We’re living in an age where technology is transforming our lives at every turn—and the classroom is no exception.
New and cutting-edge products, applications, and approaches continue to make headlines, all promising unique ways of helping students thrive in a digital world.
Especially as it relates to visual learning, educators of all kinds are discovering that these new technologies offer ripe opportunity for their students. So, they’ve quickly begun to adopt—and adapt—these new inventions in their own academic environments.
Here are a few examples of how advancements in sight-related technologies are introducing students to a bright new learning landscape.
Modern tech is helping kids with visual impairments engage more fully with popular educational tools, like touchscreens and digital devices. Using touch, vibration, and sound, multisensory tech is also helping these students’ teachers supplement traditional tools and tactics that rely on sight with new means to engage visually impaired students.
For example, Feelif is a European company that helps kids who are blind or visually impaired access digital information using innovative information systems. The company has retrofitted Samsung tablets and smartphones to allow students to interact with them using a raised, braille-like touch screen. The company also offers digital games and educational content to bring these devices to life.
The uniqueness of Feelif’s design comes from the fact that, as users can manipulate the raised grid, they are given supplemental vibrational and auditory feedback. This process allows them to learn about everything from geometry to visual art—and even specialized skills like how to read braille—without needing to rely on their eyesight.
Hybrid physical-digital technology
Savvy teachers of blind students have caught on to the wider implications of a tool called Osmo and have begun adapting it for the benefit of their students. The system allows a child to manipulate smart pieces, such as blocks, shapes, and buttons, to play games on their tablet and sharpen a wide range of skills like music, math, finances—even coding. Additionally, teachers of the visually impaired have begun customizing Osmo for their classrooms; for example, adding braille letters to the physical pieces and reading the program’s verbal instructions out loud to students as they complete the activities.
Technology is also helping sighted students take their studies to a whole new dimension. Virtual Reality (VR) equipment, such as that available from Class VR, allows kids to experience traditional lessons on a profound new level—giving them the opportunity to interact in real-time, immersive, computer-generated landscapes.
Although VR is largely thought of in a visual context, there is plenty of opportunity and interest around using VR to improve the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired.
For example, one of the defining features of VR is the ability to track a user and then adjust the simulation or scenario based on how they move or react (similar to what happens in real life). Scientists have also discovered that these tracking and adjustment functions can be duplicated in a sightless environment.
Researchers are experimenting with new VR techniques. For example, 3D audio imitates sounds, vibrations, and echoes as the user moves. Additionally, motion-controlled devices like joysticks, gloves, pen-type devices and mice offer touch-feedback. The resulting programs allow people with visual impairments to explore artificially created spaces—such as buildings or city streets—safely, before they step out into the real-world version. The Microsoft Research team recently demonstrated this concept by pairing a smart cane, or “canetroller”, with a wearable braking system, allowing participants with low or no vision to become familiar with a virtual environment modelled after a real-life one. With so much potential, it’s just a matter of time before these technologies are integrated into the field of education.
In addition to virtual reality, there’s also augmented reality (AR): a related, but slightly different, area of research and development. Here, devices interact with and enhance the outside world without completely immersing a person in a digital simulation. Great strides are being made in this area for the visually impaired, many of which are already making a great fit for the academic world.
For instance, there’s Orcam: a headset apparatus that reads printed text, such as a menu, book, or sign, aloud to its wearer through an ear piece. There are also eSight smart glasses: a pair of digital goggles that magnifies and sharpens images to make them as big and bright as if they were on a movie screen. For those with low sight attending classes, this type of invention can completely change their daily lives, as this college student recently discovered.
With new and exciting research, and resulting adaptive technologies emerging at every turn, the chance for all students to learn —no matter their level of sight—in new and innovative ways continues to captivate teachers. With so much exploration underway, the only question that remains is how fast these educators can incorporate them into their classrooms and the hands of their eager students.
FYidoctors is proud to support students in our communities and learners of all ages. Book an appointment to ensure your vision care provider continues to be an important ally in your child’s education.