Constructivism versus Sal Khan #EdTech #K12 #Education #KhanAcademy


My last blog post entitled, “Sal Khan is Good, But You Are Probably Better.” saw a lot of action. Khan inspires debate in the Education community. He is a nonprofit version of the classic startup success story. I might suggest that Khan’s story is congruent with the American rags to riches allegory – with the obvious exception that Khan was already rich, and is not getting much more so with this nonprofit enterprise. But it is similar in one way. Even simple ideas, doggedly pursued, if they are unique, can be wildly successful. I suspect for this reason alone, Khan has a fan-base that includes a great many entrepreneurs.

Khan’s critics are never critics of Sal Khan. Like me, they are critics of a society that is so pessimistic about it’s public education, that it becomes obsessed with the unintentional red herring.

Lectures are an important method of instruction, but they are the least important. Frank Noschese, a strong proponent of constructivist education and award winning education blogger, calls this traditional method of instruction and all of it’s accoutrements, like note-taking and recitation, psuedoteaching. Traditional didactic instruction is psuedoteaching because it fails to engage critical thinking, and is therefore not much better than no teaching at all.

Certainly, you took a college class or two or ten with a boring professor whose lectures you rarely attended. But you read the textbook, did the assignments, and may very well have scored high marks in the class. For many students, didactic instruction inspires very little learning; at least, no more than most people can accomplish with a book on their own.

How is this an EdTech post? Thanks for hanging in there. In this blog post on Ed Reach, Daniel Rezac discusses his response to Khan’s videos. Daniel decided to do as Khan has done, but his videos have more pizzazz. I am glad to see that Khan’s work has inspired a movement; or at least one guy and his friends. But the part of Daniel’s work that probably has the most value for his students is when he has them make their own instructional videos.

The making of a video is a significant learning event. To teach something you must move farther toward mastery than if you read it, hear it, or watch it. Most teachers already know this. One obvious problem is that it takes a lot of time, even with imovie and a simple digital camcorder, to make a good video.

My challenge to the EdTech community, then, is this. Build us a video making application that requires all of the analytical choices necessary to tell a story, but none of the logistical ones. Oh, and make sure that any video my students make can be completed in half an hour. One last thing.. I’d really like to have that by September, when school starts.

3 thoughts on “Constructivism versus Sal Khan #EdTech #K12 #Education #KhanAcademy

  1. mychildcan

    As an adult student returning to university, i have to say that the items i retain the most are ones we have debated in class. When you get involved in thinking about an issue rather than just taking notes on it, your brain seems to remember it more. Putting yourself in someone elses shoes – ie: “if you were a business owner, what would you do with xyz” seems to make the brain connect it more rapidly. Like it was a real memory about this hypothetical situation.

    • Craigh

      “When you get involved in thinking about an issue rather than just taking notes on it, your brain seems to remember it more.”

      This may well be true of adult learners (or, at least, some); and is the reason that the disastrous look-say method of teaching reading became so stylish. Adults thought it made sense. But, as Montessori discovered well over a century ago, children’s brains are geared toward “rote” memorization. It’s how they learn language, for example — imitate, repeat, repeat, repeat, etc..

      Extending that into language, math and science makes sense. I realize this is not a forum for defending or, um, deconstructing constructivism, but I do defend Khan for his traditional approach. One which also happens to fit my 58 year old brain quite well.

  2. dreee

    The wishy washy constructivist approach to teaching is based on [assumed] psychological cognitive learning models and should never have been developed into a method of teaching in the first place, especially not for novice leaners in elementary school. Its new age epistemology, pedagogy and psychology rolled into one, a psychological framework for teachers to use when they don’t want to teach a subject properly. Which other framework would ignore final results, not bother to correct wrong answers or even pass students without achieving minumum standards? Only a framework whose aims were purely non-academic would accept such things.

    The whole enquiry/constructivist theory is horrendous, leaves children confused, huge gaps in their knowledge and basically doesn’t work. Yes, it keeps teachers and children happily ignorant of what they don’t know, so from the outside it appears fun. Whatever problem solving skills or higher order thinking these people think is going on, it simply is not happening in those children. It’s chaos, cloaked in buzzwords and ignorance, and topped off with hegellian dialect.

    The countries on top of the standardised world rankings are those still using traditional methods, the proof is there and will never be disproven by educational psychologist, you can ignore it and shout about non-academic skills such as critical thinking, but thats a hollow cry for those with sub-standard knowledge of maths or science gained from constructivism.

    Effective maths professors and science lecturers all learnt from traditional direct methods, then constructed the knowledge their own way, they didn’t rely on a teacher to ‘help them build it in their minds using scaffolding’. That is a ridiculous concept and most parents unlucky enough to be burdened with constructivist teachers will probably agree that it’s time for that fad to be dropped from national boards.

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