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Inclusively-designing sensory extensions for STEM inquiry learning: 2119303

Principal Investigator: Emily Moore
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Ann Eisenberg
Organization: University of Colorado at Boulder
NSF Award Information: Inclusively-designing sensory extensions for STEM inquiry learning
This project investigates innovative sensory extension device technologies to create learning materials that are accessible and enable diverse learners to use multiple modalities in science and mathematics learning. The new technologies will be designed, crafted, customized, and personalized by STEM learners with diverse needs. Humans think and communicate using multiple sensory modalities, including sight, sound, gesture, movement, and touch. Most science and mathematics learning materials convey information visually, with displays such as diagrams and simulations, resulting in learning experiences with limited sensory engagement. For many learners with visual or print-related disabilities, visual learning materials are inaccessible. Even for others, these materials constrain learning opportunities. Sensory extension incorporates materials and devices to enable new or enhanced perceptions of real or virtual environments. Familiar sensory extension devices include eyeglasses (refractive lenses improve vision), and Geiger counters (auditory perception of radioactive decay). In an inclusive co-design process, the project team will partner with diverse members of the learning community, together co-designing flexible, adaptive, and personalizable technologies, which enable new sensory experiences (e.g., sound, gesture, movement, and touch) to augment popular and widely used interactive simulation learning tools. The project team brings together experts in educational technologies at the University of Colorado Boulder (PhET Interactive Simulations and the Craft Tech Lab) and partner organizations serving youth with learning disabilities and visual impairments.

This project will work to create new learning materials, practices and processes for inclusive design with youth, as well as theories and frameworks for the use of sensory extension technologies as learning resources. To accomplish this, the team will investigate (1) pedagogical and design practices within inclusive inquiry learning in STEM learning settings; (2) the co-design and evolution of sensory extension devices; (3) learners’ experiences of the impact of the inclusive design process on their own perceptions of self-efficacy and STEM; and (4) the learning experience of youth with diverse needs using sensory extension devices for STEM inquiry. The sensory extension devices are expected to enable new forms of collaboration among learners with differing sensory needs, and couple with existing educational technologies to expand their inclusive and accessible use and enrich the learning experience for all users. A rich corpus of data will be collected, tracking the trajectory of each design, including video and audio recordings of co-design sessions and the sensory extension devices in use, photographs of design artifacts and group activities, co-designer reflections and interviews, and self-efficacy survey responses. Through the inclusive co-design process, the project will work to advance foundational understanding of egalitarian processes of educational technology development, embrace sensory diversity, and empower educationally marginalized learners through the creation, customization, and personalization of their own innovative learning tools.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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