RoboBooks: A Promising Practice on Universally Designed Science Materials

Date Updated

Despite legislation established to allow students with disabilities to fully participate in classrooms, there is still a prominent gap in the science performance of students with and without disabilities (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005). While expectations for students with disabilities have increased considerably, the instructional materials used in the science classroom generally remain limited to printed text and paper-and-pencil activities. Often, these static media pose barriers in learning for students with disabilities, who are often struggling readers. Such fixed media creates an unnecessary challenge to students who might not only struggle with the content, but also struggle with reading, taking notes, organizing information and analyzing and presenting data.

RoboBooks is a promising practice for making science materials more universally designed and accessible. This digital notebook environment, developed by the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) at Tufts University with funding from the National Science Foundation's Research in Disabilities Education (RDE) program, supports students in scientific investigations through interactive presentation of material and dynamic tools for documentation and journaling of the students’ work. RoboBooks supplement the standard textbook by providing accompanying multimedia assistance such as audio, additional graphics, or videos, and additional cognitive aids such as highlighting, hints, and concept maps. RoboBooks also supply multiple ways for students to engage with the material and express their learning through feedback, simulations and games, and opportunities for audio, video and text input.

RoboBooks is a digital environment that seeks to provide a new opportunity for all students, including those with disabilities, to access and understand principles of science that for many have been evasive due to higher levels of abstraction and complexity. The supports and scaffolds in the RoboBook learning environment provides students with disabilities opportunities to access information and present their understanding in multiple manners, of which some are not language dependent.

This article was developed through the RDE Collaborative Dissemination Project (National Science Foundation Research in Disabilities Education Award #HRD-0929006) and InterLACE: Interactive Learning and Collaboration Environment (National Science Foundation Research #DRL-1119321).