The use of 3D printed media to improve the accessibility of engineering educational materials

Published 2023


Dr. Gergely Sirokman
zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

Dr. Ryan Barlow
zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

Dr. Adrian Rodriguez
zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

Dr. Alicia Clark
zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

Lauren Fogg
zyBooks, A Wiley Brand

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There is a need for improvement in teaching engineering, math, and science to students with blindness or visual impairment (BVI). Most media available for instruction are visual, and many concepts are taught visually, making them inaccessible to students with BVI. In addition to the wider use of alternative text (alt text) [1], swell paper printing, braille touch pads, sonification, and other technologies, individual instructors have made strides in using 3D printing to make graphical engineering content more accessible [2]. Other studies have been done to show the effectiveness of 3D printing in delivering instruction to students with visual impairments [3]-[4]. Ready access to 3D printable media for engineering education remains elusive despite 3D printing technology becoming widespread, partially due to cost and partially due to complications in transforming flat images into 3D printable objects.

Access to 3D printable files for graphs and illustrations in textbooks would improve instructors’ ability to deliver accessible content to students with visual impairments, beyond alt text or tabular data alone. Several studies have shown that visually impaired students benefit from tactile media that 3D printing can provide. Examples of such work exist in chemistry [3], mathematics [5]-[6], and engineering [2]. Studies have also shown that 3D printed media can be designed to be useful across the whole spectrum of visual impairment as well as for fully sighted learners [7]-[9]. A survey of prior work is presented in this paper to collate possible solutions to making such a 3D printable file collection a reality, and to find ways to integrate such a collection into interactive online textbooks. Existing technologies are investigated for their advantages and disadvantages compared to 3D printing. The potential difficulties in creating a 3D file collection (including file conversion, file storage, dissemination, and compatibility) are discussed.

The effectiveness of 3D printed media to convey information is crucial. This paper is intended to serve as the basis of establishing a method and process for building a functional, textbook-integratable collection of 3D printable media for ready use to improve accessibility of engineering educational content, and incorporating it into our interactive web native textbook, zyBooks.

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