The Mathematics eText Research Center
The Mathematics eText Research Center (MeTRC) was a project funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education, operating between October 1 2009 and September 30, 2016. MeTRC was designed to achieve three objectives: (1) Conduct research investigating the impact of special features of supported electronic text designed to increase access to mathematics content for students with learning disabilities and/or visual impairments in grades 4-9; (2) Engage appropriate experts in dialogue and research focused on understanding accessible and supported mathematical eText; and to (3) Disseminate information about the Center and its research findings.
Objective 1: Research
MeTRC sponsored 8 separate research studies:
- University of Kentucky team, led by Preston Lewis, investigated question pertaining to the conversion and use of accessible versions of the text-based instructional materials used in a 7th grade mathematics curriculum;
- Purdue University team, led by Emily Bouck, investigated students’ use of active online learning support and student achievement;
- Boston College/Nimble Tools (Measured Progress) investigators, led by Mike Russell, evaluated strategies for supporting the presentation of text within math learning and assessment activities to increase accessibility and understanding; and
- Texas Christian University, Lindy Crawford and Barbara Freeman investigated students’ use of online learning supports to assist their learning within an online environment and student achievement.
- University of Oregon, Patricia Almond investigated how illustrative and explanatory resources might assist students in learning algebra.
- Texas Christian University and MeTRC staff in Oregon investigated how mathematical metacognition is affected be electronic writing activities within a multimodal instructional environment.
- Texas Christian University and MeTRC staff at the University of Oregon then investigated the differences in mathematical reasoning among students in the context of writing mathematical explanations about the relative magnitudes of fractions.
- Western Michigan University, Robert Wall Emerson and Dawn Anderson, investigated the characteristics of effective image descriptions for students with vision impairments.
Some notable outcomes from these investigations include:
- Students who saw the benefits of the read aloud support were more likely to use it more; it is challenging to convert mathematics curriculum in advance when teachers are uncertain of the specific daily lesson plan in advance.
- Students with visual impairments were successful at accessing the algebraic equations via voice output and answered questions about navigation, description, and understanding correctly.
- When interpreting charts and graphs via text-to-speech, students with math needs performed better with literal description versus interpretive description of expressions, tables, and graphs with keys.
- When learning in an online supplemental math curriculum, students used tools, such as a calculator or a dictionary, but there was wide variation in number of uses used per lesson, or per student. It was not clear if students were aware of why they would seek an electronic support.
- Students used the online support tools private Notepad and public WALL differently from one another. Students were more likely to use the Notepad to write about mathematical knowledge and reasoning and the social WALL to ask mathematical questions. Younger students tended to use the Notepad to answer questions posed by other students, whereas older students were more likely to respond to questions on the WALL.
- When reasoning about fractions, in a large majority of cases, students were able to list the fractions in the proper size order, regardless of the validity of their mathematical argument, or their ability to communicate their thinking in written form.
- There was a significant difference in correct answers across the different image description categories for students with vision impairments. The pattern of results showed that students had similar rates of correct answers between the control and terse descriptions conditions and that those rates were approximately half the correct rate of the NCAM and extended description conditions. However, even for the NCAM and extended conditions the rate of correct answers was always less than 29%.
Objective 2: Outreach
It was expected that the MeTRC Outreach effort would be driven by two forces, the first being MeTRC’s general dissemination activities: publications, presentations, the project website and Facebook pages, etc. It was also expected that the large Technical Work Group (TWG), and the research teams of the MeTRC funded projects would generate contacts with other national wide experts. While these dissemination channels did produce some contacts, the traffic was never large or sufficient to meet the intent of the objective. In some sense, given then small size of the community interested in reading and writing in mathematics, and the even smaller community concerned with reading and writing accessibility issues in mathematics, MeTRC had already drawn together many of the targeted experts.
The second effort involved the identification of particular topics that impinged on accessibility issues in reading and writing mathematics, the identification and organization of publications relevant to each topic, and then a reaching out to those authors for participation in a MeTRC community. While a substantial bibliography of MeTRC related publications were accumulated, the outreach proved to very labor intensive, and the return rate was very low. In the end, MeTRC had at best mixed results in it community-building efforts.
Objective 3: Dissemination
Dissemination efforts worked hand-in-hand with MeTRC’s community building activities to develop a research community around the construct of supported electronic text in mathematics, especially for students with learning disabilities or visual impairments. Over the years the primary dissemination strategies included:
- Newsletters sent to MeTRC technical work group members, consultants, and research teams;
- Postings on MeTRC website;
- Social media;
- Regular email messages and documents to MeTRC interest group, composed of researchers, practitioners, publishers, school teachers, University of Oregon faculty, who have contacted MeTRC staff
- 16 published research papers, with 9 more under review, and 45 conference presentations.
MeTRC would like to thank all of the many people who participated in its work over the years, including: Lynne Anderson-Inman, Pat Almond, Judith Blair, Bridget Hildreth, Carmen Rivas, Ulad Slabin, Rachael Cameron, Mindy Frisbee, Lindy Crawford. Kristina Higgins, Jacqueline D’Angelo, Barbara Freeman, Robert Wall Emerson, Dawn Anderson, Yue-Ting Siu, Emily Bouck, Preseton Lewis, Linnie Lee, Stephen Noble, Michael Russell, Jennifer Higgins, Tom Hoffman, Steve Jacobs, William Bielawski, Paul Eakin, Dave Edyburn, Dean Fixsen, Lynn Fuchs, John Gardner, Russell Gersten, Chuck Hitchcock, George Kerscher, Kim Ketterer, Carolyn Kieran, Dave Moursund, Piety Phillip, Neil Soiffer, John Tenny, Susan Frankel, Leslie Martinez, and most especially the MeTRC Project Officers at OSEP: Glinda Hill and Dave Malouf.