Learning Innovation Unit, Dublin City University

Learning Innovation Unit

Learning Innovation Fund Awards

Dr Donal Fitzpatrick- Intergration of math content into moodle

Principal applicant

Dr. Donal Fitzpatrick

School or Unit


Amount requested


Amount received


Summary description

Education for the visually impaired continues to be a matter of concern. The problem spans almost all aspects of education, but is most notable in the study of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. Providing a comprehensive set of tools to support the print impaired through their educational and professional lives is the goal of the proposed development project. Through the use of technologies developed in current and previous research, we intend to develop a set of tools to present mathematics to a print impaired student.

We aim to develop tools which will facilitate a teacher of STEM producing mathematical material and translating it to Braille. With the evolution of refreshable Braille Displays comes the facility for a student to enter mathematics in the traditional, linear fashion. We also intend the development of so- called "back-translators" from this linear Braille representation to standard printed mathematics. With the emmerging accessibility of such platforms as Mozilla, the opportunity presents itself to integrate such tools into a learning environment like Moodle. This will facilitate a lecturer preparing online teaching materials and having them automatically rendered in an accessible form to a blind/vision impaired student.

Strategic Objectives

Regretably, I cannot answer this question, see below.

Strategic Context

Under the previous DCU strategy plan, "leading Change", the university's commitment to students with disabilities was clearly evident. As theme II of this document states, "... Obstacles faced by people who are socially disadvantaged, or who have disabilities, in accessing learning and education will be addressed." One of the major problems facing students who are blind is accessing material such as mathematics. This project will endeavour to remove these obstacles, by providing a flexible mechanism for the exchange of such highly visual scientific material between the lecturer and the student. As this theme also advocates the development of "enabling technology", the proposed research would seem to be ideally suited for the furtherance of this theme. Another goal of the Strategic plan is to provide "... broader access to learning for all - including those with disabilities.", we believe that this work will go some way to fulfilling this ideal. I am sure the reader is now wondering why this author makes reference to the previous strategy plan and not the current one. The reason is that it is believed that this plan clearly addressed and catered for the needs of students with disabilities more so than the current incarnation of the university's "vision?" However, this author cannot be certain of this, as the current DCU strategy plan, and the document pertaining to the proposed strategy for the Learning Innovation Unit have been published on the internet in PDF form only, and hence are totally inaccessible to a computer-user using Assistive Technology and consequently unreadable. To that end I refer the reader to a quote (my thanks to a colleague who found this for me) taken directly from the LIU plan: "...new initiatives are proposed: Work will commence on the development of a set of minimum University standards including the use of assistive technology to maximise accessibility of online resources for student with disabilities". As the song says "things can only get better".

Implementation Plan

The principal investigator and two research assistants will implement the project. The principal investigator will direct the work, and also engage in the more challenging aspects of thedevelopment process.

The first phase of this project will involve the development of XSLT style sheets for translating MathML into Braille. Here,the students will work on the parsing of the MathML into an internal format, while the Principal Investigator will commence work on deriving Braille output from this format.

The second phase will then involve the incorporation of this translator into the Moodle environment. This will involve the three team-members working closely, together as the modules to translate the XML into the internal format, and those responsible for the derrivation of the Braille output will have to be carefully added to the Moodle environment.

Phase three will involve the reversal of this process; namely the conversion of Braille Mathematics to the internal format, and thence to MathML.

The principles on which this work is based have been described by Karshmer in a number of articles [1,2,3]. The goal of Karshmer's' work is to provide mathematical and scientific access to print impaired students. He has proven that it is feasible to translate MathML into a number of alternative modalities including synthetic speech, Large Print (for those with limited vision) and Braille. However, the Braille standard adopted by Karshmer is the Nemeth standard, which is used only in the United States. What has not as yet been attempted is the incorporation of such a system into an environment such as moodle with a view to creating a highly automated and dynamic process.

We envisage this project beginning on July 1 2006, and being completed by December 31 2006. No obstacles are foreseen which will preclude meeting these targets.

[1] Karshmer, A.I., and Gillan, D., "How well can we Read

Equations to Blind Mathematics Students: Some Answers

from Psychology," Proceedings of the 2003 Human

Computer Interface International Conference, Crete,

Greece, July, 2003.

[2] Karshmer, A.I., Math and Blind Students: A Special Thematic

Session, Proceedings of the ICCHP 2002 Conference, Linz,

Austria, July 17, 2002, Published in the Springer-Verlag

Lecture Notes in Computer Science

[3] Karshmer, A.I., Gupta, G., and Gillan, D., Architecting an

Audio Browser for Navigating Mathematical Equations,

Proceedings of the ICCHP 2002 Conference, Linz, Austria, July

17, 2002, Published in the Springer-Verlag Lecture Notes in

Computer Science


We believe that the impact of this work could be significant. At present, it is extremely difficult for lecturers and students to communicate non-visual material. When these tools have been developed, it will prove possible for both the lecturer and the student to prepare mathematics using a preferred method and exchange them freely.

User testing will be performed on individual components of the system as well as the fully designed system. This evaluation will occur both concurrently with the design of the system components as well as in a final phase to evaluate effectiveness of the system as a whole.

The evaluation process will be based on a set of quantitative and qualitative metrics. Quantitative metrics will measure the number of errors present in the translated documents and the speed and reliability of recognition of complex documents. Qualitative metrics will include perceived usability, user-friendliness, and reliability of the software.

Dissemination and Sustainability

The traditional forms of dissemination will be employed, e.g.,

1. Publications of research and educational results in international technical forums.

2. Development of technical and educational reports, distributed through department and project-specific web sites.

3. Creation of web sites describing our research program, outlining the expertise of the participants and their accomplishments (e.g., publications).

4. Technology transfer, e.g., deployment of research software prototypes developed by the investigators and made available on our web site.

Additional dissemination efforts will include preparation of written reports to the sponsoring agency and local presentations (e.g., workshops to increase public awareness about the project and school visits).

In the longer term, we plan to collaborate with partner institutions in other countries, with a view to obtaining funding from organisations such as the National Science Foundation or the European Union. Indeed, such inter-institutional collaboration is already in place and has proven to be most effective.

Detailed Budget

The budgetary requirements for this project are simple.

1. A budget of €10,000 is being requested to fund two summer interns. This amount is based on an annual salary of €21,713 and includes the 10.75% contributions which, under law, employers must pay.

2. €1500 is being requested to facilitate my attendance at the international Conference on Computers helping People with Special Needs (ICCHP) in Linz in July 2006. I will be participating in various sessions at this conference which will be relevant to this project.

3. €3,500 is being sought to procure some equipment for the project. This includes a lap-top which will be used to develop the software outlined above, and the relevant tools necessary to produce tactile and audio-based graphs which will form an integral part of the translator outlined above.

The reason that these costs do not fall under the remit of the School of Computing is that they are all specifically related to this project, and not in any way school-related.

Comments on the application process

While the form used as a mechanism for the submission of this proposal was extremely accessible, it is regrettable that the supporting documentation (in the form of the various strategy plans) was not. It is assumed that this was beyond the control of the Learning Innovation Unit, however the unsatisfactory nature of same should be noted