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Dr. Benjamin Dattilo
Department of Geosciences
Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne
Geology is a detail-oriented science that relies on observation. For this reason, introductory geology courses universally utilize visual aids including maps, diagrams, and a variety of graphs to illustrate Earth features and processes. However, such illustrations are not accessible to visually impaired students. Overcoming this accessibility problem is a serious challenge, but also presents pedagogical opportunities with solutions that benefit all students. The review of past practices in the classroom highlights areas that require appropriate modification. Personal attention during class and additional tutoring has proven essential in assisting visually impaired students. When teaching mineral identifications a personal tutor with some previous experience can not only describe standard visual observations, but can help emphasize mineral properties such as density, thermal conductivity, and acoustical properties. Alternative observations and activities are also frequently necessary. An example of this is landforms, such as volcanoes. They are so large that they are normally observed visually and are discussed using visual aids such as photographs and maps. The visually impaired student can “see” a volcano through raised topographic maps, either pre-existing, or printed from widely-available digital data on a 3D printer.
Other tools include tactile drawings made with a ball point pen on plastic sheets and 3D prints of crystal shapes, rare or microscopic fossils, microscopic features of rock, and the alien surfaces of planets. Common tools, like rulers, protractors, and lab equipment can also be used, with attention to features like raised markings. Determining which resources are most valuable to the visually impaired students is a learning process that involves trial and error. Effectiveness of the new methodologies is measured directly by the visually impaired students’ feedback as techniques are introduced during tutoring sessions. With effort, earth science labs can provide all students with first-hand experience in the process of scientific investigations.
Earth Sciences | Physical Sciences and Mathematics
Fischer, Sarah; Stager, Dawn; and Matthews, Tessa, "A Hands-on Approach: Making Geology Labs Accessible to the Visual Impaired" (2015). 2015 IPFW Student Research and Creative Endeavor Symposium. 19.