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Increasing STEM Accessibility for Students with Cognitive Disabilities via Interactive Curriculum

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Computer Science and Information Technology in K-12 Engineering

Tagged Division

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.859.1 - 22.859.13



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Paper Authors


Ethan E. Danahy Tufts University, Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Ethan Danahy received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science in 2000 and 2002, respectively, and a Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering in 2007, all at Tufts University, Medford, MA. Within the School of Engineering at Tufts University, he is currently a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science. Additionally, he acts as the Engineering Research Program Director at the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO), where he manages educational technology development projects while researching innovative and interactive techniques for assisting teachers with performing engineering education and communicating robotics concepts to students spanning the K-12 through university age range.

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Ashley Russell Tufts University, Center for Engineering Education and Outreach

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Increasing STEM Accessibility for Students with Cognitive Disabilities via Interactive CurriculumAlthough federal legislation aspires to improve educational outcomes for students withdisabilities by instituting their right to participate in the general education curriculum,national assessment data indicate significant performance differences between studentswith and without disabilities. While expectations for students with disabilities haveincreased considerably, the instructional materials used in the classroom generally remainlimited to printed text and paper-and-pencil activities. These media continue to be theprimary means for acquiring information and demonstrating knowledge in STEM(science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, which consequently posebarriers to scientific learning. This is particularly relevant for students with disabilitieswho experience a range of difficulties with reading, taking notes, organizing, analyzing,and presenting findings. The fixed media often employed can interfere with, rather thanpromote, the learning STEM topics. Furthermore, the cognitively disabled population hasbeen largely overlooked in the field of system design and improvements for universalaccessibility and design practices for software development are accordingly limited.Software designed to support multiple means of information acquisition and processingmay help ease the cognitive load current curricula places on these students and scaffoldstudent learning.The research presented here incorporates an iterative design protocol for thissubpopulation through the development of cognitive supports within an interactivecurriculum delivery tool. By approaching the research from an inclusive designperspective, we aim to improve the interaction between students and the software andscaffold student learning through improved accessibility to information and means ofexpression. Further, by providing electronic “just-in-time” assistance to the students, weadditionally aim to address how the software can best add value to the teachers in theclassroom by alleviating some classroom logistical concerns.The interactive environment of this curriculum delivery tool is being developed alongwith students and teachers to not only allow for the presentation of text, graphics, andmultimedia, but to also provide multiple methods for knowledge expression by means oftext, audio, image, video, and stop motion animation input by the students. Theinteractive and self-directed nature of this curriculum development tool providesscaffolding for student learning, which allows the teacher more opportunity to interactwith student learning rather than classroom management. The researchers have teamedwith a partner non-profit institution and two public high schools to create the multimedia,STEM-based curriculum tool. This paper presents initial results from in-class pilot testsdemonstrating the inclusion of universal design for learning (UDL) supports andhighlights how these supports address the needs of both the students and teachers.

Danahy, E. E., & Russell, A. (2011, June), Increasing STEM Accessibility for Students with Cognitive Disabilities via Interactive Curriculum Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18140

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