We are Khan Academy, You Will Be Assimilated!

Apr 22, 2011 by

A lot of hullabaloo has been made recently about the Khan Academy. Teachers getting on board the “flipped” classroom movement are using Salman Khan’s videos as homework for their students, certain news outlets and education think tanks claim that Khan is “reinventing” education, and the Khan academy has garnered the support from one of the largest proponents of education reform in the world, Bill Gates. Audiences cheer when Salman Khan speaks, students and parents extol the benefit of having access to a 24/7 tutor, and the Khan Academy itself claims that anyone can now have a “world-class education”.

Needless to say, I have a few problems with this. Besides the borg-like precision of the educational videos hosted by Khan Academy, and the alacrity with which educators have been trumpeting Khan’s success in the classroom, there is a growing push back from educators willing to take a stand, revealing how Khan Academy short circuits critical thought, arguably something that is in short supply in both our classrooms and society today.

I’m certainly not the first to be questioning the value of Khan Academy. After reading Frank Noschese’s fantastic analysis of how the ear-drum deafening support of Khan Academy from the corporate world, thought leaders, and the media is a sad reflection of what people don’t understand about education in this country, I felt as though it might be beneficial to take a more balanced approach. To picture Khan Academy as the Borg Collective from the Star Trek universe is certainly a cheap shot (and a geeky one at that), but makes it easier to illustrate the shortcomings of hailing Khan Academy as a force here to dominate save education. Then again, as a participant of the “hive mind”, there are some benefits from being a part of the collective that aren’t immediately obvious.

Technological Prowess Robs Us of Our Individuality

No longer an independent thinker, this Borg struggles to understand the need for food

In much the same way that the Borg methodically assimilate entire planets, eliminating distinctness and augmenting their drones with inhuman cybernetic implants in order to function at peak efficiency as a part of the collective, the Khan Academy assimilates learners with a one size fits all methodology of instruction greatly leveraged by our ever growing advances in technology. Yes, the ability to broadcast video to most corners of the Earth today is an amazing feat, and a powerful way to bring learning resources to millions that would otherwise go without, allowing anyone to be a part of a “world class” learning environment. But when we applaud the use of that technology to deliver the most basic and low level thinking experiences to those individuals, we run the risk of losing what makes us unique; inquisitive, and individual thought. We become drones, focusing on “getting” to the next level of achievement without appreciating the process of scaffolding, trial and error, and authentic learning that comes from the application of thought, reasoning, and the testing of our own hypothesis and theorems.

Every single video created for Khan Academy is created by one individual, one mind, and provides what you would expect from someone who hasn’t been formally trained in educational practices; one understanding, one singular route to achievement. Khan’s method is not teaching, Khan’s method is showing you the answers, or rather, the one answer, and the one way to achieve it. You will not be required to think, you will not be asked to reflect, you will receive lecture, and you will be assimilated. The luring addiction of media, learning via long distance, and group-thought promises all the answers in the shortest amount of time. The power of YouTube has been now harnessed to replicate the “oldest”, and most dehumanizing form of education; sit and get, drill and kill, sage on the stage. The learning process is no longer important, just the ability to memorize what the teacher is imparting to you. Something all good robots are capable of doing.

Your Pre-existing Knowledge is Useless

In the fictional Star Trek universe, the Borg coldly chant “resistance is futile” in a monotonous tone as they tear apart innocent star ships, lay waste to countless worlds, all while shrugging off the the pathetic attempts of their victims to resist assimilation or destruction. They’re highly advanced technology makes they nearly impervious to any attack; they are so confident in their technological superiority that they willing allow “lesser” species to beam over and explore the Borg vessel unimpeded. Unless a species can prove themselves as a physical threat there’s no need to waste any more than the minimal effort it might require to assimilate a star ship full of future drones. In other words, if you’re not strong enough to stand up to the Borg in a fight, they’d just assume ignore your efforts to stop them from turning you and your loved ones into their cyborg brethren.

It is elements of this same arrogance that madden me to no end when reading, exploring, and watching videos on the Khan Academy website. Besides that fact that all of the video lectures are produced by one individual, Salman Khan, there seems to be no acknowledgement that a learner’s pre-existing knowledge might be of any use at all to them. Any teacher who was formally trained in the late 90s and beyond can tell you that activating a student’s prior knowledge, and attempting to scaffold new material and concepts on that knowledge is an imperative in modern educational thought. There are thousands of papers, articles, and studies showing that the ability to build on what the learner already knows has huge dividends. While we must give credit to Khan Academy for recognizing that students must follow a clear learning roadmap, building upon previously mastered subjects, the videos do nothing to question how sound that previous understanding is, nor can they be tailored to learners who have had unique real world experiences with the content about to be taught. Both the Borg and Khan are only interested in looking in one direction, constantly moving forward. Sure, you can always go back and rewatch the Khan videos over and over again until you’ve memorized the content well enough to pass the test, but what have you done to connect what you’ve watched to what you know about how the real world works.

The Borg did not understand this, and the Enterprise’s ingenious crew was able to capitalize on it. They were able to “reach” one of the members of the Borg collective after he had become separated from the hive-mind, and awaken within him a sense of individuality. By capitalizing on his own unique experiences while with the humans, this individual Borg began to exhibit signs of individual understanding, awareness, and ultimately the enlightenment of being able to approach the world based on his own intuition and experiences, rather than rely on the subroutines and the Borg collective programming. This individual was reintroduced to the collective, thus causing a chain reaction of “individuality” to spread based on his individualy unique experience. While the Khan Academy does not actively ignore a learner’s pre-existing knowledge, it cannot hope to access it via videos, as they are a one way medium.

If you don't have the personal experience to understand how to decode this road map, you're not going to last long

Sitting passively, consuming video, there is no way for the students’ pre-existing knowledge to be accessed, thus tapping into that individual experience. Sure, there may be some common experiences that Khan can tap into (e.g. everyone can remember working on number sense by practicing making change in grade school), but the coincidence of millions of learners having the same experience as Khan is highly unlikely, which means there is no way to systemically scaffold new learning upon what Khan Academy learners already know. You quickly come to the realization that Khan Academy is not for every learner, but rather the self-motivated learner; someone aware enough of their own educational needs that they can connect what the videos offer to what they already understand about a topic, possibly filling in gaps along the way.

Learners that haven’t been properly assessed for prior understanding may quickly find themselves memorizing new facts, theories, and mathematical processes with out the greater understanding of how it applies to what they should have known previously. The connections they make to their own personal experiences are limited, and often weak, allowing their new understanding to easily be undermined and forgotten, and thus the collective gains fall apart when applied to real world situations. A side effect is that you’re left with learners looking for the next educational “road sign” pointing them in the direction they need to go, rather than relying on their own self intuition and previous experience to guide them. It’s more difficult for them to decode, analyze, and process unknown problems or information.

