects were blunted, so a blind person would be able to handle them comfortably, and shapes were given removable lids and bases to complete the shapes.
During the two-year project, Horvath and Cameron worked to give educators of the visually impaired access to these 3D printable designs, and founded Nonscriptum LLC in 2015.
Horvath and Cameron have not been the only researchers exploring 3D-printed maps of areas. Cheverie had previously collaborated with other teachers to create similar models of neighbourhoods where his students reside, a model of the Hubble Space Telescope, and simple mathematics utensils, like rulers and protractors.
But the researchers now hope their recent work will act as a catalyst for this style of teaching.
“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,” Horvath and Cameron added. “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 catalyse a new style of collaborative learning between student and teacher.”