Convening Communities for Good: On the Frontier of 3D Printing for Accessible Education

Ed. Note: This blog was originally posted by the Benetech’s Blog. To view the original post, click here.

By Lisa Wadors Verne, Program Manager, Education Research and Partnerships for Benetech Labs and Global Literacy

The rise of 3D printing technology and its increasing availability in schools, libraries, and museums presents new opportunities to improve learning and accessibility in a variety of educational contexts. Benetech was therefore delighted to convene the first major national forum of its kind devoted solely to the topic of 3D printing for accessible educational materials.

Held last week at the Tech Museum of innovation in San Jose, the three-day national meeting brought together over forty-five practitioners and end users in the fields of 3D printing technology and services, accessible education, tactile learning modalities, library and museum services, and educational content. The purpose of the meeting was to survey and understand existing efforts at the intersection of 3D printing and education, and identify ways in which makerspaces and 3D printing resources can transform the educational experience of students with disabilities.

Participants sitting in a circle brainstorming

Brainstorming in action!

3D-printed models provide an affordable alternative to purely visual images and therefore offer students across the widest range of learner variability a tactual mode of understanding spatial concepts. Why is this important? Because a significant number of educational materials, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) disciplines, are heavily visual, requiring students to gain much of the information from resources such as charts, graphs, diagrams, maps, photographs, and other images. This content, however, poses challenges for students with visual impairments and others who may have difficulty processing visual information. 3D-printed objects, which can be explored tactually, provide these students with an alternative means to perceiving the content. 3D objects also enable teachers to put in their students’ hands and better understand things that are “too large, too small, too fragile, too valuable/ rare, or too dangerous.”

The national meeting we convened last week was made possible thanks to a 2014 Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). IMLS awarded Benetech this grant to identify new ways in which 3D printing technology in libraries and museums can be used to improve learning and accessibility, particularly in STEM disciplines. This 3D Printing for Education project builds upon our DIAGRAM Center’s research into ways in which 3D printing technology can be applied to create accessible educational materials.

A woman and boy having a discussion

So many great discussions took place

With this project, which we are pursuing through both the DIAGRAM Center and Benetech Labs, our goal is to make 3D models more available, discoverable, and usable in conjunction with textbooks and other curricular materials that teachers already use. To that end, we are building a network of collaborators that will help grow and sustain innovative 3D-printed learning tools. The participants at last week’s 3D national meeting represent the wide range of stakeholder communities with which Benetech has formed strong relationships: educators, students, publishers, accessibility experts, technology companies in the 3D printing space and STEM education space, as well as libraries, museums, and makerspaces.

The topics we explored together during the three-day meeting include challenges (technical, resource, and legal) and opportunities in 3D printing of accessible educational materials and in building maker communities; key accessibility gaps in existing technologies and strategies for bridging them; opportunities for collaboration; as well as success measures and how to evaluate progress in the field. The convening concluded with a Design Day, on which a group of designers joined us for a “3D printing hackathon” focused on designing models that will be included in a collection of exemplary STEM 3D printable objects. As this is one of our broader 3D Printing for Education project deliverables, the files of the select models will be optimized for printing to demonstrate and measure the value of 3D-printed objects as tools for accessible STEM education. Check out participants’ photos and posts from the event, and follow the continued conversation on Twitter at #3dA11y.

A group photo of the 3D Forum attendees

3D Forum Attendees

We’d like to extend our sincere thanks to IMLS for making our 3D Printing for Education project and last week’s national forum possible; to the Tech Museum for hosting us; to all our partners and collaborators whose contributions have made the national meeting a success; and to all the participants for their great engagement and input. Over the coming months, we will share more information about the results of the meeting and of our entire 3D Printing for Education project. Stay tuned for updates via the Benetech Blog and the DIAGRAM Center Blog.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Accessibility, Education Support, Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | Leave a comment

New Report Examines Impacts of C2C Statewide Planning Grants

By Tom Clareson, Senior Consultant for Digital & Preservation Services, LYRASIS, and
Danielle Cunniff Plumer, DCPlumer Associates, L.L.C.

As part of the IMLS Connecting to Collections (C2C) Initiative, fifty-seven U.S. states, commonwealths, and territories received Statewide Planning Grants from 2008 to 2010 in order to develop statewide plans for collections care and management, including emergency preparedness. A new report, written by consultants Danielle Cunniff Plumer and Tom Clareson as part of a grant project awarded to Heritage Preservation, Inc. (RE-06-10-0089-10), looks at these Statewide Planning Grants to assess their impact and to identify ways for us to move forward in caring for our nation’s treasures. The report is now available for download.