Strength in Numbers

In bringing to a close this critique (and nerdy comparison), it’s important to note that it would be not just poor practice, but a poor analysis for any educator to simply choose one side of an issue or tool and pass judgement on it based solely on that one-sided argument. Yes, the Borg are a single-minded force erasing the individuality of any beings they come into contact with, conscripting them to become more drones in the greater collective, but there’s some value to their hostile existence. All of the members of the collective work together to benefit the larger community. They have been able to achieve a technological prowess unmatched in the Star Trek universe, giving them a seemingly limitless ability to adapt and learn.

Khan Academy provides an equally massive community of learners with a common shared experience, an important function of education that is almost always often overlooked by many outside of the educational world. Yes, a school’s primary duty is to educate students, but just as important is the ability to assimilate and acculturate each new generation of youth, to give them a firm understanding of how our society functions, and pass on important traditions and mores of the larger community. Perhaps acculturate is too harsh of a word, but a large part of a formal education is to impart upon students that no matter what they learn, and no matter how they express themselves, there are certain norms that society expects them to adhere to, and when we have communal or shared experiences, it helps provide everyone with similar schema and prior knowledge as they attempt to tackle problems that will affect the larger community. If you have a common goal of building a new bridge over a canyon to help connect community A with community B, you want the team of engineers working on the project to have a common understanding of physics, geology, and mathematics. If only one member of the group has the necessary skills to complete the project, it will be much more difficult to achieve anything close to the Borg-like efficiency of collaboration and team work.

In Closing

What the Khan Academy lacks in providing a truly authentic educational experience based on strong educational foundations of accessing prior knowledge, taking into account a learner’s individual needs, and providing authentic opportunities to build knowledge rather than memorize facts, it attempts to make up with in providing a common foundational base and engaging media. My take away from this is that Khan Academy will serve best those learners who are self-motivated, are able to provide an intrinsic passion for reaching the next achievement rung, and have the ability to “sit and get” just the material they need, and then get on to larger problems. Those learners who may struggle with constructing new knowledge may find the resources provided by Khan Academy too frustrating, or simply come to rely on it purely for the rote memorization of single use application.

Not everyone aboard the star ship Enterprise was able to resist being assimilated by the Borg, and not all learners achieve a critical understanding of their studies. However, if you simply abandon all critical thought in favor of the one-size-fits all hive mentality of Khan Academy it will be much more difficult for future generations to address the problems they will face.

P.S. If you were impressed that I was able to get through this entire analogy between the Khan Academy and Star Trek without actually mentioning one of the series’ titular enemies (Khan Noonien Singh), then that makes two of us!

P.P.S. If you would like to challenge my analogy, or provide an even geekier one, PLEASE DO! This particular Borg related analogy was a challenge from a reader, and thus I’ve probably compromised all sorts of effective and rational educational and logical thought. But it sure was fun to write!

image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/upyernoz/4537416/

image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mwichary/2908231527/

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42 Comments

  1. John Beals

    After re-watching Salman Khan’s TED speech, I think he’s hip to some of the points you are making. Whether the teachers jettisoning their lectures in favor of Khan Academy, and others who are championing it as a new horizon in education are hip to it…that remains to be seen.

    Khan seems to be aware that the Khan Academy is not a replacement for traditional teaching methods, but merely a method of shifting resources toward more consultation and one-on-one attention (“you handle the talking Salman, I’ll fill in the gaps”). Where I think he is glossing over it’s shortcomings is exactly where you’ve pointed out here.

    In one sense, the Borg analogy describes both the Khan Academy AND traditional lecture formats, but differ in scope. Where one teacher lecturing to anywhere from 10 to 200 students in a classroom/lecture hall is essentially a flattening of the educational method for those 10-200 students (you can’t tailor your lecture for each individual), Khan Academy risks flattening it for millions.

    What this means is that instead of solving the problem of “sage-on the stage”, as Khan eludes to in his TED talk, he has in one sense merely exacerbated it. He has become THE sage on ONE stage.

    Conceptually, what Khan has done with his videos is not so different from an instructor recording their lectures and posting them in an open forum, which some have been doing for a few years now. This could be a case where Khan turns out to be one of many to do what he does, and in that case time will tell.

    It should be easy to see where having one man provide exact same lecture material for millions of learners could come up short. After watching some of his videos I can tell that they’re really hit-or-miss for me. Some of them are easy to get into and follow along with. Some of them drag. Sometimes people get turned off by simple things like not liking the voice of the person talking. It happens.

    I like the idea that the model that Khan Academy uses allows for better in-class teacher-student interaction, but I think more people than just Khan need to be producing material to get more styles of teaching out there to appeal to different learners.

    The most interesting portion of the Khan Academy site, to me, is actually the backend reporting that it does, and I’m curious to know how much that gets used as opposed to just assigning the videos.

    Lastly, what I fear most is that people will look at Khan Academy and see a justification for an education-as-product approach, where you build a simplified/flattened/rudimentary educational product that appeals to all students, but only by virtue of its reductive and simplified format, and pass it off as a valid replacement for deep learning and, as you have pointed out, creative critical thinking.

    It’s telling that most of the Khan Academy subject matter focus on the “hard sciences” of math, biology, etc. Those seem like subjects that can most easily be coerced into this mode of delivery without losing TOO much in the process (good math and science teachers will rightly cringe at my assumption that those subjects often require less critical thinking and creativity, I am sure), but the subjects where a healthy back-and-forth dialogue are almost integral to the learning process, like social studies, history, art, etc, will be harder to fit into the Khan Academy model. Khans idea for a physical charter school seems to agree with that assumption, since he would have students drinking from his video-trough for a short period of the day and then doing more creative endeavors like art and music the rest of the time.

    • I watched Khan’s TED video several times before publishing this post to make sure that what I was critiquing was accurate, and you’re dead on John, Salman Khan does seem to be on to things, evident in his speech. I especially enjoyed him mentioning the flipped classroom model, and how screencasts can be used as the front loading, and then free up time to actually have conversations with students.

      The real problem I kept having though was what you nailed in comparing what Khan is doing to traditional direct instruction methods. You present the same material, in the same way, regardless of who you’re instructing. Sound educational practices will tell you that just won’t work when you’re dealing with a broad spectrum of learners. Perhaps those that are self-motivated and higher achievers, but the pilot that’s happening right now in LA Schools makes me cringe. You’re just moving the “less than good practice” from the teacher to the piece of technology, which in a way is even worse; If it fails to help students achieve it’s likely in the educational climate for people to say, “well, it just wasn’t the RIGHT online video resource”, perhaps we need to go someplace else. It’s putting a lot of faith in the material, and not the instruction.

