Ramping Up Accessibility in STEM: Inclusively Designed Simulations for Diverse Learners

This project brings together leaders in simulation design and accessibility to develop and study interactive science simulations for diverse middle school students including those with sensory, mobility, or learning disabilities. The resulting simulations and research findings will help to address the significant disparity that exists between the achievement in science by students with and without disabilities.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1503439
Funding Period: 
Wednesday, July 15, 2015 to Friday, June 30, 2017
Full Description: 

The Discovery Research K-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools (RMTs). Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

This project will bring together leaders in simulation design and accessibility to develop and study interactive science simulations for diverse middle school students including those with sensory, mobility, or learning disabilities. The resulting simulations and research findings will help to address the significant disparity that exists between the achievement in science by students with and without disabilities. The Physics Education Technology (PhET) Interactive Simulations project (University of Colorado Boulder) will develop and research interactive science and math simulations used by teachers and students around the world. The Inclusive Design Research Centre (OCAD University, Toronto, Ontario) is an international leader in inclusively designed technology, with the goal of designing for the full range of human diversity including those with and without disabilities. Together, the project team will engage in an iterative design process to develop innovative solutions for making the highly interactive environment of an educational simulation simultaneously intuitive, accessible, and supportive of exploration and discovery practices in science. Development efforts will focus on three inclusive simulations and optimize the design and implementation of several inclusive simulation features, including keyboard navigation, auditory descriptions for screen readers, the use of non-speech sounds to provide feedback (sonification), and the ability to control the simulation with assistive technology (AT) devices. For each simulation, professional development materials for teachers, including classroom activities and user guides, will be developed to support teachers in effectively using the inclusively designed simulations in their classrooms. 

Through new research, this project will seek to understand: 1) how inclusive simulations can support students with disabilities to engage in science practices, 2) how students with and without disabilities utilize inclusive simulations for learning STEM content, and 3) how students can engage in collaborative learning between students with and without disabilities - with an inclusive simulation. Researchers will use individual interviews with diverse students to closely examine these questions. The resulting resources, models, and tools will provide exemplars and important building blocks for an inclusively designed interactive curriculum, educational games, and assessment tools. Resulting simulations, research findings, design guidelines, and exemplars will be disseminated through the project team and advisor partner networks, education resource websites, and educator professional organizations.