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Case Study of a Blind Student Learning Engineering Graphics

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session


Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Steven C. Zemke Whitworth University

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Steven Zemke, Ph.D., has been involved in engineering design and teamwork for 40 years as a professional engineer, university professor, and researcher. He is a Professor of Engineering and Physics at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., and teaches physics and engineering courses. His current research is in how students learn engineering with a focus on creating more effective pedagogies. Prior to teaching, Dr. Zemke was a professional product designer for 20 years with an emphasis on mechanical packaging of microwave circuitry.

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Case Study of a Blind Student Learning Engineering Graphics

The visual communication of ideas is fundamental to most engineering endeavors. Engineering ideas, intent, requirements, and details are typically embedded in standardized visual documents. These documents include 3D CAD models, 2D orthographic drawings, perspective views, graphs, and figures. These documents not only communicate, but also enable engineering thinking. The visual representation of physical ideas allows engineers to manipulate the ideas and meaningfully add increasing levels of detail. Consequently, facility in interpreting these visual communications is a fundamental skill for most engineers.

Typical engineering documents are visual, however simply seeing the document is not enough to be able to interpret, reason, and communicate with it. The engineer must be able to internalize the information into a mental map of some sort and appropriately interpret the features.

This case study examines how a blind mechanical engineering student was taught and learned basic concepts of engineering graphical representation. Assistive technologies replaced the ubiquitous computer and paper visual interfaces. The course was intended to enable the student to develop basic mental imagery capability in engineering graphics. These capabilities provided a foundation for engineering thinking for the student and hence met the overall program curricular requirements.

Though this case study is implicitly interesting, it also provides a window into the relationship between mental imagery and the visual expression of ideas. This case prompts the following research question:

What perspectives about the non-visual nature of engineering graphics can be gleaned from the experience of a blind student learning graphics?

This case study was conducted in a six-week, two-credit course in engineering graphics. The student and instructor met individually twelve times for two-hour sessions. All course materials and homework were retained as data. This study chronicles the student’s learning and highlights abilities the student mastered as well as difficulties that were encountered. By the end of the course, the student able to read and sketch both orthographic and isometric views of parts. There was also evidence that the student created mental spatial imagery of parts while interpreting and creating drawings.

Zemke, S. C. (2018, June), Case Study of a Blind Student Learning Engineering Graphics Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30177

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