Tuesday, March 29, 2011


As our schools run out of money, we look for ways to make better use of the resources we have: mainly, the teachers. Consider the Khan Academy approach, as now funded and promoted by Bill Gates, and described by Salman Khan in a TED talk video that everybody interested in education ought to watch whether they're thinking about consolidation or not. Salman Khan: Let's use video to reinvent education

Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the remarkable Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos offering complete curricula in math and, now, other subjects. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script -- give students video lectures to watch at home, and do "homework" in the classroom with the teacher available to help.

The system he's describing is not just a big set of short video explanations with self-tests; it has software by which a teacher can see exactly what a student has mastered and when, and which questions are still not getting answered. It has been (and is being) developed with feedback from teachers in actual classrooms,

By removing the one-size-fits-all assumption .... these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.
Instead of the the teacher delivering a lecture to everybody including those who aren't ready for it and also those who don't need it, the teacher assigns the lecture material which students can watch as many times as necessary, and then the teacher can spend time one-on-one with students. We change what we worry about:
not student-to-teacher ratio, but student-to-valuable-human-time-with-the-teacher ratio.
And he claims that
We got a million people on the site already, so we can handle a few more...No reason why it really can't happen in every classroom in America tomorrow.

Well, I suspect quite a few classrooms could benefit greatly; others involve material not yet covered by the Khan Academy. Even those might use Khan's original formula, developed in tutoring his cousins: just break the explanations into small pieces, record, and post to YouTube; the FAQ says he uses

Camtasia Recorder ($200) + SmoothDraw3(Free) + a Wacom Bamboo Tablet ($80) on a PC. I used to use ScreenVideoRecorder($20) and Microsoft Paint (Free).
I would think it's worthwhile to have a transcript of each piece, posted with the video. And the transcript should be annotated with a list of prerequisite knowledge, I suspect. And I suspect that in the end, there should be a lot of Khan-style academies with different lecture styles for different kinds of student. I suspect that this is what Isaac Asimov would have been doing for some years past, if he were still alive. I suspect -- well, I suspect a lot of things. But everybody ought to watch that video, and think about what he's doing right, and what he's doing wrong.

Or then again, maybe not.

Update: shrank video a bit.

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