Warhawk Spotlight: NSF funds AUM-Rice research for Logan Project

Layne HolleyAUM Strategic Communications and Marketing | July 25, 2017

AUM’s The Logan Project illustrates the university’s commitment to its core values of Diversity and Inclusion and Collaboration. The project also highlights one of the reasons students, faculty and staff choose AUM: access to innovative programs that present opportunities to learn at every level. 

Process-Driven Math, a method developed at Auburn University at Montgomery to help students who are blind or have visual impairments learn algebra and other advanced mathematics, has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant for further study by AUM and Rice University. The grant supports research to determine whether this new method can improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for all students.

The National Science Foundation (NSF)-backed project, “Solving Problems of Mathematics Accessibility With Process-Driven Math” is a collaborative effort by the two institutions. AUM was awarded $298,000 in funding for its part of the project.

Logan Pritchett_0_0.jpg
Process-Driven Math was presented by The Logan Project
at the NSF in April of 2016. From left to right are Logan Prickett,
Ann Gulley and Jordan Price.
(Credit: Auburn University at Montgomery)

“This grant from the NSF for The Logan Project supports Auburn University at Montgomery’s pursuit of equity and innovation in education,” said Chancellor Carl A. Stockton. “And we are pleased to have such an esteemed research partner as Rice University in our efforts toward accessible STEM education.”

Rice University leaders also believe the collaboration with AUM and further study of Process-Driven Math will enhance dialogue on diversity and inclusion. 

“We hope to mainstream the conversation about equity in education for students with disabilities with a great push for more research-to-practice in this area,” said Yvette Pearson Weatherton, associate dean for accreditation and assessment at Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering, principal investigator for the Rice team, and a former NSF program director. "We also believe Process-Driven Math offers a unique way for educators to improve classroom instruction and the assessment of student learning across the board.”

The development of Process-Driven Math (PDM) began as "The Logan Project" at AUM in 2015, when psychology student Logan Prickett, who is almost completely blind and has severely limited mobility and a voice no louder than a whisper, began his undergraduate career here. Because of his unique cohort of disabilities, typical low-vision tools, such as Nemeth Code (the math equivalent of Braille), were not adequate for Prickett to demonstrate his capability in math. AUM’s Learning Center partnered with him to address his needs and, by extension, help others in similar situations.

The initiative was a cooperative effort between Student Services Coordinator Ann Gulley and undergraduate student researchers Prickett and Jordan Price. Dr. Luke Smith, assistant professor of Curriculum Instruction and Technology in AUM’s College of Education, developed the experimental design for early data collection. Dr. Matthew Ragland, associate provost for graduate studies and faculty services, is AUM’s principal investigator.

“I commend the work of our faculty, staff and student researchers involved in The Logan Project,” said Mrinal M. Varma, provost at AUM. “This collaboration will allow the AUM team to continue its work improving the accessibility of math for all learners, especially those students with disabilities.”

Despite Prickett’s disabilities, the result of a reaction to an MRI contrast agent that left him in a coma for 12 days, he has participated in skydiving, fishing, whitewater rafting and hunting. He continues his undergraduate research work on the team developing PDM.

"Having a gifted researcher who is blind on the development team of The Logan Project was critical for the development of this mathematics tool," Gulley said. “A primary focus of this next phase of the research is to hear more voices of our end-users to both validate and improve Process-Driven Math.”

AUM will create curricular materials and incorporate feedback learned from end-users into the method.

Rice’s educational researchers will evaluate the “innovative, evidence-based method of mathematics instruction and assessment” that is PDM.

PDM is an audio-based method through which instructors work one-on-one with students to reduce complex mathematical expressions into manageable blocks of information to reduce the cognitive load on the student’s mind. The math is made more accessible through a delivery that reduces the overall syntax; the learner does the math, systematically transforming one chunk of the problem at a time until a final solution is reached. PDM has been adapted for sighted students with a specific focus to address needs of learners with dyslexia, dyscalculia (difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics) and auditory or visual processing disorders.

The research will initially focus on 100 students per semester over three semesters (about 300 students total), with 7 faculty members/instructors involved, using PDM in algebra courses at four post-secondary institutions in Alabama and state schools for the blind in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Rice's part will be to gather evidence about how well PDM works and how it could be scaled up to serve not only algebra students but also those studying college-level calculus and other high-level mathematics.

(Editor’s note: The Warhawk Spotlight features news about people, projects and programs at AUM that illustrate our Core Values. Need a refresher on our Core Values?)