Creation of Lab Materials for Visually-Impaired Student Earns Physics Professor (and Students) an Innovation Award

In the fall of 2022, Assistant Professor of Physics Abigail Bogdan, Ph.D., presented her General Physics I lab students with three assignments on motion analysis. In the first lab, students learned to measure time by using videos recorded on their iPhones. The second and third labs focused on tracking the movement of objects using the Tracker tool. (To teach students how to use Tracker, Dr. Bogdan created a sequence of photos and videos of her cat for the students to practice with.) These labs allowed the class to analyze and interact with motion data via mobile devices. 

Each of the labs depended on visual information. This can be difficult for visually- impaired students. Griffin Miller, an actuary science major, faced this challenge with the motion analysis labs. Dr. Bogdan’s students and the Office of Disability Services adapted the lab materials into a more accessible format for Griffin. 

"Having a professor willing to adapt made me more able to participate in the lab work in the same way as everyone else.” 

“I'm always interested in thinking about physics in new ways. It was interesting to me to consider thinking about physics, especially kinematics (the study of motion), without relying on visual information,” observed Dr. Bogdan. “I was impressed by many of the students and the way they adapted to work together. I thought it contributed to a positive learning experience.”

To create the new materials, they used the Procreate app with an iPad and an Apple Pencil to design Braille tactiles of motion graphs. A Swell Form Machine created the textured graphs. (This machine takes an image printed on paper and uses heat to make the ink swell into a textured material.) 

“The main takeaway I have from this experience was how easy it can be to adapt experiences for any student,” Griffin said. “Especially in science labs, I always had trouble because so much of lab work involves making visual observations. Having a professor willing to adapt made me more able to participate in the lab work in the same way as everyone else.” 

These combined creative efforts earned Dr. Bogdan Seton Hill’s 2023 Faculty Innovation Award for Best Practices in Mobile Technology. The annual Faculty Innovation Award recognizes the exceptional work of Seton Hill faculty using mobile technology resources in the classroom each year. 

“Dr. Bogdan’s project demonstrates the integration of mobile technology at a transformative level,” said Mary Spataro, director of the Center for Innovative Teaching at Seton Hill. “The technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.”