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3D printed teaching aids enhance education for visually impaired students

Posted by Jacqui Adams on

Taken from 3Ders

By Kira

New research from the 3D printing Lab at Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) has revealed that 3D printed tactile teaching aids, including 3D printed replicas of historical monuments and maps, can improve the literacy comprehension, and potentially even writing skills, of blind and visually impaired students.

For both students and teachers, relying on text-only material to teach complex subjects, from geography to history and even math, can be frustrating, if not impossible. While theories can be tentatively explained, visual aids such as diagrams, illustrations, or even physical models provide a much deeper understanding, and are already frequently used in classrooms across the world.

Visually impaired students, however, remain quite limited in this aspect of their education. While accessibility standards are on the rise, the focus has been on upping the number of Braille textbooks or audio guides, which still rely on dry textual descriptions.

Jang Hee I, one of the researchers at the 3D Printing Lab, explains that he and his teammates knew 3Dprinting could help these students, but it wasn’t until they actually began working with teachers and students that they understood how. Originally, he explains, they wanted to use 3D printing to enhance the Braille reading materials already in use in the classrooms. They soon realized, however, that the visually impaired students would benefit far more from actual physical models that they could feel and touch rather than yet more textual descriptions.

Examples of the 3D printed tactile maps and historical artifacts

They thus redesigned the research project and began 3D printing educational models, such as monuments and maps discussed in their history class. Specifically, the researchers 3D printed 11 tactile maps and 27 different relics. Over a period of three months, four students from the Seoul National School for the Blind used the 3D printed aids (in tandem with traditional text-based materials), while the research team monitored their progress.

Not only did the 3D printed tactile aids help with the students’ overall comprehension of the material, but they also helped the students become more engaged and motivated with their history curriculum.

“[It] used to be that you have to explain in words, so they were able to see what those monuments look like,” explained Jang Hee I. “But they were able to touch it, they were able to figure out what it looked like and they could not only motivate them to learn more about history but to also help them with comprehension.”

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