Many of my professors in college have gone paperless, and assign homework, quizzes, and tests online using softwares like Blackboard and MyMathLab. I prefer to have digital assignments, so I have found this change to be awesome, since I don't have to worry about having a backpack full of large print papers or asking professors to create accessible materials. This is especially beneficial for my math classes, where every number, letter, and symbol is important and needs to be enlarged to the correct font size. Luckily, my calculus professor used MyMathLab, so I didn't have to worry about whether a problem would be large enough or not. Today, I will be sharing my review of MyMathLab for users with vision impairment that use assistive technology.
What is MyMathLab?
MyMathLab is an online software by Pearson Education that accompanies their math textbooks. Students who purchase an access code can have access to the software and a digital copy of their textbook that they can access at any point. It is used in several 100-level math classes at my college for assignments and exams, and professors seem to prefer that students use the digital textbook over the physical textbook since it is cheaper and easier to read. Students are required to purchase an access code for MyMathLab, and the price varies based on the class. There is currently no iOS or Android app available, and students can access MyMathLab online here.
About my math class
My calculus class used MyMathLab exclusively for all assignments, including homework and tests. For students enrolled in the virtual section of calculus at my university, homework and quizzes were completed using MyMathLab and tests were proctored on campus using a different software. Read more about taking virtual classes in college here.
After logging in, MyMathLab has several sections on the left side of the screen. I only ever used these three sections:
- The Assignments section shows a list of homework, quizzes, and tests to be completed, along with their due dates.
- The Gradebook section shows the same display, except at the end of the row a grade is added. The student is able to also see their grade at the top of the screen
- The Accessible Resources section is for students who use assistive technology to access their course. The primary tool I used was the accessible textbook, which is in HTML format and perfect for screen readers or screen magnifiers. Read more about HTML formats and other file formats for vision impairment here.
Homework, quizzes, and tests all have the same layout and generally the same question formats. Common answer formats included multiple choice, true/false, graphing, drop down lists, and fill-in-the-blank. Problems are displayed one section at a time and students are able to work through individual components of each problem without being overwhelmed by several different parts. For homework assignments only, students can check to see if their answers are correct after each section or problem, and they are given the opportunity to re-work problems. The professor sets how many questions are assigned, but does not assign exact questions as the software uses random selection.
Using screen magnification software
Since I have low vision, I like to make things on the screen as large as possible so I could see them. At times, this meant that the display of the screen looked a bit strange when everything was enlarged, and I had trouble trying to figure out what was on the screen at any given moment. As a result, I preferred to use a window view that only magnified one portion of the screen at a time, and then I would reposition the window with my mouse. Another benefit to this is that I didn't get vertigo from moving my mouse too quickly across the screen when working in full screen mode.
Using a screen reader
Due to my fluctuating vision, I use the NVDA screen reader part-time on my desktop computer. Since I have not received any formal training on how to use NVDA, it took me a while to get used to how information was read out loud. For example, the square root of 10-x would be read as "sqrt 10-x." I had trouble reading complicated graphs that had multiple equations, but that may have been because I had never learned how to use a screen reader to read graphs.
How I take tests in MyMathLab
In my calculus class, tests were completed in MyMathLab and drew from the homework and quiz questions. Per university policy, all tests were taken in a secure location using the Respondus LockDown Browser- read more about Respondus LockDown Browser here. However, since I took my exams in the Disability Services Testing Center, which used their own test monitoring software, I was not able to use Respondus and instead had to ask my professor to create a custom test for me that was compatible with the other software- read more about taking exams in the Disability Services Testing Center here.
Additional technology I used
Here is the additional technology that I used to complete assignments with MyMathLab:
- External monitor, at least 22" wide- when in my dorm, I used my HP Sprout and in the Disability Services Testing Center I used an external monitor that was provided by my school assistive technology department. Read more about my HP Sprout here and read more about why I brought a desktop computer to college here.
- External mouse
- External keyboard- Read more about making your keyboard easy to see here
- iPad with guided access enabled for a calculator- read more about my favorite calculator apps here and read more about guided access here
What didn't work for me
For questions with graphs, there is an option to zoom in on the graph in question or open it in a new window. I have found that no matter how much I zoom in, I still have trouble reading the graph, and I can't see the problem in question when I open the graph in a new window. Things get even more confusing when there are lots of intersecting lines, since I have trouble distinguishing the different lines. I wish that the developers would add more high-resolution images and the option to use high-contrast graphs or bold text for the display, as I feel like I would be able to see it much easier that way.
While I can't say that MyMathLab made doing calculus homework any more exciting, I am glad that I was able to access my assignments using my choice of assistive technology. Using MyMathLab eliminated the need for my professor to make accessible assignments and allowed me to focus on learning math, and not troubleshooting assistive technology. If improvements are made to the way graphs are displayed, I would happily sign up for a math class that uses MyMathLab over a traditional math class that uses paper and pencil assignments.