Mar 14, 2012

What's to Learn from Khan Academy?

The video lectures on Khan Academy don't address the complexities of how people actually learn. What might these videos look like if they did?

I was lucky enough to secure a free ticket to the Channel 13 Celebration of Teaching and Learning this Friday in Manhattan. Sal Khan is giving a talk about Khan Academy, the series of YouTube tutorials that have been touted as a revolution in education. Here's an example of Sal Khan layin' down some knowledge about Newton's Third Law:

There's a healthy discussion in the physics teaching blogosphere about why these videos aren't the revolution to education that 60 Minutes might lead you to believe. Physics teacher Frank Noschese makes a very strong argument on his blog in this post and others (there is also a nice set of links to other blogs at the bottom of this page).

Khan Academy lectures seem to me to be a new type of textbook for a sort of curriculum that has been around for ages. The problem is, we've seen that this curriculum just isn't effective. The idea that YouTube lectures can be useful to students isn't flawed in itself, but video resources for more effective pedagogical approaches just aren't posted on Khan Academy. Rather than bashing Khan, let's think about what types of videos might be used as part of more effective curriculum, like Modeling Instruction.

Modeling isn't about lecturing, of course. It doesn't matter whether the lectures take place in a classroom or on YouTube, lecturing just doesn't work. So, what video resources would be effective in a Modeling course? Much of the most valuable student experiences in a Modeling course can't be replaced by videos - hands on lab work, interpreting unique data, discussions with other students, presenting a whiteboarded solution to the class. Somewhere in the midst of all this I imagine there's room for, say, example problems worked out using language and representations specific to a Modeling course, but how would you prevent such concise explanations from interfering with a student's natural struggle to build their own understanding? Perhaps, as Derek Muller suggests in this video, students might benefit from watching a conversation between students as they gradually work toward a correct understanding of a concept or problem.

For me, the takeaway from Khan Academy is simply how easy it is for individuals to make simple instructional videos that are available to a very wide audience. There's still a ways to go in thinking about how such videos might supplement progressive pedagogy, but the method is there for the taking.

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