Monday, August 22, 2011

No Khan Do

Salman Khan makes educational videos, lots of educational videos, using a simple technique--he draws out his thoughts on a "blackboard," while he thinks aloud. Much like someone unwrapping a problem on a napkin or on an old slate blackboard.

Bill Gates has practically adopted him, and the ed reformerati love him. He's an MIT grad, he's multicultural, he's an ex-hedge fund manager (maybe his biggest cachet, a sad reflection of our culture), and he's kinda cute. In an Ivy League rules kind of way. (What do I know, I used to be a stevedore....)

Sal Khan helps kids learn how to regurgitate what we already have in textbooks, without reading the textbooks, a video CliffsNotes for the now generation. He allows the worst parts of education to be efficiently streamlined for ingestion, about as effective and useful as cod liver oil. It works, but it's over-rated.

In the end, I think it's a student's ability to pause, rewind, and rehash what Khan says that makes him so valuable, and which makes his brand so sad--really, really sad. I'm a teacher, and a pretty good one. We need to pay attention to what our kids don't know.

If 21st century learning boils down to a hyped up version of what we did back in the 1930's, we're screwed. If Bill Gates is the valued judge of what education means (go learn his history), we're screwed. If we cannot do better in the classroom than Mr. Khan can do with his SmoothDraw and Camtasia (or what any of us can do on the back of a cocktail napkin), we're screwed.

Relax, we're not screwed (yet). Be better than the videos, not a hard task, unless regurgitation floats your boat.

Frank Noschese destroys Mr. Khan in a series of blog posts with far more sophistication than me.
Blackboard via Shorpy.


David said...

I'm with you on this one Michael. I'd not be happy if the Khan Academy ends up being the future of mathematics education. We'd see a lot fewer understand mathematics. They might remember some calculations better but they wouldn't be able to use them in any meaningful way.

Nev said...

I’m not a fan either – and find it hard to understand why there are any at all who advocate this site with such praise. It is poor pedagogy. I think you make an astute observation though when you say that students can pause and rewind as often as they need to – and it is that feature that redeems this approach.
Like you I’ve expressed my concerns re the Khan Academy in blog form:

Brian said...

I agree that simply turning kids loose on the Khan Academy site and expecting them to learn math, science, etc. is indeed a mistake. I disagree that the best part of the videos is the ability to rewind and pause. I think the what makes this tool so valuable is that it frees up class time to allow the teacher to focus on the application of the concepts learned in the videos. If you do not have to spend time in class worrying about the mechanics of calculation, you can can use that gained time to work on authetic, meaningful problems.

Paul Bogush said...

Is it kind of like an owner of a company deciding to outsource their manufacturing so that they can spend more time figuring out how to use the product instead of learning how to make it?

Simon Lorimer said...

This video neatly reviews some issues with the Khan academy model and echoes some of the points you made.

doyle said...

Dear David,

That's a huge problem anyway--we drill our kids here in the States with algorithms to help them eke through the state testing.

Number sense matters, far more than algebra, for most people.

Dear Nev,

The astute observation was actually Khan's--he said as much in his CNN interview. Glad to see your post, too.

Dear Brian,

I'd argue you got the cart before the horse--of course operations matter, but attempting to drill through those without understanding leads to huge misunderstandings.

One of the biggest problems with all this is that videos can reinforce a students' misconceptions, as noted in the video linked by Simon.

Dear Paul,

Nice analogy. Fits well with the times.

I might take this on in another post. Thanks!

Dear Simon,

What a wonderful study! I had seen it earlier, but had forgotten where--amazing stuff.

The biggest battle we have in science is unlearning all the nonsense. The more information we have available, the bigger the issue this becomes.

Keeps me on my toes....

Kevin Cram said...

I agree with you also. Having students watch the videos does not teach them the content. But what if they make videos like the Khan videos? What Khan has done is advertise how easy it is to create and disseminate information. App developers saw the potential to get in on the Khan wave and now students can create their own Khan-like videos with apps like ScreenChomp and ShowMe. When students have to explain their thought process and reflect on their metacognition, lots of neurons are lighting up. I think thats a good thing

grasshopper said...

Also a really great conversation regarding Khan Academy from a math perspective.

~ gt