Professor’s Research Helps Blind Students Learn Math

Karshmer with toolsArt Karshmer didn’t set out to design tools for the blind, but a twist of fate led the University of San Francisco professor to devote his research to helping blind students learn math.

Karshmer, a computer scientist who teaches in the College of Professional Studies, has worked for two decades to create computer systems that make learning math simpler for those unable to read printed text.

“Visually impaired students have some of the lowest achievement levels of math learning due to their inability to see and read two dimensional objects like equations,” Karshmer said.

Karshmer’s work in the area began in the computer science department at New Mexico State University, when he asked colleagues for recommendations of a standout graduate student to hire for help with a research grant. Everyone mentioned one student in particular, Karshmer said. What they didn’t mention was that he was blind.

Karshmer watched in amazement as the student used a variety of rudimentary devices to work on the computer. Karshmer knew there had to be a better way, but “little did I know my life would change that day,” he said.

Over the years, a series of grants, including one from the National Science Foundation, have allowed Karshmer to work with other researchers to design the MathGenie computer program and the AutO-Mathic Blocks system.

MathGenie focuses on math at a high school level or higher. The program reads aloud complex mathematical equations downloaded electronically by teachers, ensuring that problems are read in the correct mathematical style so that students have the basic premise correct before solving the equation.

AutOMathic Blocks focuses on assisting younger students with math. Karshmer hopes to eventually make both tools more widely available to blind students so that it’s easier for them to learn math and potentially open up doors previously closed to them. He is developing a lab at USF for testing the designs.

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