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How Education Is Changing Thanks To Khan Academy 240

An anonymous reader writes "Wired reports on how freely-available lectures from Khan Academy are affecting both teaching methods and learning methods in classrooms across the country. From the article: 'Initially, Thordarson thought Khan Academy would merely be a helpful supplement to her normal instruction. But it quickly become far more than that. She's now on her way to "flipping" the way her class works. This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan's videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids' own time and homework is done at school. ... It's when they're doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to. And now Thordarson can tell just when this grappling occurs: Khan Academy provides teachers with a dashboard application that lets her see the instant a student gets stuck. "I'm able to give specific, pinpointed help when needed, she says. The result is that Thordarson's students move at their own pace. Those who are struggling get surgically targeted guidance, while advanced kids ... rocket far ahead; once they're answering questions without making mistakes, Khan's site automatically recommends new topics to move on to.'"
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How Education Is Changing Thanks To Khan Academy

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  • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @09:37AM (#36785322)

    I'm glad to see that this is finally happening. A "good" lecture on a subject needs to only be done once. It seem like a waste repeating the same thing year after year. Where students (speaking for myself) need help is in the actual implementation of the lecture subject. Now that the students are doing 'homework' in class, that resource is available. And if Kahn's methods don't work for you, then maybe there need to be 3-4 different teaching styles. One that is heavy on theory light on examples, heavy on examples and light on theory and some that mix it up a bit.

    In college we would get together in study groups or the teacher or TA had office hours (hopefully). For elementary, middle and high school students this really isn't an option. They're usually in class all day and then go home. So if they get hung up on something simple they're essentially stalled. Resulting in frustration, loss of interest and possibly a bad grade. Thankfully my teachers would often assign at least one 'type' of problem where the answer was in the back of the book. If I didn't get it I could figure out how to get the right answer and then apply that to other problems.

    This worked all the way up through this year when I took a graduate level linear algebra class. The teacher made Ben Stein look animated. The course material was very dry and it was way too theoretical (for myself). If a homework answer wasn't in the back of the book. I'd find a similar problem that did have the answer, work through it to get the solution and feel a bit more confident on the homework problems. I can't name the number of "Eureka!" moments I had while doing homework.

    I'd much rather watch a video on how to do something (welding, car repair, etc) and have someone watch over my shoulder while I do it and be there for questions than have them lecture to me and then go "alright, now you get to do it blind". I'm glad to see that teachers are getting an opportunity to 'teach' rather than 'lecture'.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Saturday July 16, 2011 @09:48AM (#36785384) Homepage Journal

    Why did it take 100+ years for people to think "Hey, read up on something at home, and we'll talk about it and work through problems in class tomorrow"?

    Because it took 100+ years for home study to become stimulating enough to hold a child's interest, with audiovisual presentation of lecture material and automated drill and practice.

  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @10:01AM (#36785480) Journal

    you are laboring under the assumption that the alternative to "teaching to the test" is "teaching well" and have failed to consider the far more likely possibility of "not even teaching to the test..."

  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @10:15AM (#36785594)

    Who exactly is "that kid" that you're talking about? The minority youth whose only ambition in life is to become a "thug"? The one who goes out of his way to avoid getting any sort of an education? The one who speaks his native language like he's a fucking moron? The one who wears his pants at his ankles? The one who intentionally seeks out violence, and abuses drugs and alcohol?

    No, nothing can be done for him. He's a failure. Some kids just are. Don't blame greater society, the schools or the educators for such youth doing everything in their power to fail at every aspect of life.

    Yes, the answer is to marginalize such youth. There is no hope for them, and they are not worth our time to try to save. There are many more deserving youth who should get such attention instead. You know, the ones who come from impoverish backgrounds, but who actually want to learn.

    Not sure if you're trying to be satirical.

    Anyway, such things can be improved. Go into an inner-city school and watch a good talk on gender abuse. Boys who otherwise think it's normal to abuse their girlfriends often have a major breakthrough when they make the connection to child abuse--and pretty much everyone in that environment is familiar with child abuse. Lives can improve. People can improve.

