Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Digital versus Traditional: Secondary Students with Visual Impairments' Perceptions of a Digital Algebra Textbook

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Digital versus Traditional: Secondary Students with Visual Impairments' Perceptions of a Digital Algebra Textbook

Article excerpt

Digital-based learning is increasingly being used in primary and secondary education, and it is likely to continue (Collins & Halverson, 2010). Publishers are more and more often producing digital textbooks for students--a venture that has been supported by the U.S. government, which indicated the goal of providing a digital textbook for every child by 2017 (Mardis & Everhart, 2013; Toppo, 2012). However, not everyone receives equal access to digital learning. Students with visual impairments face greater challenges in accessing digital learning without readily available, specialized software (Douglas et al., 2011; Siu & Lam, 2012).

Even with digital learning, students with visual impairments do not possess equal access to all information. These students generally experience greater access to digital learning in literacy as compared to mathematics (Nees & Berry, 2013). They regularly use screen readers such as Job Access With Speech (JAWS) and optical-character recognition software such as Complete Reading System to access text (Fichten, Asuncion, Barile, Ferraro, & Wolforth, 2009; Freedom Scientific, 2013). Screen readers read materials on the screen, such as digital textbooks, and provide aural feedback to individuals. Although screen readers provide quality access to text materials, their application in mathematics is limited (Power & Jurgensen, 2010).

Learning mathematics can be challenging for students with visual impairments because of the typically visual nature of the way in which such content is presented (Alajarmeh, Pontelli, & Son, 2012). For this reason, mathematics is a difficult area for the application of digital text (Bouck & Meyer, 2012; Power & Jtirgensen, 2010). With the digital presentation of mathematics, one needs to ensure the interpretation is unambiguous. Many traditional screen readers treat a mathematical expression as an image; semantic cues are left out in order to aid interpretation (Archambault, Caprotti, Ranta, & Saludes, 2012; Cooper, Lowe, & Taylor, 2008). For example, consider the expression, "y equals five over x plus 2." An individual with visual impairment who hears this expression from a screen reader may infer two different, yet technically correct, interpretations: y = 5 / [x + 2] or y = [5 / x] + 2. Access to one unambiguous interpretation is essential for visually impaired students.

Researchers are focused on providing quality access to digital text in algebra (Bouck & Meyer, 2012). Although the research base is limited, researchers found that technologies offer the potential to provide digital text to students with visual impairments. Bouck, Joshi, Meyer, & Schleppenbach (2013) found that students with visual impairments could understand algebraic expressions presented via digital text using ReadHear--a supported eText program. Students answered questions about an algebraic expression (provide the exponent, describe the expression) after listening to the presentation via the technology. Alajarmeh and Pontelli (2012) found that visually impaired secondary students increased their accuracy when solving algebraic equations using MathPlayer--a mathematical text-to-speech software--as compared to their traditional ways of accessing printed text. Conversely, Bouck & Weng (2014) conducted a single-subject design study to compare the performance of secondary students solving algebraic equations when presented via ReadHear and via the students' traditional means of accessing text. The majority of students preferred their traditional textbooks, and students answered more problems correctly with their traditional textbooks.

Despite the importance of providing access to mathematics, both the challenge in presenting higher-level mathematics to students with visual impairments and the limited research regarding technology to do so remains. Through this qualitative study, the authors sought to understand the experiences and perceptions of five visually impaired high school students who were accessing algebra via a digital textbook. …

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