[Athen] a dream realized - learning points training STEM faculty
KRISTA L. GREEAR
greeark at uw.edu
Thu Dec 17 17:54:33 PST 2015
This month, my colleague Dan and myself, had the blessed opportunity to present to all of the faculty in the STEM School at one of our campuses regarding math accessibility. The rest of the email is a summary of the events that led to this meeting. At the end is a summary of what I learned.
Hopefully, this real "case study" will be helpful as you move forward to improve the accessibility of STEM content on your campus.
University of Washington
Disability Resources for Students
Accessible Text & Technology Manager
This opportunity came to us because of working with a student who needed accessible math, more so for a learning disability then a visual impairment. This student kept finding barriers and shared this with the Director of Undergraduate Academic Services for the STEM School. The Director took this student seriously and initiated 3 meetings from Feb 2015-Dec 2015. I am the Alternate Format Manager for all of our campuses and Dan is the manager of the Access Technology Center.
First meeting was between myself, Dan, the Disability Resources Director, School of STEM Dean, Textbooks Chairman for STEM School, University's ADA Coordinator and Director of Undergraduate Academic Services. We demoed the basics of math accessibility, highlighting that images of math are not accessible. We introduced MathType and explained the benefits of MathML. I demoed how a PDF with math is inaccessible and does not work with text-to-speech technology. We discussed how online learning tools like MyMathLab, WilelyPlus, WebAssign, Connect are often not accessible. We shared how publisher files are often not accessible for STEM content.
Second meeting was presenting to the Math department about the basics of math accessibility. Myself and my student worker (Masters student in Chemical Engineering and the main person who converted accessible math books) presented to the Math department, consisting of about 10 instructors and some of the key administrators from the first meeting. We gave a short into to disability law. I was able to ask questions like how faculty choose textbooks, write exams, what they use to assign homework, what file types they use for worksheets/handouts. Again, we demoed text-to-speech technology with inaccessible and accessible math content. Again, we discussed online math products, how to handle classes that required the use of inaccessible specialized software when it is an industry standard, the need to create good quality scans, understand the difference between image files and text selectable files, and discussed the merits of MathType. Professors understood the lead time needed to convert math (my office asked for six weeks' notice to convert anything into braille or to convert a STEM book into an accessible format). The instructors brought up the good point that if they only get the formal notification a week or two before the term starts, that is not enough time to work on converting their own materials into accessible formats. This started a discussion about how early to notify faculty members about student's accommodations. We highly discourage the use of making equations and images.
At the most recent meeting, Dan and I presented to the entire STEM school. This included the math, science, technology, and engineering departments. There were around 50 instructors in the room along with several administrators like the Dean of the STEM school, the University's ADA Coordinator and Director of Undergraduate Academic Services, and the campuses Disability Services Director. This meeting was part of their quarterly meeting schedule.
The meeting started with that campuses disability services director and the ADA coordinator creating a framework for why we are talking about disability - namely the legal ramifications.
Dan and I demonstrated text-to-speech technology, talked about PDFs and why they often present barriers, introduced MathML and discussed why MathType is our recommended tool. We did ask them some questions since we have making assumptions this whole time about how content is created.
Who is using LaTeX?
What are they using to produce LaTeX or math content?
Several tools. Emax, Tech Stop, Win tech, MS Word Math Editor, 1 or 2 people used MathType.
Who is heard of MathML?
Very small percentage, perhaps 5-10%.
Who is using PDFs?
Who is using Word docs?
Who is using Windows platforms?
Who is using Mac platforms?
Who is using Linex platforms?
How are people creating PDFs?
Half a PDFs from word, half are scanning files, very few are finding PDFs online.
How are PDFs being delivered?
Namely through our LMS, Canvas.
We also demonstrated the built-in text recognition tool of Adobe Acrobat Pro for non-STEM materials. This sparked a discussion whether that software was readily available to faculty.
We shared a simplified explanation of why math accessibility is so complex. There are factors that have to align and work together to produce the desired result. The file type (PDF, word doc, HTML), the content within that file (LaTeX, images, MathML, text), and the tool of the end user (Screen reader, TTS, speech recognition). Sometimes, we may also need to consider the specific versions of a browser or adaptive technology.
Discussed the differences between LaTeX and MathML and why MathML is the better choice.
We did not share much about creating accessible math in the web environment.
Since many of these folks use campus, we did demonstrate the Canvas Equation Editor and how MathType can work with that.
The group asked about the accessibility of publisher files. We got to share how I have yet to see an accessible math book, directly from the publisher without any additional markup.
They also asked basic questions like what types of disabilities they are most likely to see and what are common accommodations.
The three main takeaways that we boiled the presentation down to (1) avoid graphics for math (2) reconsider PDF for stem content and (3) use MathType for Word content.
Outcomes from the Dec 2015 meeting
* The learning technologist is eager to partner with disability services
* The STEM school is looking at an institutional license of MathType and possibly Adobe acrobat pro
* The faculty would love a hands-on workshop for using MathType
* Open to future trainings
What I learned overall about training folks in STEM accessibility
* Demonstrating is key. Demonstrate the tools the students with disabilities use with the files that they are given. Show, don't only tell.
* Simplify math accessibility. We all know that converting stem content is highly complex.
* Use the terms that we use. Say text-to-speech or screen reader. Faculty members need to know the differences between the two.
* Give them simple, tangible
* Always try to get administration support first, so buying software is a much smoother process.
* Know the products/methods your faculty are using
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