While the approaches used in planning grants varied from state to state, this report identifies several common themes, among them an ongoing need for more quantitative data on the state of collections held in trust by libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and comparable institutions; a recognition that emergency and disaster preparedness must be addressed by all institutions; and a desire to broaden the base of support for collections care to ensure that future generations have access to the cultural record that has been so painstakingly collected.

Some of the positive impacts of the Connecting to Collections Statewide Planning Grants include:

  • Collaborative groups, including archives, historical societies, libraries, and museums were formed, and the activities of many of these groups have continued through Connecting to Collections Implementation Grant projects and beyond.
  • The Connecting to Collections Initiative raised the profile of preservation in the states and across the nation through workshops, conferences, statewide summits, and the reports on survey activities and other projects.
  • Baseline preservation knowledge grew among participants in the project as a result of participating in survey projects and through the preservation site surveys, workshops, and conferences associated with the statewide projects.
  • New program ideas developed in one state were often utilized in other states. Methods of raising awareness or “marketing” preservation that were used to great success in Virginia also found success in other states, and states and territories have shared successful strategies with each other through articles, reports, and interactions at cultural heritage association meetings.
  • One of the potential impacts with the longest-lasting positive effect has been the identification and growth of new preservation leaders in states that participated in Connecting to Collections Planning Grant projects.

Although the planning grants have been completed, we’re delighted to note that the work of the Connecting to Collections initiative continues through ongoing Statewide Implementation Grants and also through forums, resources, discussions, and webinars presented as part of the Connecting to Collections Care (C2CC) Online Community at Managed by the Foundation of the American Institute for Conservation of Artistic and Historic Works, the community is a place where smaller cultural institutions can quickly find trusted and reliable answers and resources to help them take better care of their collections. It’s growing every day, everything is free, and you can register here to become a full participant.

Posted in Collections Care/Preservation, Connecting to Collections Statewide Grants, Cultural Heritage/Sustainability | Leave a comment

Taking the National Digital Platform for Libraries to the Next Level

By Trevor Owens, Senior Program Officer
Emily Reynolds, Program Specialist
Office of Library Services, IMLS

At the end of April, an interdisciplinary group of experts on libraries and technology met at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C., for an IMLS Focus convening on the subject of the national digital platform for libraries.

Two participants talk to each other at the IMLS Focus convening.

Convening attendees Rachel Frick and Jeffrey Reznick

Today we are excited to share a summary report outlining the major discussion points of the convening. The report, prepared by OCLC Research, highlights some of the key themes and issues raised by convening presenters and participants. We hope that these notes will be particularly useful for those interested in proposing projects for the national digital platform priority area in the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program and the National Leadership Grants for Libraries Program. Below are a few key focus areas of the report, as well as specific priorities that were identified in each of those areas.

Engaging, Mobilizing and Connecting Communities

  • Engaging users in national digital platform projects through crowdsourcing and other approaches
  • Establishing radical and systematic collaborations across sectors of the library, archives, and museum communities, as well as with other allied institutions
  • Championing diversity and inclusion by ensuring that the national digital platform serves and represents a wide range of communities

Establishing and Refining Tools and Infrastructure

  • Leveraging linked open data to connect content across institutions and amplify impact
  • Focusing on documentation and system interoperability across digital library software projects
  • Researching and developing tools and services that leverage computational methods to increase accessibility and scale practice across individual projects

Cultivating the Digital Library Workforce

  • Shifting to continuous professional learning as part of library professional practice
  • Focusing on hands-on training to develop computational literacy in formal library education programs
  • Educating librarians and archivists to meet the emerging digital needs of libraries and archives, including cross-training in technical and other skills
Trevor Owens sitting at the front panel table with a PowerPoint presentation in the background.

Trevor Owens presenting a definition of the National Digital Platform

We are very much looking forward to engaging with the library community as it continues to work collaboratively to develop new tools, services, and educational programs.

For further background on the development of the national digital platform for libraries see the first national digital platform grant narratives and this recent article from American Libraries magazine.  

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Collections Care/Preservation, Information Infrastructure/Systems/Workflows, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), National Leadership Grants | Leave a comment