Let me first admit: I certainly know of the Khan Academy but I have never actually visited it or viewed any of the videos. I’ve followed some of the ways that Salman Khan’s video tutorials have sparked the Flipped Classroom concept, and some of the controversy that comes with both the academy and the flipped idea. But I am relatively outside of the loop on Khan. I offer up those words because I spent the plane ride back from Las Vegas devouring Salman Khan’s book about educational change, The One World Schoolhouse (Education Reimagined) , and found it very intriguing.
Readers of my blog know that I am a sucker for the “inside story” of ideas, and here, Khan brings us right to the beginning of his idea of using video tutorials to help his sixth grade niece understand some basic math concepts, which then spread to other family members, and soon, he found that thousands were viewing his videos on YouTube. For a long period of time, Khan Academy was little more than Khan, sitting in a converted closet, screencasting lessons and publishing them on Youtube. After discovering his passion for teaching, he quit his job as a hedgefund manager, did the tour of various foundations and companies (Google and Gates were intrigued), and then launched the Khan Academy as an experiment in education that is built on some assumptions that Khan has, including:
- One size classrooms does not fit all students
- Gaps in math understanding lead to bigger troubles later on
- Systematic collection and interpretation of data allows teachers to target individual students
- Education should be available for anyone, anywhere in the world
Now, I am one of those teachers who are part of what Khan sees as a problem. I teach in a traditional school, with one-hour blocks, where curriculum is often (but not always) built on time more than student mastery, and I have classes composed of students in age groups instead of mixed (he is against tracking and is passionate about how tracking students into honors and lower classes traps students, particularly in math). But I am open to change.
What Khan advocates is sweeping shifts in the way we see our learners, and his ideas include:
- large classrooms (of up to 75 students) run by multiple teachers, bringing various expertise and talents into the pictures;
- technology as a tool for reinforcement and understanding of student mastery, but also as a way to free up teachers to teach individuals;
- accessible, affordable learning for students, no matter where they live in the world, so that everyone has a chance to reach up;
- using summer as an extended learning period, and not as a “time off” from learning;
- that standardized testing be more precise in testing what kids should know and have mastered (and how difficult that it when it comes to important things like creativity), and not about the test construction itself;
- building fun and play into the curriculum so that topics like math don’t become rote learning that never really gets learned.
I think The One World Schoolhouse is worth your time and worth a read. Even if you have preconceptions of the Khan Academy concept (and more schools are now partnering with his organization to pilot the use of video tutorials and computer assessments), the book at least centers where Khan is coming from, and it encourages you to re-examine the “why” of our school system, which is built around a framework that Khan argues was constructed by chance and politics, and not necessarily the best interests in young learners.
Peace (in the schoolhouse),