History instruction by video is ‘incoherent torrent of factoids’

by Grace

Although I am generally enamored of Khan Academy’s video resources, I also recognize the obvious problems with instruction that is mostly constrained to ten-minute video installments.  That’s why I believe Khan videos accompanied by strong teachers is a good combination, with the potential to provide effective and efficient learning.

In a NAS piece, David Clemens points out a “dangerous” aspect of the Khan method, using an example of  the US history overview video that includes mention of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

Mr. Khan observes that “from FDR’s point of view, Hitler definitely was in the wrong here.” This observation is so odd, that I have to hit the pause button and take a moment to think about it. In Mr. Khan’s History, whether Hitler should have invaded Poland or not is just a matter of viewpoint, wrong in FDR’s (and probably Poland’s) but okey-dokey in Hitler’s. Everything is a matter of viewpoint, perspective, and cultural positioning, therefore nothing is essentially right or wrong, to be applauded or condemned….

Of course, most parents would not want their children to get all their information about Hitler’s invasion from a video like this.  And it can be argued that we will never get to the point where short videos become the main vehicle for history instruction, right?  Perhaps, but I agree with Clemens, who points out this is a real possibility.

But we live in a time when Schindler’s List is used to teach about Auschwitz, and Mr. Khan is a child of his times….

Mr. Khan describes his mission as being to “deliver a world-class education to anyone anywhere . . .” and to have his videos become the “operating system” of the classroom with the teacher reduced to “coach.”

It could happen. He has appeared on CNN, PBS, NPR, Charlie Rose. Students embrace Mr. Khan; Mr. Gates embraces Mr. Khan.   Imagine the consequences if his videos did become the DOS or Windows of education: tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of young minds, all fed by Mr. Khan’s fizzy version of history. Not only would all students absorb the same value judgments, goofy comments, and cultural relativism, they would also conclude that Mr. Khan’s factoids constitute knowledge of history.

The education arena has many examples of “innovations” that went terribly wrong.  Caution is definitely warranted on this one.

Salman Khan responded in the comments with a defense of his history videos, including this.

As for the “one voice” issue, I don’t see how a guy making digestible videos that inform and encourage skepticism (on YouTube where anyone else can do the same) are more dangerous than state-mandated text books. I don’t see how lectures that are open for the world to scrutinize (and comment about on YouTube and our site) are more dangerous than a lone teacher or professor who can say whatever they like to their classrooms with no one there to correct or dispute them.

Good point.

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