In this paper, we introduce a National Science Foundation funded study that has broader implications for engineering education. The project’s goal is to improve mathematics education, with emphasis on accessibility for students with visual impairments and print disabilities (VIP). Central to the project is an innovative teaching and assessment methodology we call Process-Driven Math (PDM), which has its basis in universal design for learning (UDL) and user-centered design (UCD). The motivation for investigating and disseminating PDM is the trend in the growing number of students with VIP in mainstream classrooms nationwide. A taken for granted aspect of mainstream mathematics education is that teachers typically teach mathematics through visual media that requires good vision. Hence, students with VIP face a major pedagogical limitation in the typical mainstream mathematics classroom.
PDM was initially developed as a fully audio-based method of teaching and assessing mathematics. The method was developed in collaboration with a learner who is blind and who, due to other physical and sensory limitations, cannot use mathematics braille such as Nemeth Code. The UCD approach enabled the learner to specify needs and requirements while working with the team to develop and evaluate solutions to meet those needs. True to the UDL philosophy, PDM is designed to provide several means of representation, action, expression, and engagement to facilitate learning for students with and without VIP. PDM offers an approach and media that communicate the correct use of mathematics terminology, operations, and notations without the need for eyesight in a method specifically designed to minimize the cognitive load inherent to complex mathematics problems. It has been adapted for sighted learners using tools to reduce the visual syntax, which is particularly helpful for learners with dyslexia. Based on preliminary findings from case studies, we believe PDM will improve learning for students with dyscalculia and math anxiety as well.
In this work-in-progress paper, we describe our methodology for researching the efficacy of PDM as a method for improving mathematics learning and assessment in traditional undergraduate courses for sighted learners, as well as in courses at state schools for the blind in which students with visual impairments are traditionally taught using mathematics braille. Furthermore, we describe preliminary successes with PDM and its potential to contribute several broader impacts related to engineering education, and STEM education more broadly.
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