A few months ago, I was working with a student with low vision who was learning about different animals in their class. They were having trouble with zooming in on pictures of the animals as the images themselves were not in high resolution and frequently had distracting backgrounds, so they asked if there was a way to view animals on their computer without anything else in the background. I decided the best tool for them would be to use Microsoft 3D Models in Office and the Microsoft 3D Viewer to view digital models of the animals they were learning about in class, and the student loved getting to see all of the details up close. Here are my tips for exploring Microsoft 3D Models for low vision students, and how to incorporate them into different applications.
What are Microsoft 3D Models?
The Microsoft 3D Models library is a free tool that is built into the 3D Viewer app as well as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel that allows users to insert models into their document/presentation or explore them within the 3D Viewer app. Users can choose from a variety of different types of models and adjust their lighting, position, and color themes, as well as more advanced settings, though users do not need advanced technology skills in order to explore the models- they just need to know simple keyboard shortcuts and how to drag/zoom in on an onscreen item. Microsoft 3D Models come built-in with Windows 10 and select Office 365/Microsoft 365 applications.
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Examples of models
There are dozens of different categories of 3D Models available in Microsoft Office, with popular topics including biology, chemistry, animals, geology, flowers/plants, and more. Categories of models that are available in the Microsoft 3D Model library include:
- Animals and Insects
- Buildings and Structures
- Sci-Fi and Fantasy
- Outdoors and Nature
- Cars and Vehicles
- Best of Minecraft
- Vinyl Toy
- Word Bubbles
In addition to viewing models from the 3D Models library, users can also view or insert their own models in file formats including .fbx, .3mf, .obj, and .stl, among others.
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How it works
In Microsoft Office
Within Microsoft Office, users can insert 3D models into their Word, PowerPoint, or Excel files by clicking on the Insert ribbon and selecting the “3D Models” option in the Illustration section. From there, users can browse different categories or search for a specific model to insert into their document or presentation, and can resize the model so that it is larger/smaller. While many of the 3D models do not include animation, they can be rotated 360 degrees and resized to fit the page.
In Microsoft 3D Viewer
Microsoft 3D Viewer comes pre-installed on most Windows 10 computers, so users can open the application by searching for “3D Viewer” on their computer. Once the program is opened, the screen defaults to a model of a bee buzzing its wings on the screen, though users can open other models by clicking the “3D Model Library” button on the homescreen or using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Shift-O (or Ctrl-O if the model is saved on the computer). Users can then explore a model further by touching the item and dragging it with their mouse or a finger.
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Changing the models
Within Microsoft 3D Viewer, users can change the lighting or appearance of the model within the Environment and Lighting tab, which provides options for different color themes and lighting that can help make a model easier to see. While I have found that I don’t need to change the appearance of most models to see them, I do like to adjust the Enviornment lighting to 100% intensity if I am dealing with a fairly dark-colored model, as it makes it easier for me to see the details.
Using magnification with Microsoft 3D Models
One of the reasons I like using the Microsoft 3D Models so much is that it is easy to magnify/enlarge them so that users can examine the different details. Within Microsoft 3D Viewer, this is as easy as pressing the plus (+) or minus (-) keys on the keyboard, or using the pinch-to-zoom gesture. Users can also drag their finger/cursor across the model to rotate it, so they can see all of the different elements of the model up close without any issues with low resolution.
For users with low vision working with 3D Models in Microsoft Office, I recommend giving resizing the animation to fit the page so that it is as large as possible- unfortunately, users can’t magnify/enlarge a model using keyboard shortcuts. When examining models by themselves, I recommend using Microsoft PowerPoint if possible, since it is easy to change the background color and allows users to view models in a full-screen display.
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There are tons of potential uses for Microsoft 3D Models for helping students with low vision in the classroom. Some of my favorite ones include:
- Adding science models so that users can see individual components of a cell or other objects
- Learning about dinosaurs or other animals that have colors that would normally blend into their surroundings or would be too small to see otherwise
- Examining plants or trees that would normally be difficult to see
- Using high-resolution medical or anatomy models
- Learning more about various shapes
- Adding fun graphics/models to a document or presentation as an alternative to images (don’t forget the alt text!)
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I love getting to explore the different Microsoft 3D Models that are available in the online model library, and I’m glad that I was able to use them to help a student to learn more about various animals in their science class. I highly recommend checking out the Microsoft 3D Models for Office and the 3D Viewer, as they are great tools for helping students with low vision to examine virtual models of different objects and concepts!