In my current math class, the professor assigns homework and quiz questions using a tool called ALEKS so that students can practice skills outside of class. Once I found out that we would be using ALEKS, I started researching ALEKS accessibility and playing around with it to see how I would work with it as a student with low vision. Here is what I have learned so far about ALEKS accessibility for visual impairment, and how I am using ALEKS in my class.
What is ALEKS?
ALEKS is an online tutoring and assessment program that covers topics related to math, chemistry, statistics, and business. ALEKS uses artificial intelligence and adaptive learning techniques to help students learn information and get help on the topics when they need it most, and gives them access to additional resources including an eTextbook, written explanations of problems, and video lessons. The exact cost of ALEKS varies depending on the length of the class- for my precalculus course, I paid $42.99 including fees.
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About my math class
I’m taking an online six-week summer precalculus class through a community college in order to prepare me for taking Calculus I in the near future- for Virginia Community College System students, the course I’m taking is MTH 162. Topics covered in this class include trigonometry, Law of Sines and Cosines, trigonometric applications, and a brief introduction to conics. My professor assigns homework problems twice a week which are graded, and a Knowledge Check quiz every three classes or so, which is graded for completion and determines which topics will be assigned for my homework.
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How to access ALEKS
Users can access ALEKS by going to the ALEKS website or by clicking the link provided to them by their professors. From there, students will be prompted to log in with their ALEKS-generated username and password which was created at sign-up. Once they are signed in, users are taken to the ALEKS home screen where they can look at the progress for their class, find assignments, and work on review concepts. If a Knowledge Check has been assigned, users will not be able to access any other sections until it is completed.
Layout of assignments/Knowledge Checks
Within assignments and Knowledge Checks, problems are displayed one at a time on the screen, and the user is unable to work ahead/go back to change a problem once it is started. There are no multiple-choice problems either- users will need to type their answers and/or select information from a drop-down menu as needed. For my classes, each Knowledge Check has 30 questions and each section for my homework has 3-5 questions, with the exact number of sections for each homework varying. It’s worth noting that students will have to get multiple problems in a row correct on their homework before they can finish that section and unlock other sections to work on.
Once the student opens their assignment or Knowledge Check, the problem is displayed at the top of the screen. If available, ALEKS will also display several tools for entering answers with correct formattings, such as a graph to plot points, fraction/exponent shortcuts, areas to enter equations, a calculator, and similar. It is strongly recommended that students work through problems on a separate piece of paper or in another program, as ALEKS only checks answers and not whether a student shows their work or not- my personal choice is a digital or physical whiteboard. Once a user types in the answer to their problem, ALEKS will automatically check it and mark it as correct or incorrect in assignments, or have users progress to the next problem in their Knowledge Checks.
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ALEKS accessibility for large print and screen magnification
As a student with low vision, I rely heavily on the use of large print and screen magnification to be able to read assignments. When reading problems, I use the pinch-to-zoom gesture or ctrl-+ keyboard shortcut to read text and numbers, and then use either Zoom or Magnifier to read information such as exponents or fractions that I may not otherwise be able to read- I like to use the lens view because I only need to magnify a small portion of the screen. The built-in ALEKS calculator is too small for me to read, so I use other large print calculator apps on my devices- a majority of the problems for my assignments do not require a graphing calculator, rather students just need to calculate points using a given equation.
Speaking of graphing, I use the full-screen magnification view when I am working with the ALEKS graphing tool so that I am able to make sure that points are being plotted as expected. ALEKS has a built-in point plotting tool that allows users to type in the exact points they want to plot, and it helped me tremendously as I didn’t have to worry about approximating where something was on the graph. The graphing tool also will automatically connect points for a function if enough information is available, and users can also insert ellipses, parabolas, hyperbolas, and other shapes with the graphing tool as well, aligning them with the different points. I have had great success with aligning everything but hyperbolas, though I don’t think this is related to the software.
Users can customize ALEKS for low vision further within Settings, which allows users to choose different options related to making ALEKS easier to use with high contrast and colorblindness filters. I use the Increased Contrast option the most often, and add filters from my magnification program or device as needed.
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ALEKS accessibility for screen readers
Since my eye condition tends to fluctuate often, I’ve also learned how to use ALEKS with the assistance of a screen reader. Since ALEKS only supports JAWS, my typical method for completing assignments and Knowledge Checks with a screen reader involves copying and pasting each problem into Microsoft Word so I can read the problem using a screen reader or Read Aloud tool. I can access everything I need within ALEKS using my keyboard, so I don’t have to worry about using a mouse- for example, I can type an answer as an exponent (7^2), navigate between different sections of a problem with the tab key, and I can type the word “or” if I need to add a second solution to a problem.
I’m still learning how to use the graphing tools fully with a screen reader, so right now if I need to use my screen reader to graph a problem, I will use a remote visual assistant that is approved by my professor to help me with locating specific functions and aligning items as needed with my mouse.
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Additional tools I use with ALEKS
Some additional tools I use to complete assignments with ALEKS include:
- myScript calculator app for various calculations
- The built-in calculator for Google search
- Socratic app for getting additional explanations for how to work through problems- this was especially helpful when learning about Law of Sines and Cosines. Note that I did not use Socratic while completing assignments, I just used it for finding related information
- Brainfuse online tutoring, which is available through my library card
- A digital or physical whiteboard for working through problems
- Recorded lectures from my professor that go over different concepts
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While I can’t say that ALEKS has made taking summer precalculus fun, it is helping me tremendously with regaining my confidence in math, as I’m able to work through problems at my own pace and get feedback from the software about what I’m doing well. While I still have some trouble with writing equations based on graphs and with graphing hyperbolas, I’m still able to complete the rest of my assignments without any issues. I hope that this post is helpful for other students that are wondering about ALEKS accessibility and how they can use ALEKS in their classes!