3D printed models help vision impaired students learn

A range of 3D models sit on a table. They include two models of cells, a model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a model of a human heart.
Image: 3D printed models

The Department is supporting students with vision impairment to learn and access the curriculum using 3D printing technology.

Research shows that learning with 3D objects enables better student understanding of complex concepts than raised line graphics, according to Braille and Large Print Services.

There are now over 30 prints being used in a pilot in NSW schools with more produced weekly.

3D prints have been created of a heart, a cell, black holes, ancient Egyptian pyramids and their chambers, the Sydney Opera House, and Uluru. A tactile globe with Braille labels and raised topography was also created for a year 1 student who loved reading maps and exploring countries.

“The student’s teacher told us stories of how the student would sit for hours on end just feeling her way around the world. It was extremely difficult to ask for that print back after hearing the stories,” said Kim Barber, Manager Braille and Large Print Services.

Prints are sent to participating schools to be trialled with students and are then redesigned and improved based on feedback. Feedback informs the way Braille is incorporated, textures used, preferred size and scale, and curriculum areas to explore next.

For students who are blind or vision impaired, access to traditional graphics, diagrams, plans, maps, and charts is limited. It also takes time to create Braille, large print and accessible electronic material meaning teachers need to plan lessons further in advance.

“We create syllabus-based objects with accessibility as the driving ethos,” said Navkaran Virdi, Project Officer - 3D Print. “This means resources suit the needs of our students, but can still be used by sighted peers, in an inclusive approach to learning materials.”

Research shows that interactive learning with physical objects is beneficial to all students.

“3D printed objects are fun, exciting and engaging. Having 3D prints in the classroom means more social interaction between peers, more discussions, and a livelier atmosphere within the classroom,” said Ms Barber.

A website is being developed where teachers and families can view and share 3D prints.

The team will continue creating prints with the goal of having resources for every subject and level.

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