Accessible Computer Algebra System
This study sought to explore the mathematics understanding of students with visual impairments when MathSpeak was used to present algebraic expressions in a text-to-speech format. MathSpeak is a language for mathematics based on the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Science that conveys the information unambiguously. In particular, researchers examined students’ understanding of increasingly complex algebraic expressions when the ReadHear™ player presented these expressions. ReadHear, produced by gH, LLC, is a Section 508 compliant software player, meaning it can play Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Digital Talking Books (DTB), the specified National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard (NIMAS) format.
Qualitative methodology was used to examine how high school students with visual impairments accessed algebraic expressions via MathSpeak. Data were collected through multiple means for triangulation (Stake, 1995). Researchers interviewed the mathematics teacher to ask about her teaching methods and perceptions of how her students currently approached mathematics in the classroom. Researchers also observed students in their typical mathematics classrooms, interviewed participating students and their mathematics teacher, observed students as they were trained and interacted with the technology, and observed students when presenting them with increasingly complex algebraic expressions via MathSpeak, and analyzed their responses to probes based on the expressions. These probes asked students specific questions about the form, content, and meaning of each expression.
Three male high school students with visual impairments attending a State School for the Blind participated in the study. Two students were completing their senior and last year at the State School for the Blind and one student was a junior. One senior had completed Algebra I and Algebra II and was enrolled in geometry at the time of the study. The other senior had completed Algebra I and was concurrently taking geometry and Algebra II. The junior was taking Algebra I. One senior and the junior accessed their mathematics text through large print books. The other senior used a small print book but relied on glasses and/or a magnifying class to read the text. None of the three students was proficient in braille. Additionally, the mathematics teacher for all three male students also participated.
Despite the lack of previous experience using high tech assistive technology, all three participating students in mathematics quickly learned the implemented technology, ReadHear. They commented on the apparent ease of use of the technology and said it was a quality way to present digital text, particularly as compared to other products made available to them at their school. Additionally, they were able to use and navigate the technology independently.
In terms of accessing algebraic expressions with the technology, the students relied on the voice output (i.e., text-to-speech) rather than reading the expressions visually. Each student had a preferred voice and rate as well as other features, such as the background and text color as well as text size. With the ReadHear technology, students were successful at accessing the algebraic expressions and answering questions correctly about them. In particular, students consistently answered questions regarding the navigation, description, and metadata correctly even with the increasingly complex expressions by type (i.e., monomial, binominal, trinomial, and polynomials) and complexity within the type.