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ICAD2011 Benjamin Davison

Benjamin Davison

Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA.

Evaluating Auditory Graphs with Blind Students in a Classroom
Paper-based tactile graphics require a lot of human preparation and are not compatible with electronic formats. Yet they are consistently used instead of auditory graphs at United States schools for the blind.

Auditory graphs are a natural alternative but have not been sufficiently evaluated in a school setting. Auditory graphs are electronically rendered, and are often based on the same data that would make a visual graph. They also do not require braille reading skills. Unfortunately, the past 30 years of auditory graphs development has not created a tool which is known to be compatible with a school’s curriculum, testing constraints, teachers, or students. Auditory graph software available at several schools for the blind do not allow blind students to create or evaluate graphs in a way that could be used in class or on a test.

My dissertation will explore how to use auditory graphs in a high school classroom at the Georgia Academy for the Blind (GAB). I start with the graphing goals and operations taught in the first math course at GAB for academic-track, visually impaired high school students, Mathematics 1A. Notable related work regarding graphs in the classroom include Upson [2,3] and Rassmus-Gröhn [1]. Upson explored how sighted students could use auditory graphs in an after-school setting [3]. SoundGrid provided a canvas for plotting points and a way to play back the sounds. Students reacted postively to the tool, but the study did not show score improvements in a short examination. Upson noted mathematics teachers criticized auditory graphs as having little practical application, except if the teachers had visually impaired students [2]. Rassmus-Gröhn’s thesis [1] evaluates an audio-haptic system with blind students in an after-school setting. The students created maps with the software and had positive comments about the system in interviews. However, the system did not sufficiently explore non-speech audio. The works of Upson and Rassmus-Gröhn are a useful starting point, but they each are missing an underlying curriculum or problem set, a definition of success criteria, and quantitative results demonstrating system effectiveness.

My dissertation will use mixed methods. First, based on the Mathematics 1 textbook, I will identify mathematics problems, the goals in a problem, and a possible set of operations a student could use to complete the goal. A survey will collect feedback from mathematics teachers to improve these goals and operations. The success criteria of a graphing is then based on whether a student can achieve the goals. I will then enable these operations or similar accessible operations in an electronic graphing tool. A think-aloud protocol with blind students working with old and new tools will further define the operations. I will observe a class using the new tool, in three phases in the upcoming school year at the Georgia Academy for the Blind. After each phase I will interview the teachers to collect information about classroom learning and student performance, and develop a new iteration of the tool based on the observations and interviews. Blind, low vision, and sighted Georgia high school students will participate in a graphing examination which will employ auditory graphs, visual graphs, and tactile graphics. The ICAD 2010 committee suggested that I further define my method and my terms. I have kept that in mind, and will be extending other research works in this area. I will contribute curriculum-based success criteria, classroom usability and performance metrics of an auditory graphs tool.


  1. What useful ways are there to scientifically investigate goals and operations used in a particular graphing task?
  2. Who else has evaluated auditory graphs in a classroom environment?
  3. Are there other references or tools that you suggest?


Rassmus-Gröhn, K. (2008). User-centered design of nonvisual audio-haptics. (PhD Thesis). Lund University.
Upson, R. (2001). Sonifications as Mathematics Teaching Tools. ICAD. Espoo, Finland.
Upson, R. (2002). Educational sonification exercises: Pathways for mathematics and musical achievement. ICAD. Kyoto, Japan.



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