      The sad reality is that education (at least public education) in many schools has already boiled been down to a delivery of product. We have textbooks, workbooks, science kits, online interactives, scripted reading programs, adaptive learning platforms, the list goes on. In many respects teachers spend a large portion of their day “delivering” content in various interactive forms. If the majority of teachers were creating this content themselves (providing their own screencasts is a great example), then I could go along with that as the teachers know what their own students need. Sadly, that is not the case.

      • Dee

        Ben,

        I’m a Parent, former private school teacher, and a user of Khan Academy. Your reference to using a one-way approach is exactly the problem with public school. The really exceptional Teachers that are able to adapt to 30 different students’ learning styles are few and far between. Often, my children have been subjected to Teachers just trying to get through the material in the one way they can. The Khan videos utilize oral and visual learning methods. My younger child is a more oral learner and my older one is really visual. Khan allows my public schooler to get better and deeper instruction. Elementary School Teachers often don’t know if the students understand daily work. Homework is rarely collected, and grades often are based on a single day snapshot,once a trimester for a test. My younger child, now a homeschooler, is very gifted and public school doesn’t move at her pace. Khan is one of our tools to learn math at her own pace. It is not our only source of math instruction. I do most of it. You may not understand the whole practise component of Khan. The videos are only a portion of the site. Both of my children have accounts on the practise side of the site where they must show mastery in each and every skill area. My public school child gets extra work on school concepts that were not clearly taught, and she also gets to move ahead to more advanced ideas, ones not yet covered. The practise area allows students to move at their own pace. The TED talk is a small snapshot of Khan. The videos are another portion. Go to the practise area and start earning badges. Then, go sit in several elementary school math classes and see if the one style approach isn’t in full force. Then, factor in that each math textbook has lots of gaps. Math depends on the teacher to both understand those gaps and figure ways of filling them in, you have lots and lots of kids missing out on learning math concepts. Many teachers simply teach the next page of the math text and don’t go beyond that.

        I think that Khan doesn’t need to be in classrooms at all, if the best and brightest teachers are employed and allowed to use any tool at their disposal. Our public school limits the amount of photocopies each teacher can make, so extra worksheets are few and far between. Khan’s practise area allows extra math work without having to get approval for extra photocopies. It also allows the students to hear and see another approach to the same concept. Given the constrainsts in today’s educational system Khan is a very welcomed addition for Parents, teachers and students. But, make no mistake, students don’t learn only by sitting alone in front of a computer, Parents or Teachers need to be next to them.

        Dee

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply Dee, I appreciate being able to converse with other parents and educators (I happen to be both myself).

        First, let’s take away the “public” from your description of school, because I think it’s very safe to say that all schools, public, private, charter, or home-based have both brilliant and not so brilliant teachers. The public school doesn’t have a lock on incapable teachers. As to public school’s inabilities to provide enough resources to students, especially to help move them along at their own pace usually is a result of lack of funding, but that’s a whole different argument.

        Especially when Khan can make any inequities in school funding (public or private) have less of an effect on the quality of education taking place. I do understand the inner workings of Khan, and I’ve experienced many systems similar to the self-paced practice Khan has implemented. I have serious misgivings about truly being able to show mastery of a subject because you’ve taken a standardized bubble test, and as an educator yourself I’m sure you would agree that not everyone can prove they have truly internalized a concept based on the results of a multiple choice test. If that were true I would be able to read and write fluid Latin based on the final exams in my advanced Latin courses in college.

        I agree with you that Khan is just one piece, and needs to be used in a way that helps learners grow at a pace which suits them, under the guidance of an educator or parent. And I certainly wouldn’t make the mistake that students will learn simply by sitting in front of a computer, but Khan makes it very easy to take pot shots at it (which I hope mine doesn’t appear to be) when it touts itself as a “world class education to anyone”, implying that Khan Academy itself is good enough. Salman Khan I think would say otherwise and agree with you and me, as evidenced in the remarks he makes in the video, but the website paints a slightly different promotional picture.

        What’s truly ironic though is that you began by saying that the one-way approach is a big problem in schools, and yet that’s all Khan has to offer in the videos, a one-size-fits all approach, all provided by the same person, in the same way. Utilizing oral and visual methods is something almost all teachers use, even the least effective ones, so I won’t give Khan any points for that. Harnessing the engagement of the long-distance, instant access videos, that I’ll give it points for…now Khan Academy really needs to step up and start letting experts in various fields produce the videos so Khan Academy can move away from the one-way model of direct instruction.

  2. Peter Kuperman

    Ben,

    I think you make a lot of valuable points about the dangers of using Khan Academy. It is important to retain the individuality of the learner, create an environment where they are able to engage in critical thought, and to give room for reflecting and thinking for yourself.

    But, without seeing how Khan is being applied in the real world by the core team, and without understanding how it solves some major structural issues with the status quo, I think you may be missing some of the biggest benefits of Khan Academy, which are definitely more Federation (good) than Borg (bad).

    Consider two real world examples:

    A) A 3 week Summer Opportunity Camp for disadvantaged primary school students being run this summer (2011) to include Khan for its math component. Math is being given 90 minutes a week. Khan is being given one third of the time, or 30 minutes a day. The other 60 minutes per day are going to be used for project based learning, critical thinking and all the good stuff that you can’t do with Khan.

    But on day 1, especially in this environment, the teachers running the Camp will not know where all the students are. So by front loading the use of Khan, maybe the majority of the 1st week, the teachers will be able to use the reporting tools to see which students are still learning 1st grade math, and which ones are at higher levels, e.g. 4th or 6th grade math.

    Then, during the last two weeks, the teachers will be able to design the project based learning, critical thinking exercises and all the good stuff and customize it to the level of the student.

    In this case, Khan is not being used Borg-like, but rather as a tool to enhance critical thought, using scaffolding and allowing students to do better thinking, reflecting and learning.

    B)I can’t do justice to the 2nd example, which is the 5 classroom pilot that has been going on at Los Altos School District since November 2010. But here is the blog:

    http://lasdandkhanacademy.edublogs.org/

    In summary, the same thing is happening as in the first example: Khan is being used to allow teachers to spend more time on critical thinking oriented “math investigations” (or project based learning) because using Khan has allowed the students in the class to progress through all the blocking and tackling oriented material much more quickly.

    And, because they have a whole school year, there is an iterative process going on between the math investigations and the use of Khan. So students learn the blocking & tackling, then apply it to real world problems (hence building that all important scaffolding), then go back for more blocking and tackling, etc.

