University of Oregon

The DALM Project



Active electronic support tools (e.g., hyperlinks; audio support; online calculators) have the capacity to increase the achievement of students with disabilities in mathematics.  Some research exists supporting the use of electronic support tools in reading but little research has been conducted in math, and even less research exists on the use of electronic support tools by students with disabilities. In Year Two of this project, a small-scale descriptive study was conducted on students’ use of six active electronic student support tools. Specifically analyzed was students’ use of the following: (1) “Need More Help” button, (2) hyperlinked vocabulary terms, (3) optional audio within the hyperlinked terms, (4) key term dictionary, (5) optional audio within the key term dictionary, and (6) program-embedded calculator.


Two research questions focused the work during Year Two: (1) Do students with learning disabilities choose to use electronic support tools when they are available to them in an online math curriculum? And, (2) Does a relationship exist between tool use and different populations of students, including students with different skill sets and types of learning disabilities?

A mixed methods approach was used to answer the research questions, relying on both quantitative and qualitative data. First, data were collected from the online math program to conduct a series of user path analyses (through a daily downloaded “click analysis” of student online behavior). Second, data were analyzed from students’ pre-post math tests. The following qualitative methods were used to triangulate these quantitative findings: (1) teacher and student interviews, (2) student file reviews, and (3) qualitative observations including a daily post-lesson debrief with students.

The study was conducted over a six-week period of time, four days per week, for 45 minutes per day. The average amount of time to complete a lesson was 1.5 hours (two days) and each lesson included an introduction to the key vocabulary, direct instruction, guided practice (“Try-It”), independent practice (through use of a game) and an online quiz. Lessons were introduced as follows: Algebra 1 and 2, Number Sense 1 and 2, and Data Analysis and Geometry. Students also completed a pre- and post-test for each lesson.


The study sample consisted of 11 students (all attending the TCU laboratory school for students with learning disabilities). The average student age was 11.23 (SD = 1.09) and they were all in the sixth-grade. Seven males and four females participated. Students were diagnosed as having math learning disabilities, language-based disabilities, and/or attention deficit disorder.


Total tool use across the six tools is shown in Figure 1. The figure illustrates that students used the calculator more than any other active electronic support tool. Students relied on the hyperlinks, as embedded within the lessons, quite frequently as well as the key terms (or dictionary) tab. On further analysis results showed that the key terms feature was used most often during the online quizzes, when the hyperlink feature was not available to students (116 out of 225 total key terms clicks or 52%). A similar pattern was found in the games section of each lesson, when hyperlinks were not as readily available. In the game section, total key term tab clicks registered at 26 but hyperlinks at only one. However, when both the key terms tab and the hyperlinked key terms were made available on the other sections of each lesson (vocabulary, instruction, try-it), amount of usage was quite similar (18 vs. 24, 12 vs. 16; and 53 vs. 49 respectively).

Figure 1: User Path Analysis graph
Figure 1: User path analysis

Students reported that the Algebra lessons were not extremely challenging, and that the Number Sense lessons were the most challenging. They also reported that the final two lessons, Data Analysis and Geometry were the easiest overall. Data on tool use by student and lesson, revealed the trend that most students used the tools more in Lesson One followed by Lessons Three and Four.

Large differences were found across students (see Figure 2 below). Students varied in their perceived need to use the tools, and their preferences were confirmed during observations, student comments post-lesson, and student interview responses, as well as comments made by the teacher.

Figure 2: Total Tool Use
Figure 2. Tool use by student.

Pre and post test gains were significant across the 11 students for four of the six lessons with the lessons on rational and irrational numbers showing no significant difference between pre- and post-test (see Table 1). No correlation between student test gains and tool use was found, however, nor were variables such as math achievement and reading fluency significantly correlated with tool use. Some individual patterns were uncovered between student skill sets and tool use.

Table 9. Pre and Post Test Gains


Gain             SD


T Score


Algebra – Interpreting Graphs





Algebra – Introduction to Variables





Number Sense - Rational Numbers





Number Sense - Irrational Numbers





Data Analysis – Representing Data





Geometry – Coordinate Geometry





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