Gesture interfaces can convey scale better than fixed diagrams
The title on the post linked below is wrong, “Can iPads help students learn science? Yes, study shows.” It’s never whether a technology can help learning. It’s how it can help, and what it can help with. The study described is a great example of this.
iPads can be used really badly (while also being quite expensive) in schools. Philip Sadler’s new study shows that students can use the gesture-based interface of the iPad to understand issues of scale (just how far is the Moon from the Earth?) better than any diagram can convey.
They found that while the traditional approaches produced no evident gain in understanding, the iPad classrooms showed strong gains. Students similarly struggle with concepts of scale when learning ideas in biology, chemistry, physics, and geology, which suggests that iPad-based simulations also may be beneficial for teaching concepts in many other scientific fields beyond astronomy.
Moreover, student understanding improved with as little as 20 minutes of iPad use. Guided instruction could produce even more dramatic and rapid gains in student comprehension.
“While it may seem obvious that hands-on use of computer simulations that accurately portray scale would lead to better understanding,” says Philip Sadler, a co-author of the study, “we don’t generally teach that way.” All too often, instruction makes use of models and drawings that distort the scale of the universe, “and this leads to misconceptions.”