    And a third link, which is brand new (started April 20), but addresses Khan in a low socio-economic environment:

    http://blog.harshpatel.net/

    In summary, on the debate between kill and drill and constructivist education:

    Sal Khan challenges people to try and create an environment that allows for more learning done in a kill and drill type learning mode vs. what it possible with Khan

    AND AT THE SAME TIME:

    Sal Khan challenges people to try and create an environment that allows for more learning done in a constructivist, project based learning mode vs. what it possible with Khan.


    starting at 16:50 for 2 minutes

    Why? Because Khan allows the blocking & tackling to be handled so much more efficiently that it gives teachers a lot more classroom time to be able to work on things that involve critical thinking and to scaffold new material, etc.

    Peter

    • “But on day 1, especially in this environment, the teachers running the Camp will not know where all the students are. So by front loading the use of Khan, maybe the majority of the 1st week, the teachers will be able to use the reporting tools to see which students are still learning 1st grade math, and which ones are at higher levels, e.g. 4th or 6th grade math.”

      Maybe. The problem is that many of the exercises can be figured out with tricks and steps, w/o any real understanding. Kids at the LASD pilot are currently doing this to earn more points and badges. When 5th graders are able to complete exercises on trig functions, limits, and derivatives, you know something’s not right.

      I keep hearing about teachers now have more time for projects, explorations, etc. But no one is saying exactly what these kids are doing now that they couldn’t do before Khan Academy. Do you have any concrete examples or evidence? (Until then, I’m assuming its the same old stuff they did in previous years.)

      You can see the projects my students are doing in my post Ben linked to above. Where are Khan’s projects?

      • “Maybe. The problem is that many of the exercises can be figured out with tricks and steps, w/o any real understanding. Kids at the LASD pilot are currently doing this to earn more points and badges. When 5th graders are able to complete exercises on trig functions, limits, and derivatives, you know something’s not right.”

        You’ve made this point many times, but your insinuation that this is some kind of permanent problem with these exercises is silly. We’ve already eliminated most of the “tricks” which would allow students to earn proficiency in exercises that were, from our perspective, broken. I seriously doubt that you are suggesting that there is harm in students experimenting with math that’s beyond their current ability, only that we need to be sure that proficiency can’t be earned inappropriately.

        Having visited the classrooms where KA is being used and spent hours interviewing students, I can also tell you that many students are not simply chasing points and badges. There are many trying this stuff because it “seems cool” and it’s “not like anything they’ve done before”. Stuff that they would be extremely unlikely to see in a classroom that was using a typical set of grade-level resources. In addition, while you can pretty safely (although I’ve already seen a few students that make me question this) argue that these students are unlikely to be able to do advanced calculus, it’s not hard to argue that many students are ready for material more advanced than they will have the chance to learn in many classrooms.

        And to your final question, here’s an example of what I’ve seen that looks different from many other classrooms that I’ve visited: A teacher spending time intervening with a few students who were struggling while a group of students worked on a math game that they were designing for their classmates and a few other students peer-tutored their classmates. This was all happening in one classroom on one day.

        You’re totally entitled to your skepticism. The way we look at it, we’re still in the very early stages of creating this resource, and that makes it a bit frustrating to see people writing us off or making sweeping judgements about what the KA can/will do. But, hey, how could we get better if people didn’t tell us what they think we’re doing wrong, right?

      • It’s difficult to say students taking multiple choice tests on topics beyond their scope are experimenting with the concepts just as I couldn’t tinker with becoming a nuclear physicist by taking true/false questions about string theory, and I think that’s the point Frank is trying to make.

        Whenever you add a game mechanic or element to a system, you’re going to have individuals, in this case learners, try to “game the system”. True, you’d have these learners regardless, but by introducing the didactic standardized testing schema, you’re just replicating an very old model of assessment, just making it fancier. Exacerbating that with extrinsic rewards, and now you’ve just managed to turn little gold stars on a sticker chart into digital brownie points. Don’t get me wrong, extrinsic motivators have their place in education, as they are a very strong mechanic for some learners, but there has to be a point at which the extrinsic motivators go extinct, and are replaced with more intrinsic motivation from the learner. I believe it’s difficult for a lot of educators to see something like that coming from Khan.

        It’s a VERY positive think what you’re doing; reaching out to those in the educational world that have critiques of your system. Too often, commercial providers of educational software simply add new features and fancy gadgets to updates, rather than actually take the time to listen to their clients and provide upgrades that will help aid critical thought. And it sounds like you understand that as someone entering the education world untrained in educational theory, possessing very little experience in a traditional classroom setting, and serving as the ONLY perspective for the educational content being provided, it’s both very threatening to teachers, and appears highly disingenuous. KUDOS if you can continue to work to weed out the areas in which Khan is digitally replicating poor analog teaching theories.

      • Oman

        Hi Ben,

        I’ve got children using Khan and while your critique is interesting, I think you are missing some key points in pursuit of your skepticism of Khan Academy as an institution:

        – I went to Khan to supplement my children’s math education because their school (in one of the top school districts in the country) is not getting it done for them

        – I went to Khan before the TED talk – not reacting to hype, finding a well spoken Sol walking through math concepts in a way that engages my children more effectively than their teachers

        – my children want MORE math videos and look forward to doing the exercises – unfortunately, I can’t recall one instance of my children being inspired by their math lesson in school

        – BTW, most of the exercises my children are doing on Khan are NOT multiple choice – please do your homework when making an argument central to your critique

        – in contrast, the annual standardized testing that assesses my childrens’ progress as well as the quarterly tests ARE multiple choice

        – children only learn from one teacher at time. If the teacher is bad, you’re stuck unless you reach out for other sources. If the teacher is good, you’re still stuck because next year it’ll be someone else. Multiple teachers and teaching styles only guarantee that your child will not be served most of the time.

        – you can’t talk about education in abstract while criticizing people for taking action in response to the reality of their education experience – I would love the education conversation to be a theoretical discussion about variances in philosophy and approach but I don’t live in that world. I have two children, one with a teacher that skips math at least once a week because of disruptive children (public schools are not the same as private and charter schools – public schools cannot turn away children), while the second teacher uses a math curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Khan fills the gaps with videos and exercises that her teacher skips over.

        – Sol Khan is better educated than 99% of the elementary and high school teachers in this country(including myself – econometrician extraordinaire and lawyer, btw). I’ve got no problem with an MIT engineer/Harvard MBA/hedge fund guy teaching math – why do you?

        Khan Academy is a grass roots phenomenon that responds to a gap that we experience in reality and that is reflected in how American education has declined in ranking versus the world. A decline that has taken place in the pursuit of the individual experiences you defend while entire nations teaching a consistent, albeit ‘rote’ curriculum are producing adults that are better prepared to compete in the 21st century, technology heavy, math dependent world.

        And if you have better resources, please post links. At the end of the day, I don’t care about Khan Academy as an institution. Sol Khan is producing the best math education product for my children right now. If you can recommend a better product (in reality, not theory), I’m open to it.

