Louisville  engineering students use computer-aided design and 3D printing to create educational models for visually impaired K-12 students. (Courtesy U of L)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Through an elective class at the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering, students are developing educational models to enhance STEM education for blind or visually impaired students.

Currently, 13 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral Speed School students majoring in chemical, mechanical or electrical engineering have participated.

Vance Jaeger, assistant professor of chemical engineering, instructs the class, teaching students about the development of models using computer-aided design software to iteratively design and produce tactile educational prototypes with 3D printers.

Scientific and mathematical concepts are often taught through visual means like graphs, figures, equations, models and videos, but these methods are insufficient for visually impaired or blind students. Jaeger and his students are working to create tools for teaching that do not depend on visual learning.

He says the inspiration for the idea came from seeing stories online about aids for blind people, while at the same time being interested in getting into 3D printing.  “The two things sort of clicked in my head, and so I contacted the Kentucky School for the Blind.”

There, he met science instructor Adam Stockhausen, who advises the UofL students on which concepts are most needed by visually impaired K-12 students and providing feedback on design iterations.

Stockhausen also is developing a curriculum guide and tutorial for other instructors of visually impaired students to ensure that the models see use within classrooms across Kentucky and the United States. UofL students’ digital designs will be shared freely and openly with the maker community and educators through popular digital file sharing platforms as well.

Partnering with Jaeger and Speed School students was a great collaboration to find ways to get ideas across to his current student population, according to Stockhausen. “There were some things that I just had no idea how to approach.  Describing things with words and then having a picture up on the screen that only half of my class can access is not effective to make sure everyone has a good understanding of what we’re talking about.”

He said he’s used some models in the classroom that have helped convey his ideas to his students. “The ones we’re currently working on aren’t quite ready, but by the end of the UofL students’ projects, I’ll be able to bring them into the classroom and show them to my kids.”

“Mechanical engineering is very big in computer-aided design,” Jaeger added.  “The 3D printing technology is a mixture – you have the computer side, the mechanical, electrical and chemical side, such as materials.  What are the right material and material properties to convey these ideas? What plastic?  What polymer?  What strength of material?”

The project was granted $25,000 from NASA Kentucky Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research funding last September, with $25,000 cost share from UofL.