Khan is good, but you are probably better. #EdTech #k12 #Education


Sal Khan, Source:

Something struck me the wrong way the fifth time that I was asked if I use Sal Khan’s videos in my physics classes. Why the fifth time? Because after the fourth time, I actually went and watched a few of them myself. I was shocked. Really? That was what everyone is excited about? I was, frankly, offended.

For the benefit of those of you who are unfamiliar with Khan, he has gained incredible popularity for filming short lectures on a host of STEM topics and posting them in a clean, well-indexed fashion on the web. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Khan’s videos. In fact, Khan’s voice is soothing. His language choice is appropriate. And his examples are reasonable. I take issue with the fact that there is nothing special about his videos, yet everyone is still talking about them.

Khan’s videos are simple didactic instruction using colorful virtual chalk on a virtual blackboard with Khan’s voice playing through your computer speakers. I am impressed with his commitment to making lectures widely available to those who may not have access. I have been told that he has a huge audience in the BRIC nations, and that many of his acolytes are from areas where no such expertise exists. In this setting, Khan is revolutionary. Here in the United States, the only thing revolutionary about Khan is that all of his material is available at any time. For those of you who sang out in chorus, “And they are free!” I would like to point out that the same is true at any public high school in North America.

So why take aim at Khan? There’s nothing wrong with lectures online. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong. My aim is not centered on Khan. My target is the fanatical EdTech world that can sometimes promote an idea for education before the practicing education community has had the opportunity to weigh in.

Khan’s videos, as do any didactic lecture-style instruction, provide students with a false feeling of learning that is vacuous. Sour grapes? I am jealous, you say? True, I am, but that’s besides the point. Derek Muller, a science education PhD. from down under has examined the disconnect between student reactions to Khan’s videos and their actual understanding of the topics addressed in a given video. His analysis is presented in this vindicating video hosted by our colleague, Frank Noschese, of John Jay High School in New York. Please have a look and post a comment.

8 thoughts on “Khan is good, but you are probably better. #EdTech #k12 #Education

  1. whereiskatima

    I think the real reason Khan’s videos rock is because they can be replayed over for students who did not ‘get it’ the first time, did not take adequate notes, are ESL and/or have a learning disability. Yes, what he does is what any decent teacher can do AND should do but usually does not. There are not that many great science teachers out there and many just want to teach to the test because it is indeed easier. To make matters worse, a 50 minute block of time is insufficient to ‘learn’ any concept (whether a lab is involved on another day or not) so it is not Khan himself, it is the fact that education in America is so poorly done that some one who is incredibly smart, has patiience and a great voice was able to show many up at their own ‘game’. If anything, Khan should be seen as a national asset and recommended to students as the additional support many of them need since most high school science teachers can not have 100 additional after school hours.

    • @whereiskatima, Throughout history, it has been shown time and again that lecturing simply does not work. Confucius – Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I’ll remember, involve me and I’ll understand. Richard Feynman discovered the exact same thing after his famous lectures in the middle of the last century. MIT found the same thing when they tried to recreate those famous lectures with Walter Lewin over 10 years ago. Lecturing online is just giving a new face to a bad design. Feynman and Lewin saw decreases in learning, even though their lectures were some of the best ever done. Should we honestly expect a guy with little physics background to do better than two of the greatest minds physics over the last 100 years? Check out the link, and look around, Noschese is the model of what we should be doing, not Kahn.

    • This is a great point. And if nothing else, we have Khan for making popular the “opening” of education on the internet. MIT had done the same years before, but most of their material was inaccessible to all but the top 5% of those educated in our country. Thanks for the reminder, Carl.

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