      • paul jordan

        Educators seem to be reluctant to think critically about the educational theories. Why are social interaction, tangibility, indeterminate solutions and non hierarchical learning environments so important? What if it doesn’t “take a village to take an integral”? Educators have rightly identified the the revanchist quality of the Khan experiment;Apparntly, so have parents.

      • “Educators seem to be reluctant to think critically about the educational theories.”

        I would take this a step further and posit that a great deal of individuals, not just educators, fail to take the time to think about something critically. Although, as you can see from the evolution of this post, often attempts to analyze and critique something new and different can result in knee jerk reactions from those eager to defend a view point, myself included.

        And I’m not so sure that Khan himself is looking to recover lost ground, although many parents frustrated with their local schools have, and they rightfully should be!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply Peter, I’ll try to be equally as reflective.

      A) I love the idea of front loading, and trying to give the students an idea of what they need to understand before moving into the PBL setting. The problem I have with that is you’ve got it in the wrong order. The PBL should come first, with the project. As the students begin to dissect the various problems and concepts they must master as a part of their learning, they can begin to identify gaps in their understanding that they’ll need to fill in order to help with their project. That’s where Khan would come in for me; as a way for the students to break off from the group, get some video time to explore possible topics that might help or guide them, then come back as a group to see if what they watched, applied to their thinking, can help get to the next step in the project.

      Khan would not be the tool enhancing critical thinking; that is and always will be the students’ own personal experimental, experiential, and reflection time. Say what you will, but watching a video, no matter how well conceived, will replace first-hand experience.

      B) I love the idea of the flipped classroom model, and I think that’s one area where Khan is great! For teachers to have a massive resource like that, and the extra engagement of being able to say “you’re homework is to watch a YouTube video”, is a pretty nice supplement to your teaching. You just have to make sure that the videos are being used as supplements, not the main attraction, and unfortunately my fear is that a lot of those people applauding could very easily abuse what Khan has and use it for the instructional foundation.

      I also feel your last point has merit as well, but we really do have to be careful with the word efficient when it comes to education. We are not producing a product, and in helping shape new knowledge and understandings of students (whether in the minds of 30 or 30,000) and efficiency is not the target goal, although it can be admired.

      If Khan Academy could get away from one-voice, one singular perspective providing all the content, and build a network of students, experts, and teachers providing this content for one another (something akin to iTunes U), then you’d REALLY have something incredible. The fact that all content comes from Sal’s mind is actually Khan Academies biggest Achilles’ heal.

  3. I loved your analogy! Not enough Borg related edu posts.

  4. I think you make some great criticisms, but I think you take it too far. It is true that KA is just one voice, one method, but with more teachers making videos we could have many voices, and many methods. Students could randomly choose a video on addition. Those that were successful might tell their friends which video they watched. Those that were unsuccessful might watch a new video, or ask their friends if they knew a good teacher. The stronger candidates would rise. Video making teachers could study successful videos and figure out what got through to students.

    You are too quick to jump on KA and label it as futile. Imagine Sal Khan controlling all our children, as school bells ring across the US and Khan’s voice rings out like the church bells over town, “So you just add 1 and 1, and you have 2. See? Its easy! FOLLOW ME!” Education is ruined, teachers are fired, schools shut down and are replaced by computer labs where children go to become mathematical robots. The post-apocalyptic nightmare for our current system, leveling the many cherished high schools that so many people love to gather an opine about today over a cool drink. “Ahhh, remember the sweet days of high school math class? Remember reading the Scarlett Letter. How I wish I could go back.” Come on.

    KA is successful in one area so far: math. With math they have a wide range of videos and a great practice tool. For self-motivated students its a no-brainer, and a great way to keep them motivated in a class where slower students might pause instruction and put the quick students to sleep. For medium or low level students it SEEMS like a great tool. I, as a teacher, could definitely handle more students if I had them working on KA. It gives the students something more immediate than a lecture or even a group project to engage with when they can’t have immediate or even secondary attention from the teacher.

    I think you make some good points, but you stretch them to a point of preposterousness. If KA can save money and make skill learning more efficient, I don’t see why we are not rushing to implement it. This would give us more time for higher level, free thinking, unsupervised activities with our superior skilled students.

    Have you tried Khan Academy? If not, check it out. We need more teachers making videos. We need more voices teaching. There IS strength numbers.

    • First and foremost, thanks for the excellent comment, John, and if Batman really is your last name, that is totally awesome!

      My intention wasn’t to criticize Khan Academy, but rather critique it. As Jason alluded to in the closing of his comments, and what he writes with great articulation on his blog (I’ve been reading through it), is that he values critiques that will ultimately help make Khan Academy better, and I hope that he stands by that word. Khan Academy has a lot of value, and unfortunately, I only wrote about one particular advantage of Khan in this post.

      Now, did I take my analogy to preposterous conclusions? Sure, but no more preposterous than Bill Gates telling Khan that he had witnessed “the future” of education. The future of education is, and always will be, the successful blending of resources, techniques, strategies, and ideas to help produce more well rounded individuals.

      Could we make the resource better by adding more teacher voices? Yes! Is Khan doing that? I watched a lot of the videos on the site and from what I see the answer is no. My analogy to the Borg Collective holds water in that no matter how many great resources you have, and no matter how well they are integrated within an effective classroom, it’s still one voice, once point of view. In essence, everyone working from the same content; one of the biggest strengths and weaknesses of Khan. If they do start hosting videos and “lessons” from other educators, experts, and voices, I think it would go a lot further in making Khan more approachable and accessible by a wider range of learners.

      As for Khan saving money and making skill learning more efficient, you always have to stop and ask if those are the two goals you’re looking for. Sure, schools everywhere would love to save money, especially in the U.S. right now, but is efficiency always the best goal in an educational setting. As the Common Core standards continue their march towards full U.S. adoption, you can see that many states are wanting a strong focus on critical thinking skills, reflective practitioning, and most importantly, integrated curriculum. Khan doesn’t seem well suited to those three goals in it’s current form, and makes some errors in replicating old systems of education, with a new fancy technology twist.

      Many of the educators pushing back, or at least taking the time to think critically about the value of Khan, see it as a valuable tool, but are nervous when they see an auditorium full of people clapping wildly when Khan shows off how students can practice review questions and get instant feedback online. Educators have been doing that for years, and I far one am concerned that perhaps people are putting the wrong emphasis on Khan in their search for the educational “cure all”.

  5. Joe Donahue

    I think it would be great if we, as teachers, could emphasis critical thinking and higher level thinking more in our classrooms. However, there is great pressure to have students perform well on state testing and to cover a huge amount of standards within the school year. I’m particularly thinking math here as that is what I teach.

