An overview of project VISTE "Empowering Spatial Thinking of Students with Visual Impairment"
Competence in spatial thinking, usage of maps or other spatial tools is not self-evident for all; it is a dexterity, which can be cultivated. Strengthening spatial thinking in school education has been linked to positive results, such as success in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), promotion of innovation and mitigation of social inequalities. For students with visual impairment, spatial thinking is, additionally, a critical compensatory ability for functionally utilizing spatial experiences. It can contribute to students’ mobility, independence, academic progress, social integration and professional development. Spatial thinking can provide a basis for inclusive education, through open-ended problem solving tasks and scientific inquiry activities, which stimulate students' interest and promote cooperation in the classroom, with multiple benefits for all students. Tactile maps, as well as innovative spatial tools exploiting Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), can be valuable aids in this direction.
Project VISTE “Empowering Spatial Thinking of Students with Visual Impairment” has been a Strategic Partnership in school education, co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union (National Agency for Greece: Hellenic State Scholarship Foundation), under Key Action 2: Cooperation for Innovation and Exchange of Good Practices (9/2016 – 8/2019).
The project’s mission has been to create a methodological, semantic and technical infrastructure for cultivating spatial thinking in inclusive educational environments.
The objectives of the project have been:
a) to address the needs of school students with visual impairment, by strengthening their spatial skills, and
b) to cultivate these skills through cooperative activities with sighted students, so as to enhance integration of students with visual impairment in mainstream education.
The project’s main target groups are school students (11-15 years old), teachers, teachers’ trainers and other professionals involved in education.
The project consortium consists of five partners from four European countries: the National Technical University of Athens - NTUA (Co-ordinator, Greece), Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique - INRIA (France), INTRASOFT SA (Luxembourg) - INTRA, Casa Corpului Didactic Cluj - CCDC (Romania), Eidiko Dimotiko Sxolio Tiflon Kallitheas/Special Elementary School for the Blind in Athens - SESBA (Greece) and Liceul Special pentru Deficienti de Vedere Cluj-Napoca - LSDV (Romania). Its members (a university, a research institute, a software company, a teacher’s training centre, a primary and a secondary school for the visually impaired) brought in different areas of expertise; meanwhile, the project has also benefited from additional co-operation with several other organizations active in relevant fields.
Four intellectual outputs have been produced by the partnership:
1. An innovative inclusive educational framework for empowering spatial thinking of students with visual impairment has been researched, formulated, implemented, and validated.
2. Educational spatial thinking components were designed, implemented, and validated. They include educational scenarios which address a range of scientific fields, classes and curricula and utilize open learning tools and educational resources.
3. An innovative ICT toolkit, to assist the work of educators, has been designed, implemented and validated. Its first pillar is the web-based VISTE Community of users (platform), which allows teachers to share open educational resources developed in the project and cooperatively develop new ones. The second pillar is an Augmented Reality (AR) toolkit, which visually impaired users can use to explore tactile maps with complementary audio information, to receive guidance, to construct their own maps, or to explore tactile material in a quiz mode. The prototype was extended to also enable teachers of visually impaired students to create their own audio-tactile material. Additionally, a virtual reality (VR) toolkit has been designed and validated, which can be used as a street simulator to train visually impaired students in orientation and mobility lessons.
4. A Guide of Good Practice for Policy Recommendation has been compiled, on the basis of the experience gained during the project. The Guide briefly presents the project and its main outcomes, and discusses benefits and recommendations for further application, improvement, and integration of the project results in educational policies and practices .
Furthermore two joint staff training events have provided teachers of students with visual impairment the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and skills and to develop common resources, as well as to receive training on integrating A/VR and 3D printing in their educational practice.
Finally, twelve multiplier events and a variety of dissemination activities have diffused project results to wider audiences.
The project has won an award of excellence at the Edumanager.ro Gala forum in Romania. It has received a warm reception by the 175 school students (including 85 students with visual impairment) directly involved in its educational activities. It has equipped hundreds of education professionals with skills and motivation to serve the needs of their students using the VISTE approach, while the potential for further impact exists via the online community, the open access of intellectual outputs and the activities of teachers’ trainers. Project results have been communicated to the research community via publications and presentations at major conferences.
For resources and more information, please consult:
The VISTE Community for educators (educational scenarios, tools and other resources - in English, French, Greek, Romanian): https://portal.opendiscoveryspace.eu/en/viste
The VISTE Guide of Good Practice for Policy Recommendation: http://visteproject.eu/document/o4-viste-guide-good-practice-policy-reco...
The VISTE project website: http://visteproject.eu/
Professor Marinos Kavouras
VISTE Project Leader
Address: National Technical University of Athens
School of Rural and Surveying Engineering
9, Heroon Polytechniou Street
157 80 Zografos Campus