The Kahn Academy

Ff_khan_f A few years ago, I would have completely dismissed the use of video lectures in schools. And then there was Ian.

My son learns vast amounts of information effortlessly on the computer, but can't hold his focus in a regular classroom. My nine year old whose formal IQ, especially in the verbal arena, isn't impressive, is using the computer to create his own Lego Mindstorm robots. Without any help. In his free time, he watches BrainPop videos. 

I also wasn't that impressed with the use of technology in the classroom, because I witnessed the first round of amateurish programs. They've come a long way. 

That's why I'm very curious about the Khan Academy

And why I'm highly amused at Gary Stager's over-the-top reaction


15 thoughts on “The Kahn Academy

  1. Gary Stager says (in a very outraged tone): “…Bill Gates called constructivism – a scientific theory as valid as gravity or evolution – bullshit IN PUBLIC AND IN PRINT.”
    I didn’t know Bill Gates had turned on constructivism (I think a number of his old education projects were very constructivist), but it’s really interesting to see somebody claim that level of certainty for constructivism. Granted, in some sense we’re constructing knowledge all the time, but that’s equally true of what Ian and Jonah are doing on the computer, or what a student does in a lecture hall when taking notes. Also, it’s helpful if knowledge sometimes arrives in prefab slabs, rather than needing to be site-built every single time. It took thousands of years of human effort to get where we are today, and it’s not realistic to think that it’s efficient for a child to copy that speed of learning. There are short cuts. You can just tell kids stuff. They can read books. They don’t have to independently rediscover every major scientific breakthrough of the past 500 years. (For one thing, the school’s insurance policy is probably not going to allow you to run a particle accelerator.)
    This was a bit sad:
    “Apartheid began to unravel in South Africa when thousands of students walked out of school because they were being miseducated (taught Afrikans instead of English). Some children were killed but Apartheid ended less than twenty years later.”
    Wait, what happened to those kids who walked out of school? Stager says that everything was hunky dory 20 years later when apartheid ended, but what about those kids? Wouldn’t they have been better off getting some sort of education than no education at all? That’s not really a happy story, I think, at least not the way Stager tells it.

  2. I’m SUPER interested in Khan’s academy, I have to check it out and I think there’s TONS of value in it. We discovered Brain Pop (which, sadly, we didn’t use at all last year) when we did cyber-schooling for a year. Today’s kids are basically born in front of a screen and interacting with gadgets such as ipod touch & iPad (we just got one and Kelvin can’t be away from it) so…
    IMHO, cyber-schooling is pretty ideal academically speaking. The wealth of resources in terms of videos and interactive software/ websites is increasing and they really help kids learn a lot. Brain Pop was used a lot in their cyber-lessons and not only for science, but lots for social studies and the holidays, etc.
    gotta check out your other links…

  3. I’ve mentioned Kahn Academy in the comments before, ’cause I’m very interested in when it promotes learning and when it doesn’t.
    I myself am terrible at learning things from video lectures. In fact, I rarely watch movies because I find the narrative style in video to fit badly with my brain. I’m better with real people (plays are better than movies), partially because the people are real, and partially because the story telling is more verbal and less visual.
    I can see, though, why video would work better for someone who has the opposite strengths and weaknesses, the kids who are great at diagrams but don’t like words as much, for example.

  4. The problem I see, though, is that Kahn doesn’t have a feedback loop (mostly — there are now some nice online arithmetic/math skill builders at the site). And, how good is it at teaching something you don’t know? I think parents often use it to look at something they know, and then assume their kids will get the same content out of it. Or alternatively, they judge that it looks OK, but then encourage their kids to use it for deeper learning. (i.e. the parent gets a description of the problem but then the kid has to do the problem for real, solve it in more general ways).
    I usually cite to the birthday probability problem as an example: The probability that at least 2 people in a room of 30 share the same birthday.
    It’s a nice exercise. But, who, exactly, can use Kahn Academy to understand it. I can. But I’ve taken a lot of math, and done the problem before, several times (even if all of that was many many years ago now). Can you guys (my sample of smart political scientists & historians & so on) understand the math from the video?
    Can a kid? How much math would they have to have before they could?
    (and, as with all learning, I suspect the answer will also depend on which kid).

  5. PS: I’ll also add that we had to do the problem differently in the old days (when I first learned it), when we didn’t have access to extended accuracy calculators.
    being a calculation that would have been impossible to do in the old days without simplification.

  6. Just visited the site again. Kahn Academy is undoubtedly a good thing. Those who are worried that it might drive out other forms of education need to protect those forms, not rail against Kahn.
    There is a fabulous amount of information there in video format. The fact that I would prefer it in text book format doesn’t mean that I should complain about the videos.

  7. I think the risk Ravitch may be seeing with something like KA (haven’t read her respond yet) is that the neo-lib educational reformers will jump on it as an efficient form of education. But the fact is, no one form of instruction is “the” best, and face-to-face learning is still overall the best way to educate most people. Video lectures will be *great* and necessary for some people, but if we re-form education to be based on stuff like KA, we will do more children a disservice.
    Maybe we should experiment with Khan, like each take a video lecture and talk about what we learned. Maybe an expert in the field (among us) could then verify how well we learned it. Or are we a bad sample? Or we could try it with our kids.

  8. Amy P: I had to stop reading at that line. You’re not allowed to take the truth value of statements from other fields to your own, and he seems to be saying merely “as gravity comes from SCIENCE and constructivism comes from SCIENCE…” to which, no. He’s failed logic (that’s been a rule since before the 1600s) and I can’t trust a statement of his as true after that.
    Not sure Kahn Academy should replace schools, but in supplement what’s the problem?

  9. I’ve noticed a lot of support for Kahn is based on the availability of tons of resources; however, I’m not sure that additional resources without the knowledgeable bodies to cull and present the resources will be much help.
    I’m intrigued by Kahn but waiting on some evidence. Could be a fun resource for summer enrichment, research projects, etc.

  10. “I’ve noticed a lot of support for Kahn is based on the availability of tons of resources..”
    I’m always much less picky about free stuff.

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