    As much as I’d like to have my students work on projects and give them in-depth problems to solve, the truth is I’m evaluated, the student is evaluated and the school is evaluated on how well they do on state multiple choice tests. In math, these tests do not reflect how a person would use math in the real world. Don’t get me wrong I’m fully for having teachers accountable for their teaching, I just don’t believe that testing does this very well.

    Regarding KA, by using it in my classroom, I’m able to help those students, one-on-one, that are struggling or have gaps in their math skills while the rest of the class works with KA. I’ve also found that students discuss and collaborate during KA time.

    I’ve never had a math class where all the students are at or about at the same skill level. So to just teach “the lesson of the day” is quite futile. KA allows me to customize lessons for each student to their own ability and pacing. I think it’s a great improvement over how most traditional math classes are now taught.

    • paul jordan

      its interesting to me that “cognative g”–or iq– a meta learning capacity, is derided in academe, but meta level problem solving skills are extolled.

      • I wonder if it’s not that cognitive-g is derided at the college and university level, but rather a high level of it is expected, and thus professors are looking for the students that excel beyond the statistical average. Either way, it’s interesting how some teachers maintain the balance between the raw cognitive ability and the meta skills – teachers that can focus on both with their students can help guide some incredible learning.

      • paul ordan

        Interesting. Its the Lake Wobegone fallacy vs. the freeloader effect. I wonder though if the cart was correctly aligned to the horse before, not after, educators got into the theory business in the 60’s. That is, couldn’t meta skills derive in part, or at least be sustained through, a mastery of simple component concepts. Consider the case of music instruction, scales, etc. But no one is advocating rote learning. Imagine two approaches to teaching the area of a circle. One is a video illustrating the ideas of archimedian exhaustion and the integration of anulei–the other is a team asked to work collectively to calculate the area. Approach two directly tasks the “meta” problem solving skills of students, but its unlikely many will arrive–sua sponte–at the more elegant solutions.

      • For better or for worse, it was inevitable that educators got into the theory business; as facilitators that help nurture or support inborn ability (whichever side of that argument you fall on), educators needed a better understanding of human psychology in order to better understand why a learner might be more inclined to tackle a problem using a certain methodology.

        While I may not write as eloquently as you do on the subject, I agree that certain tasks do require a much more focused and methodical approach. However, it is interesting, having been in the classroom for almost a decade now, I’ve observed students that would rather “work through the problem” a couple of times first rather than go through the steps of how to “decode” the puzzle. I’m not going to speculate as to why as my experience is purely anecdotal.

      • paul jordan

        Experience–even limited experience–is a good guide, though. I liked this thread–thanks!

  6. Kurt Englehart

    . “My take away from this is that Khan Academy will serve best those learners who are self-motivated, are able to provide an intrinsic passion for reaching the next achievement rung, and have the ability to “sit and get” just the material they need, and then get on to larger problems. Those learners who may struggle with constructing new knowledge may find the resources provided by Khan Academy too frustrating, or simply come to rely on it purely for the rote memorization of single use application.”

    No offense, but you kind of acted like this is the only thing kids would be other there using, like they don’t go to school and this isn’t just a supplemental tool that all the sudden morphed in a….BIG supplemental tool. Your take away is kind of strange, like this guy who gives out free “here is a way to do that” videos should turn these tutorials in to full on courses.As somebody who is using this in conjunction with his algebra, I’m feel safe in saying I’m doing the best in the class, and it provides me with just another way to remember what to do in a given problem. I know you came across as trying to not like you dislike come thru. If you follow the Math section from start<yeah i know 1+1 right? all the way to the end, you will find what areas you are strong in, and what areas you need more work. Don't think he meant these videos to be used by people as a quick memory tool for test, to later be forgotten, if people use it like that, then they do so not in the spirit of education, more the likely as a by product of the culture of proficiency testing they have grown accustomed to.Haters gonna hate.

    • Kurt Englehart

      Futhermore, I don’t think anyone is holding a gun (by and large) to American parents heads and saying “Your kid has to use this” Furthermore, Wouldn’t be a crazy, wonderful world if PARENTS took the place of KHANa and taught their kids something?!?!? MAYbe, took a proactive rule in the person the hold so dear in their respective lives? Sal is a saint, and haters gonna hate.

      • paul jordan

        Unfortunately, society is “holding a gun to parents head” and saying you must use public schools. The true “borg” is leftist imformed educational new think.

  7. @Oman

    I agree with you, Khan is best used as a supplement, and schools will never ever get it done by themselves, even the best performing ones. It takes an entire community; school, home, parents, family, friends, and much more to produce well educated individuals prepared for the world.

    I have a problem not with Salman Khan’s pedigreed background, I have a problem with his lack of an educational background, and tossing out misconceptions of the material. This however is not unique to Khan as EVERYONE makes mistakes, both in the educational world and the business world. It’s just when you have millions of views a month on your videos, it makes those mistakes highly amplified.

    You’re right in that American education has taken a decline in terms of how we rank with the rest of the world. Which means we have to be ever more careful about what we’re using to educate our students. My 5 year old LOVES McDonald’s, and she would eat there everyday if she could. Just because the food is good doesn’t mean it’s the best choice, and certainly just because Khan is engaging doesn’t mean that it’s the best educational choice. We need to be critical in order to make sure that the supplements our students receive will be educationally nutritious, and not just replicate the mistakes of past educational initiatives. I’m glad that you’re a critical parent, and are looking for ways for your children to use tools effectively to help themselves; what’s unfortunate is that there are millions of parents out there that don’t do this.

    Where I think we’d also agree is that on the job our students are going to be filling out standardized tests, and multiple choice bubbles as a part of their everyday job performance evaluation. They will be expected to build bridges, skyscrapers, meet their quarterly sales quotas, hit training targets, etc. That’s more valuable than any bubble sheet, and in that regard the entire system of standardized testing is broken. I hate the fact that we prepare students for a life of authentic performance by asking them to fill in bubbles, which leads to resources and learning activities being focused on taking practice standardized tests. I guess some would say you can’t blame Khan for just simply doing what everyone else is, but when something as powerful a movement as Khan comes along, there’s a great opportunity to change the system, and I think they missed that opportunity. Hopefully critiques like mine will help them reflect on building a better supplement and way to assess authentic knowledge construction and critical thought.

    • Oman88

      With all due respect Ben, I can’t give you a pass on your reply. I appreciate the tone, but it lacks any substance and continues vague attacks on Sal Khan.

      From the best I can tell, your two primary critiques are:

      – Sal’s not a teacher (gasp!) – college professrs do not have degrees in education – should we stop them from teaching? All joking aside, I think you have to consider that many people are underwhelmed by credentialed educators and do not see in action that expertise that you claim is so critical to putting together quality educational materials and instruction.

