With the summer night sky above and a family reunion on a hill outside Asheville, North Carolina, I found myself in one of my favorite professorial modes, facilitating self-directed learning. My pedagogical toolkit included an iPad and the application “Sky Walk.”
I’ve often observed how the right social contexts can foster effective collaborative learning. So, with several groups of family members standing in my brother-in-law’s driveway, I pointed the iPad at the sky. After the initial gasps, hands eagerly grasped the iPad and voices articulated the names of stars, planets, and constellations. “Sky Walk” quickly answered questions about the location of the star, its intensity, and history and elicited satisfactory grunts of approval.
I’m not the first to observe that the iPad’s strength lies in its mobility. As long as we could catch the wireless modem’s signal, we could follow the arc of the solar system and establish a new love of that first love affair with the stars. The iPad clearly surpassed both the old printed star charts that needed flashlights and my brother-in-law’s telescope that he has been trying to program for months so that it would tell him which stars were in the eyepiece.
As I stood there, I wondered whether I could establish my own purposeful learning situations where students would grasp the technology and take the learning in directions consistent with my goals and with their interests. I wondered whether in a concert hall, patrons could quickly pull up information on composers, compositions, musicians, instruments, etc. without forgetting to enjoy the music and the performance.
But more on that in a future post.