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.