      – Khan Academy is VERY successful – because it works for many, many people. The success is entirely grass roots – I’ve told everyone who will listen to me to supplement their children’s math education with KA at home. Indirectly, you are blaiming me and others like me.

      Honestly Ben, your complaints come across as sour grapes.

      I’ll restate my request which you didn’t respond to – if there is a better math educational program that is available, plesae recommend it.

      You noted that because American education is in decline, we need to be careful about what we do next. I think you are missing the wave entirely here. The wold is changing at an accelerated pace and educators such as yourself are trying to slow down the change. Unfortunately, the world will not slow down for you. To contribute, you will need to speed up.

      I cannot afford to wait for teachers and school districts to wake up to the 21st century and set higher standards for themselves and give up their precious summer vacations. FYI, there is not a SINGLE country ranked higher than the US in educational achievement who takes summers off but politics keeps that item off the table.

      I cannot afford to be a consumer who limits their educational consumption to what teachers deem appropriate to feed to my children. There are too many options. My failure to do that would demonstrate to my children that I lack the critical thinking that they need in their lives.

      Apologies if my reply makes you feel uncomfortable. I think you fail to see that the world has already tipped already.

      If you go to technology corporate campuses and walk around, you will find many foreign born, foreign educated employees as well as foreign born, US college educated employees. The majority of folks on any team are not US born/US educated.

      Corporations have already given up on the American educated. Some of that is for all the wrong reasons, but much as it pains me to say it, it is also because American kids are often not the best choice.

      We can have policy debates ad nauseaum about why this is wrong. For me, I need to help my children find a win in a world that is moving so much faster than much of America, including you Ben, is willing to admit.

      Khan Academy is one tool that helps us keep up. Rather than critiquing it, tell me about 5 others that can help as well.

      Or go build one.

      • You’re not making me uncomfortable at all, if anything you’re proving all the points in my original critique. We’re having a critical discussion about how we can best provide a quality education for children.

        More importantly, I think we’re really not reading and processing what we’re saying to one another.

        I never said that we had to have highly credentialed educators, although I can see how my reply would lead someone to that conclusion. If you read any of Frank Noschese’s posts about Khan he has a point that it’s important for people to review the content being produced to reduce any misconceptions.

        Khan is incredibly successful because it’s engaging (among other reasons); many studies even show that visual learning can be a benefit (http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=visual+learning+benefits&btnG=Search&as_sdt=0%2C23&as_ylo=&as_vis=1).

        That’s really where our dialogue ends, as the rest of your reply just seems confusing. My original post was not an attack of Khan, but a critique. I actually want Khan to succeed, however, I offered my critique as a way to make it even more successful, as a platform of that size, with that many users, can do great harm if not being carefully implemented. Since change is happening so quickly, we have a greater responsibility to make sure what’s being delivered can meet the rigor of our world. Yes, we are in a world of ever increasing change, and the fact that you feel that I’m an educator trying to slow it down indicates that either A) I’ve done a very poor job articulating my actual thoughts or B) you haven’t been very thoughtful in what I’ve actually been saying, and replying based on what you think I’m saying. My guess is that it’s a combination of both.

        None of us can afford to wait for parents, teachers, and all community members to “speed up” to make sure we’re keeping pace, but I do know that if we race fast enough that we lose all sense of being able to think about problems in a reflective and critical manner, then the gains we make aren’t that worthwhile (in my opinion).

  8. Ben,

    I think your criticism is perfectly valid. Many people aren’t getting the nuance of your argument (or mine for that matter).

    MIT OCW has been around for TEN YEARS now. Walter Lewin’s awesome physics lectures have been available for most of those 10 years. I have no problem with MIT OCW, or any other college OCW for that matter. And I didn’t have a problem with KA until very recently.

    For me, the problem is the way it is being promoted. The way the media sees it as “revolutionizing education/” The way people with power and money view education as simply “sit-and-get.”

    If your philosophy of education is sit-and-get, teaching is telling and learning is listening, then KA is way more efficient than classroom lecturing. KA does it better.

    But TRUE progressive educators, TRUE education revolutionaries don’t want to do it better. We want to DO BETTER THINGS.

    KA is just one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. If it’s the only tool, that is a HUGE problem. One of which is the focus of Ben’s blog post.

    KA can be useful for some kids as vehicle (build skills) to help them get to better places (solving complex problems). Let’s look at the vehicle in the context of the destination, not in and of itself.

    I hope I am making sense.

    • The Dude

      MIT OCW does not have enough videos, however. Doing that would strip them from extra 50k+/year tuition.

  9. micah

    Khan Academy has produced numerous videos for students to watch, re-watch, and watch again. This is the strength of Khan Academy. A teacher can’t possibly find the time to re-explain a concept to an entire class of students at the same rate.

    It is up to educators to decide how to use this new material if they decide to depend on it that is their own fault and a major measure of their quality and professionalism.

    • John Beals

      But that’s just it Micah, if Khan Academy’s strength is the fact that it has instructional videos, then why is it being touted as a “revolution” by people who should know how very unrevolutionary the concept is, like Bill Gates. As Frank said above, “MIT OCW has been around for TEN YEARS now”. How is a decade-old method of delivering instructional materials at all “revolutionary”? It’s a perfectly valid and worthwhile venture, and no doubt it has helped many people immensely, but why Bill Gates is pimping out Khan Academy like it’s Kurt Cobain circa 1990 is beyond me. I don’t discount Khan Academy as a useful and valuable resource, I discount it as the revolutionary boon that it’s being promoted as (mostly by people other than Khan, he seems to be more level with his thoughts about it himself).

      Calling online videos the next revolution in education is like touting DVD as the next revolution in home media. We’ve been here for over a decade now, and shouldn’t be this amazed by a technology and medium that is now literally so commonplace and easy to produce that your own students can do it in one class period.

    • You got it exactly, micah! The fact that Khan has such a large collection of videos is it’s strength, hence why I thought the Borg analogy made sense. And as I mentioned in closing, there’s great benefit from having such a large collection of high quality videos. However, as John commented, there is nothing new or novel about this. High quality educational videos have been around for a very long time, and online assessments, tied to a series of benchmarks have also been around for awhile.

      What’s truly disheartening to educators is too see so many people clap, cheer, and get excited over something quite commonplace in many schools and classrooms.

      • Oman

        Hi Ben,

        I see the conversation around Khan continues. I struggle to believe that you don’t understand what is revolutionary about KA, but will try to share what is revolutionary for me.

        FYI, MIT’s OCW has been around for 10 years but is overwhelming composed of college level material (with some HS included). It was intended to provide access to materials from this great institution – the institution where the founder of KA was educated, I might remind you – but has had disclaimers from its inception around the use of the materials. The number of courses included in any area of study varies and coverage is often spotty from subject to subject.

