December 29, 2013

iPads for addressing astronomy misconceptions in scale

Posted by Dr. Laura Guertin

Many individuals and even entire schools and school districts are quick to jump on technology bandwagons when a new piece of technology is released.  The excitement and the hype of bringing new technology in to the classroom at time will override the more important questions – will this technology improve student learning?  Or could the technology actually hurt student learning?

Apple products are commonly found in schools, especially the K-12 classroom.  iPads are especially popular with teachers and students, and many articles and/or contributions are quick to state that students like the technology; therefore, the technology is good and effective (in their view).

It is refreshing to see the results of pedagogical research get published, where actual learning is measured.  Take this recent study produced by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, published in the January 2014 issue of Computers & Education.  The article, titled “Conceptualizing astronomical scale: Virtual simulations on handheld tablet computers reverse misconceptions,” is pretty self-explanatory.  One of the article highlights is the “pinch-to-zoom” feature on the iPad, used by high school students even in an unstructured setting, is showing to be effective in helping students understand challenging concepts such as astronomical scale.

I wonder if this could also help out geology classrooms.  Even in higher education, we struggle to teach students about time and space – scales that students are challenged to comprehend and apply to concepts and processes.

To learn more about this study, please visit the following sites: