Tactile Technologies

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Tactile Technologies

Tactile Technologies is a curriculum product that introduces learners to 3D printing technologies and accessibility principles. Modules and interactive, in-person workshops help learners gain the skills needed to transform visual media into a 3D learning experience.

 

Participants choose their media (usually a children's book), adapt the story into 3D, design/edit 3D models, and create a tactile product. Tactile Technologies updated an aging curriculum and offered a new, project-based learning experience for practicing accessibility in educational environments.

Approach

Tactile Technologies began as part of a Girls Technology camp and later was integrated into digital media courses at the University of Florida. Since most participants are beginners, the design uses easy navigation, colorful icons, and progressive tasks to help learners gain skills. Many 3D modeling programs have black and gray interfaces layered with obscure symbols. In contrast, Tactile Technologies integrates colors, shapes, drag and drop mechanics, and tilt orientations. The curriculum simplifies design so users can focus on analyzing accessibility and creating new tactile texts.

Role: Lead Designer, Instructor

 

Responsibilities: Research, LX Design, Information Architecture, Prototyping, User Testing, Evaluation

 

Target Audience: Beginner to Intermediate learners

 

Tools Used: Autodesk, Cura, Thingiverse, SketchUp, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Fusion 3 Printer, Ultimaker

Context

Most children's books are sight based, which can make learning words or reading popular stories difficult for visually disabled kids. 3D printing offers an affordable, innovative way to redesign books as accessible learning experiences. In 2017, CU Boulder started a Tactile Picture Book project, collaborating with schools and maker labs to 3D print more accessible texts.

Problem

Several higher education courses and a Girls Technology Camp needed updated curriculum and new, accessibility-focused projects for return learners. In conjunction, The Tactile Picture Book Project was a great initiative, but lacked a set curriculum or even instructional guides, which limited who could participate and the number of available redesigns. 

Result

Tactile Technologies updated an aging curriculum and provided a constructivist approach to learning 3D technologies and accessibility principles. After consulting with CU, I created sequenced activities for learning 3D modeling skills and created tactile redesigns for several children's books (The Giving Tree, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, The Very Hungry Caterpillar).

Design Process

The following sections detail the design process from concept to completion

Research

Design

Development

Evaluation

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Research

  • Consult visually disabled readers

  • Review accessible design principles

  • UX/UI Audit 3D modeling programs

  • Evaluate the tactile books

  • Analyze 3D redesigns

  • Inventory available skills/tools

  • Create  learner profile

To create curriculum for Tactile Technologies, I had to understand: the intended audience for 3D texts, the intended user for the curriculum, and the expected learning outcomes. I began by interviewing visually disabled readers, learning about Braille books, and identifying learning gaps in reading programs. I also consulted with the University of Colorado Boulder, The Tactile Picture Books project, public libraries, and disability scholars to learn more about the workflow and creation of accessible education products.

Since the first iteration of Tactile Technologies was for a Girls Technology Camp, I spoke with middle and high school teachers to better understand the target audience. I also interviewed teenage girls, researched cognitive development in teenagers, and studied why women tend to move away from STEM subjects around middle school. The goal was to create a learner profile and gain empathy for the user.

Next, I worked with computer engineers, makers, and 3D printing labs to perform a UX/UI audit of 3D modeling programs. Most programs required a familiarity with game engines. The user interfaces were unfriendly or even hidden, requiring learners to watch lengthy tutorials to engage the product.

My research helped me identify key issues, frame the learning scenario for participants, and better understand how to sequence lessons for a young user. 

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Instructional Design

  • Introduce learners to 3D tech

  • Practice 3D modeling skills

  • Evaluate accessibility principles

  • Analyze story elements

  • Produce 3D redesigns

  • Develop new accessibility principles for 3D printing technologies

Using the learner profiles, we determined that Autodesk's Tinkercad 3D modeling program would be the best for beginning learners. Tinkercad is free and easy to use with a colorful interface and drag and drop modalities. I then formulated a set of design principles to help guide the design and development phases:

  1. Minimize text

  2. Prominent visuals

  3. Diverse colors to denote difference

  4. Drag and drop movements

  5. Mini skills tasks and badges

Working with science librarians, I developed a 3D design module that would familiarize users with the Tinkercad tools and interface. Learners first tinker with basic shapes, then create a nameplate, and finally design a tactile page. The progressive activities help learners interact with the workplane and build 3D skills. 

The 3D printing lessons also introduced accessibility principles so learners could began to understand accessibility as a key part of design. 3D printing works across digital and physical environments, so I created activities that emphasized web accessibility principles (Percievable, Operable, Understandable, Robust) and also challenged participants to adapt the principles for diverse learning environments.

I tested the program with public workshops and other designers. I also designed and 3D printed several tactile books to experiment with the tools and work out any kinks before Girls Tech Camp. 

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LX Design

  • Engage users off screen

  • Adapt accessible design principles

  • UX/UI Audit of Tactile Picture Books

  • Evaluate the content of 2D media

  • Analyze 3D redesigns

  • Inventory available tools/supplies

  • Create diverse accessible experiences

Prioritizing accessibility can reframe learning experiences. Instead of trying to recreate UC Boulder's Tactile Book Project, I redesigned the tactile learning experience - both for the girls at tech camp and the university students who later participated in the curriculum. Instead of sticking to a bound book format, we focused on creating hands-on experiences.

The following learning objectives guided the overall project:

 

  1. Analyze visual elements

  2. Evaluate accessibility

  3. Recognize adaptable features

  4. Create tactile learning goals

  5. Redesign for tactile experience

  6. Assess tactile redesigns

To start, I created "off the book" examples, including tactile versions of The Giving Tree and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Since both stories involve objects, I designed a new way to tell the story by moving or giving away 3D printed pieces. For The Giving Tree, each part of the tree can be given away while the story is being told. Similarly, readers can "give" the items the mouse requests in the story (cookie, milk, box, brush, etc). Adding the tactile, 3D printed elements separate from the page creates a different storytelling experience.

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For Girls Tech Camp, I designed a group project where learners reconfigured a book and each person created one page of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

 

Research shows that middle school girls feel more empowered to learn technology through group work, so this format created an opportunity for girls to work together, but each have their own section. To increase the tactile, girls could use craft supplies alongside 3D printed objects. Pipe cleaners, cotton balls, rhinestones, and feathers changed the texture of pages and demonstrated new ways to think about LX design and accessibility.

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Development

  • Mockup 3D redesigns

  • User test activities

  • Integrate curriculum into LMS

  • Prototype program

  • Print out sample redesigns

Development happened in several stages. I started with the mockup and test prints of 3d redesigns. Then I worked with science librarians and a 3D printing lab to test the activities and examples.

We created a learning module in Canvas LMS and Figma. We then prototyped and tested the curriculum with the Girls Tech Camp.

A librarian from the county brought a Braille typewriter so girls could type out accessible text on their chosen page. Then all other components were created through the Tactile Technologies modules or the in-person guided workshops..

For the university curriculum, learners selected any book or "story" that could be redesigned with tactile elements. Participants used the same learning modules to progressively learn 3D printing skills and accessibility principles, but each person worked on their own to create a redesigned, tactile experience. Projects included Rainbow Fish, The Ugly Duckling, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, Jack and the Beanstalk, The Lorax, Monkeys Jumping on the Bed, and Coraline (among others).

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Evaluation

  • Participant surveys

  • Peer reviewed publication

  • Accessibility inventory

The Tactile Technologies program has been incorporated into university courses and Girls Tech Camp curriculum. In course evaluations for both, Tactile Technologies was rated the best overall learning experience by participants.