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UofL engineering students collaborate with Kentucky School for the Blind

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Through an elective class in the University of Louisville Speed School of Engineering students are developing educational models to enhance STEM education for blind or visually impaired (VI) students. Currently, 13 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral Speed School students majoring in chemical, mechanical or electrical engineering have participated.

UofL engineering students are using computer-aided design and 3D printing to create educational models for visually impaired K-12 students.

Vance Jaeger, assistant professor, 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 VI or blind students. Jaeger and his students are working to create tools for teaching that do not depend on visual learning.

The inspiration for the idea came from Jaeger 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,” he said.

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 VI instructors 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.

For Stockhausen, partnering with Jaeger and Speed School students was a great collaboration to find ways to get ideas across to his current student population. “There were some things that I just had no idea how to approach,” he said. “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,” he said.

The course crosses multiple disciplines in engineering concepts.

“Mechanical engineering is very big in computer-aided design,” said Jaeger. “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?”

Madelyn Peter, a junior in chemical engineering, said she was initially interested in the course when she learned they would be doing 3D modeling, something she enjoys but doesn’t often get the chance to do in chemical engineering. Another reason this course appealed to her was the combination of engineering disciplines.

“We’re mixing mechanical, electrical, all kind of things,” she said. “It’s beneficial because … you’re never just a chemical engineer, you’re all kinds. Having a class here that introduces you to other disciplines and having that experience has been really nice.”

She also believes the class has taught her to broaden her perspective.

“As an engineer, that’s something we should always be considering, making things as accessible as possible,” she said.

The project was granted $25,000 from NASA Kentucky EPSCOR (Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) funding in September 2021, with $25,000 cost share from UofL.

By Holly Hinson, UofL News

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