Many students enter college under-prepared for college-level work. In particular, these students often lack the necessary skills to pursue college-level courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A significant number of these students have learning disabilities, often undiagnosed or undisclosed, as well as related conditions that influence learning. These students typically enroll in developmental courses to prepare themselves to learn college-level content, although many students fail to complete or pass these courses in a timely manner. While developmental courses can be effective for some students, many students are at risk for dropping out, and developmental courses typically have higher dropout rates than credit-bearing courses. Worse still, developmental course experiences may lead some students to avoid taking courses in related content areas in the future.
Since algebra is a gateway course that must be passed prior to enrolling in more advanced STEM subjects, failure to pass it blocks a student from pursuing STEM studies or careers. Students in developmental algebra courses are already at risk for failure, and they are likely to need support outside the classroom in order to succeed. Online learning resources for algebra support are available, but many do not provide support in a manner that is accessible to students with learning disabilities or effective for their learning profile. These accessibility problems include:
- Difficulties for users who use assistive technologies such as text readers
- Reliance on the exclusive use of text for explanations
- Exercises and activities that lack clear instructions
- Graphics or images that are not explained or accessible to assistive technologies
- Confusing and inconsistent navigation
- Copious use of distracting advertisements
- Absence of feedback regarding progress and understanding
Our project was developed to address many of these barriers to accessibility and understanding that can prevent students in developmental courses from succeeding in STEM. Using accessible and engaging learning resources in developmental classes should remove barriers and lead more students with learning disabilities and other conditions that affect learning to pursue advanced STEM courses and future STEM careers.