        And some obvious differences – there is nowhere on OCW to test your mastery of the subjects you are studying, material is often missing, OCW videos are simply capturing what is happening in the lecture hall – they are not intended to teach an online audience.

        But I digress. Why is Khan Academy is being described as revolutionary?

        Because it’s effective and it scales.

        To use the McDonald’s analogy, not only is it free and ubiquitous, it’s as nutritious as anything being served in MOST classrooms. In many cases, more so.

        Making free, high quality education material, along with an assessment tool, and providing lots of it in a key subject like math, IS revolutionary.

        YouTube is not revolutionary but how it has simplified the sharing of content by millions (billions?) is dramatic.

        Skype is not revolutionary except that it has made VOIP available to millions of people with no strings.

        The revolutions of the 21st century are all about the democratization of resources and all about scale.

        Khan Academy is removing barriers to learning resources that consumers experience – barriers that you seem to deny the existence of in your posts here.

        And in many, MANY classrooms, despite your insistence at the great range of materials available to our children, there is no equivalent.

        Stating the obvious (to me, anyway) – if Khan Academy were some weak also ran that did not provide new and greater value, it wouldn’t be as popular as it is.

        Many of us expend considerable energy looking for the best for our children and have been shelling out money to private tutors and Kumon (among others) to supplement the meager rations that that they often receive in the classroom. We are better informed consumers than you acknowledge.

        Continuing my request in all my previous posts, if you are aware of comparable resources that are readily available to anyone, please let me know.

        I am committed to my children’s educations, not Khan Academy. However, they make a very good product, which is translating into confident, eager math students in my house.

      • paul jordan

        In response to Oman–Kahn discusses mit ocw in his talk to mit club of no. ca.(you tube) He asserts his videos represent a unique “form factor” in that they are short, topic focused, granularly accessible by topic, and supported by easily referenceable complementary videos and playlists. I’m an mit ocw fan–i’ve closely followed and transcribed several classes–but i feel KA is far better. For me, a huge issue is hidden algebra. Lecturers leave out a lot of derivation for lack of board space or time or effort. Kahn is always comprehensive. I think a good comparison is KA linear algebra v the mit.ocw Strang course. I love Strang–he has passion, wit, intellectual energy, etc., but his lectures are somewhat unfocused it was far more productive to follow the Khan playlist. Same material, essentially.
        It should be noted that linear algebra is perhaps the only truly comprehensive upper level KA playlist.

  10. The Dude

    Using a pop culture show (Star Trek) to explain why another popular serious (Khan academy) is inferior – brilliant! Being an educated educator, you could not make a reference to Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, etc. to find your analogy (you can find one in the classical literature if you look long enough). No! You resorted to the lowest common denominator of a show. I am glad that you did. There is nothing wrong with being regular person, as opposed to being a chess-playing, cappuccino-drinking elitist. There is nothing wrong with playing a card game ‘War’, watching Star Trek, buying coffee from McDonalds, and watching videos at Khan academy.

    I sense some jealousy from you. Now, you seem to imply that you are a superior educator to that of Sal. Well, suppose so, but most of us cannot afford you or have access to you. Where are your videos online? Having a choice between his and yours would certainly be welcome. Why are other teachers too chicken to compete with Sal’s one-sided view? Perhaps they are not as talented, or too pre-occupied with their own seniority / tenure.

    Khan Academy is the McDonalds equivalent of education – in some states it is probably the best food around; in others there are much better alternatives. Schools in USA suck on average; you would be surprised just how poor some of the current education is. Just because some teachers are unique, does not mean that they are useful. http://demotivated.mediarift.com/files/photo/0/unique-just-because-you-are-unique-does-not-mean-you-are-useful-640.jpg

    • “Using a pop culture show (Star Trek) to explain why another popular serious (Khan academy) is inferior – brilliant!”

      Thanks, I thought it was a smart take on it, especially considering how many similarities there are between Khan and the Borg Collective.

      Making analogies and comparisons is important, as the power of metaphors can conjure up all sorts of unintended consequences. Comparing Khan to McDonald’s in my eye is very fitting…..lots content and food for the money (or in Khan’s case free), but something you certainly don’t want to build a solid nutritional or educational foundation on.

  11. Todd Sorenson

    Thanks for the great discussion. On the one hand I am a little concerned about the amount of hype that KA has generated and on the other hand my kids have watched hours of his videos on their own time and have at least gotten an introduction to new material.

    I am wondering if the discussion comes from the fact that KA is actually quite a closed society. With the current site no one else can contribute even other subjects, let alone anything to do with mathematics. No one would be bold enough to say that there is only one method or approach to teaching a subject based on some of the factors mentioned above such as socioeconomic and learning style differences.

    Is the discussion here because there is no alternative? What if you could easily publish your own video and other tests as KA insiders are able to do? Would that solve some of the concerns that actually do not have to do with the approach but of the style and content of what is available?

    • The point that Khan is a closed system is a great one. While they are currently working on hiring new “teachers” and content creators to create new lectures, it’s quite disturbing that so many people have been praising the “sage on the stage” model coming from just one point of view.

      The discussion that has grown out of my critique of the site most likely stems from the lack of relationship and relevance that the Khan Academy format presents. While it’s quite a useful tool for some exploration and supplementing what’s already happening in the classroom, there’s no way for learners to establish a relationship with Khan (or at least establish a relationship with the person presenting the material), and thus it’s hard to truly identify the needs of the whole learner, and provide relevant material and challenges.

      Building Khan into a network of tutors and content creators might improve things, but you’re still stuck with the relationship piece….

  12. Mark

    comparing a supplemental educational video series to the borg is just silly. It was nothing but appealing to people’s emotions. Being able to learn things for yourself without a teacher is a wonderful thing and should be encouraged.

    School often forces students to memorize information with the question “why is this true” greeted with “because its on the test”. Khan actually says why its true so you don’t have to memorize, the exact opposite of what you said.

    • I agree with you 100%, Mark. Comparing supplemental educational resources to the Borg is silly. So are the hundreds of school districts and thousands of young learners that are using Khan Academy as the primary means of “teaching” math, rather than the supplement it’s supposed to be. Thankfully, many districts are wising up and not following the same “kids will learn from the computers and videos” route a lot of charters and large urban districts made when the Khan Academy was born.

  13. Dear Victoria,I love how Saul (Mr. Khan) talks about his thinking too. I enjoy leistning to it a couple of times so I understand the ideas better. There are many kinds of graphs, pictographs and bar graphs are the ones we are learning now. There are line plots and pie graphs too. We will learn about those as well. Thanks for all your hard work, Victoria!From, Mrs. Amri

  14. Dear Mrs.Amri,I like learning about Khan Academy. I like it beascue it supports math videos in a fun way. Bar Graphs Rock! Please click on my name it leads you to a fraction video from Khan Academy. From, Alison

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