During the NC State Engineering VIB Camp, high school students with visual impairments and blindness learned about the engineering process, spent hands-on time in real engineering labs, completed engineering projects and networked with college students and STEM field professionals – many of whom are also visually impaired. During this weeklong camp, these students had first-hand experience with the real definition of Engineering – “Apply knowledge and creativity to define, analyze, and solve a problem that will help society.”
How did these students with visual impairments and blindness (VIB) complete the engineering activities?
Throughout the week, students were guided through a 3-step self-advocacy program:
- Tech Time-Out: Discuss and try various options
- General prompt for self-advocacy: “Do you need to self-advocate?”
- Expect self-advocacy
After the initial Tech Time-Out for a specific activity, the students quickly moved to Step #2 followed by Step #3. However, additional Tech Time-Outs were required for new activities that required new discussions and options.
It is important to remember that there are many tools and many options. Students have unique needs/preferences and may benefit from using different tools for different activities or even different tools for the same activity!
The first day of camp started in the classroom with an Engineering 101 lecture about engineering and the engineering design process. The engineering professor used a PowerPoint presentation that included text, pictures and a video. Students brought their personal or school-owned technology; a few students borrowed technology from the camp. Students had a variety of technology on the table as the PowerPoint (PPT) began – including PCs, Macs, iPads, smart phones, and a BrailleNote; two students also included pencil and paper along with their technology.
Students were encouraged to advocate for their needs and to come up with a general plan that would work for everyone. Students were asked to discuss the classroom environment, including glare from the windows (shades were lowered 3/4ths of the window to cut the glare and to maintain some natural light), lighting (general consensus was to turn the lights off during the PPT presentation and half of the lights on during other activities), and flexible seating during activities.
After the first PPT slide, a Tech Time-Out was called for a discussion about ways to make the PPT accessible. Several students asked for a copy of digital PPT. The professor, who had already shared this PPT along with all the camp materials in a Google Drive folder, pointed the students to the Google Drive folder. The professor included alt text descriptions of all the images in the PPT presentation and additional written text to describe additional details as needed, such as the details in the design process chart shown in the Join.Me picture below. Screen readers will announce the text in the PPT, the alt text and additional image description text. The professor also created a duplicate Google Doc of activity instructions that were embedded into the PowerPoint. These are the best options for students who rely on a screen reader.
Students were also introduced to a free screen-sharing app (Join.Me). The professor had previously installed the Join.Me app on her computer that was running the PPT. The professor started the Join.Me session and shared the unique meeting number with the students. The students installed the Join.Me app on their devices (computers, tablets and smart phones) and typed the unique meeting number enabling them to view and zoom/magnify the PPT on each of their devices. Most of the students viewed the PPT on their main device (computer or tablet); however, two students chose to view the PPT on a smart phone. (The student using the BrailleNote used a smart phone, as he did not have another device and Join.Me does not work with a BrailleNote.) Note: Join.Me is one of several screen-sharing apps available. The students shared ideas on how to teach their mainstream teachers and future professors about screen-sharing apps. For more information about Join.Me, view the Join.Me Paths to Technology post.
When viewing the PPT, students did need to take notes or have a way to access the information at a later date, especially when instructions or activity guidelines were included on a slide. A Tech Time-Out was called to discuss different ways to access the information at a later date. Student preferences included:
- Screen Shot: take a picture of the desired screen(s)
- Access the original PPT from the Google folder
- Access the professor’s notes in the Google folder (Professor added a separate Google Docs for each activity and instructions)
- Take notes on your device (switch between apps)
- Take notes on a separate device (view the PPT on one device and take notes on a second device)
- Take notes using paper and pencil
- Memorize instructions (no notes)
Two students did not bring a computer or tablet; these students were prompted to ask for their preferred device when needed.
The students who attended the engineering camp were all tech savvy on their preferred devices. They knew how to keyboard and they knew the commands to efficiently use their devices. Students used a variety of built-in magnification, Zoom Text and screen readers. Some of these students would benefit from using a screen reader. Many of the students had to be with in several inches of their device – most were leaning way over their larger devices; only sitting upright when holding their smart phone up to their eyes. Even though these bright academic students are succeeding in high school classes relying on their residual vision, many of these students will struggle to keep up with the high amounts of required reading in college without the additional screen reader tool. A number of these students have progressive eye conditions and would benefit from learning how to use a screen reader sooner than later.
The only students attending the engineering camp who were aware of screen-sharing apps such as Join.Me were returning students - students who had attended the NC State Engineering VIB Camp in 2015.
The NC State Engineering VIB Campers are bright, tech savvy students who will succeed in college. These students demonstrated their tech skills, their passion for learning and their desire to pursue STEM careers. The engineering camp provided exciting opportunities to learn more about the different types of engineering and to have hands-on opportunities of real-life engineering projects. In addition to engineering, students learned about tech tools and how to self-advocate - both are critical transition skills! Stay tuned for additional Tech Time-Out posts that will discuss additional tech tools used in the engineering camp!
Information about NC State Engineering VIB Camp can be found on the Engineering Place website and 2017 applications will be announced on Paths to Technology when available.
For more information, view Creating Accessible PowerPoints for Students with Low Vision or Blindness post.