Posts tagged ‘Khan Academy’

January 25, 2013

Teachers should harness technology to find gaps in student knowledge

by Grace

So do we all agree with edX president Anant Agarwal that technology might be the “single biggest innovation in education” in the last 200 years?  It certainly seems possible.

Technology ‘will topple many ideas about how we teach’.

Because education is economically important yet appears inefficient and static with respect to technology, it’s often cited (along with health care) as the next industry ripe for a major “disruption.” This belief has been promoted by Clayton Christensen, the influential Harvard Business School professor who coined the term “disruptive technology.” In two books on education, he laid a blueprint for online learning: it will continue to spread and get better, and eventually it will topple many ideas about how we teach—and possibly some institutions as well.

My observation as a parent is that technology is unlikely to make human teachers obsolete any time soon, but the opportunity for schools to use data more efficiently screams out as a way to improve human teachers.

Technology will define where online education goes next. All those millions of students clicking online can have their progress tracked, logged, studied, and probably influenced, too. Talk to Khan or anyone behind the MOOCs (which largely sprang from university departments interested in computer intelligence) and they’ll all say their eventual goal isn’t to stream videos but to perfect education through the scientific use of data. Just imagine, they say, software that maps an individual’s knowledge and offers a lesson plan unique to him or her. Will they succeed and create something truly different? If they do, we’ll have the answer to our question: online learning will be the most important innovation in education in the last 200 years.

Teachers should harness technology to find gaps in student knowledge.

I recently heard a local high school teacher claim he did not have time to conduct formative assessments*.  Part of the school’s explanation for this was that excessive mandatory testing requirements left no time for teachers to find student’s gaps in knowledge.  I’m not buying this, because Khan Academy and other sources offer “software that maps an individual’s knowledge”.  I’ve had a brief glimpse of education software used in our public schools that also does this, generating data similar to that provided by KA.


Personalized data like this would enable a teacher to use his time more efficiently, even making differentiated instruction more feasible.  But instead, a school that claims it is teaching 21st century skills is letting its instructors rely on clunky data-gathering methods that shortchange its students.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take a little while for technology to disrupt this school’s hold on teaching methods.

* Formative assessment or diagnostic testing is a range of formal and informal assessment procedures employed by teachers during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student attainment.[1] It typically involves qualitative feedback (rather than scores) for both student and teacher that focuses on the details of content and performance.[2] It is commonly contrasted with summative assessment, which seeks to monitor educational outcomes, often for purposes of external accountability.[3]

December 5, 2011

More classrooms trying Khan Academy, finding it better than group projects

by Grace

Last week I criticized what I considered the hasty proclamation of a Khan Academy (KA) classroom pilot as a “colossal success”.  Nevertheless, because I am a big fan of Khan Academy and believe in its potential, I am happy to see this.

This semester, at least 36 schools nationwide are trying out Mr. Khan’s experiment: splitting up the work of teaching between man and machine, and combining teacher-led lessons with computer-based lectures and exercises.

The results so far make me feel cautiously optimistic.

It is too early to know whether the Khan Academy software makes a real difference in learning. A limited study with students in Oakland, Calif., this year found that children who had fallen behind in math caught up equally well if they used the software or were tutored in small groups. The research firm SRI International is working on an evaluation of the software in the classroom.

But look closely at what was happening in this class before KA.  Students would work in groups for days at a time trying to solve just one problem, an exercise that didn’t seem to help them master the fundamentals.

In the past, math class at the Summit schools was always hands-on: the class worked on a problem, usually in small groups, sometimes for days at a time. But getting an entire class of ninth graders to master the fundamentals of math was never easy. Without those, the higher-level conceptual exercises were impossible.

So what exactly were they really getting out of this teacher-supervised, time-consuming group work? This is a question many parents and mathematicians have been asking.

KA offers students a new, engaging way to learn the basics.  It also tracks data that provides teachers with precise individualized information on each student’s progress.  Good, because this allows teachers to do what they can do best.

Ms. Tavenner says she believes that computers cannot replace teachers. But the computer, she recognizes, can do some things a teacher cannot. It can offer personal feedback to a whole room of students as they work. And it can give the teacher additional class time to do more creative and customized teaching.

The thing is, I’m a little wary of giving teachers more time to oversee days of creative group projects with questionable learning goals.  I’d rather see teachers focus on taking advantage of Khan data to proactively address individual learning gaps, letting them be the expert humans interacting with and teaching students in ways no machine can.

November 28, 2011

Khan Academy classroom pilot declared a ‘success’ based on no data

by Grace

A frothy piece in the Utopianist* declares that a Khan Academy pilot to teach math to 5th and 7th grade students in the Los Altos School District of California is a “colossal success”.

Their test run has so far yielded nothing short of colossal success, with both students and teachers alike more engaged and fulfilled.

The problem is that the article presents nothing beyond abstract anecdotes of exaltation.  It’s fine that students are engaged and fulfilled, but are they learning?  Where’s the evidence?  Where’s the data showing improved achievement levels?  Instead, the basis for declaring success is stuff like this.

  • It’s meaningful Khan hopes to “humanize” education by providing students and teachers with the opportunity to spend some meaningful time together
  • Kids teach each other, replacing expert teachers – students better at one subject can tutor their peers who are struggling with the same concept
  • Remember, it’s meaningful… meaningful classroom time will do more … than the ritual of silent students …
  • Fun tools with cool names the Academy has recently introduced badges … The badges have cool names like Sun and Black Hole.
  • Students love it Students are raving about the Khan Academy’s videos
  • A famous billionaire approves Bill Gates makes an appearance … applauding Khan’s program …
  • As long as it’s fun …  will allow classrooms the time to finally spend on those fun educational projects … 
  • Teachers approve because kids have fun Teachers also talk about how they love the program because their kids are having fun 

The clincher is that they label daydreaming as a learning style, especially laughable given that the very concept of “learning styles” is a myth.

Students also love that the program supports individual learning styles – like daydreamers.

I am a big fan of Khan Academy, but give me data before you jump to hasty conclusions  and promote the use of yet another unproven educational experiment on our public school children.

* In fitting with this article, utopia is defined as  an imaginary and indefinitely remote place.

November 11, 2011

How to get a free education

by Grace

Unfortunately, this free education comes without the credentials.  Only traditional institutions of higher learning can offer those.  For now.

Marc and Angel Hack Life put together a list of 12 Dozen Places To Educate Yourself Online For Free, ranging from Khan Academy  to Open Yale Courses  to my new favorite, Bio’s Best.

Those people who take the time and initiative to pursue knowledge on their own are the only ones who earn a real education in this world.  Take a look at any widely acclaimed scholar, entrepreneur or historical figure you can think of.  Formal education or not, you’ll find that he or she is a product of continuous self-education.

Have fun!

Related:  Is higher education on track to lose its credentialing monopoly?

June 23, 2011

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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