    Of course it's easier to marginalize, and to avoid that segment of society altogether, for the individual. But for society as a whole, we are far better off if we don't.

  • by trout007 ( 975317 ) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @10:37AM (#36785750)

    I have been saying this for years. A well produced video on a subject would save lots of money by replacing lectures. So try taking this to it's logical conclusion. The school model for teaching is going to go away. If parents have access to educational material on any subject than what good does a traditional teacher serve? You could replace this with a video lecture and private mentor/tutor model. The vast majority of the work of education would be done by video and you can just pay for individual access to a tutor. I have a mechanical engineering degree I got 15 years ago using a standard classroom lecture mode. I recently took some online masters classes. I watched the lectures and then they had videos of the professor setting up and solving problems. It was great because I could keep repeating the video where I was confused. I then could email him when I was truly stuck and he could clarify.

    Khan academy has taken this further. Since they are producing these videos instead of just recording a lecture they can refine them using feedback. If something is unclear or wrong someone will give them feedback and they can easily edit the video to correct or clarify. In this ay they are producing a product and keep refining it.

    This will be great. We can eliminate schools and their associated costs and replace it with experts working from home where they can concentrate on solving students roadblocks and not wasting time repeating what they already have done. Imagine the savings.

  • by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @12:33PM (#36786626) Homepage

    I teach physics at a community college. The Wired article made me curious to see how good the Khan videos were. I went to the Khan Academy web site and viewed this one [] on Newton's law of gravity. He starts off with some kind of interesting, intellectually stimulating stuff about how gravity is ultimately not something we can explain. (He makes one error, but it's not crucial, and it's prefaced with a modest warning that he's not an expert.) Then he writes down Newton's law of gravity without saying anything about where it comes from, how we know it's true, or whether it's been tested by experiment. Next he spends 6 or 7 minutes, almost the entire video, solving a plug-in problem. After that he has a follow-up lecture in which he solves a problem using ratios.

    IMO this video might be fine as a supplement for a student who has poor problem-solving skills and needs to see some very explicit step-by-step remedial instruction in how to solve a plug-in problem, but it would be disastrous for a student to get her first introduction to gravity from this lecture. The lecture just presents a formula and plugs in numbers. There is almost no intellectual content there, just some calculations being cranked out using a formula that pops up mysteriously out of nowhere.

    A more fundamental issue is that there's a ton of educational research that shows that in physics, traditional lecturing, no matter how competently done, produces extremely poor conceptual understanding. A bunch of the classic papers are by R.R. Hake. The only techniques that lead to better success are techniques that de-emphasize lecturing to a class that sits and passively listens. Since the Khan lectures are still lectures, they are going to have the same shortcomings as any lectures.

    I'm glad to see that this is finally happening. A "good" lecture on a subject needs to only be done once. It seem like a waste repeating the same thing year after year.

    The problem here is that you're assuming that instruction must consist of a teacher lecturing while students sit silently in their seats. Even if one isn't a true believer in nontraditional techniques, there's a problem when students can't even ask a question.

    You do see a lot of big state schools these days taking videos of lectures given in gigantic halls with 300 seats. Students can watch the videos in their jammies sitting in their dorm rooms. This is pathetic. These schools have simply given up on their educational mission for these large freshman lecture classes. The answer isn't to make the 300-student lecture more efficient, it's to admit that the 300-student lecture is a travesty.

  • by siride ( 974284 ) on Saturday July 16, 2011 @12:34PM (#36786642)

    In Old English, the past tense of "cuman" was either "com" (with long o) or "cam" (with long a), neither of which would have produced "came". You can consult any book on Old English to find the conjugation of such a common verb. My one Middle English book only gives "com" and "come" as the past tense of that verb, although with no textual citations. So I went and found an online Middle English dictionary and looked up "comen" ( and found this: "ME p. sg. cam, com & p. pl. ca:men, ke:me(n are analogical formations, modeled largely on the type of stal, ste:len." (a: and e: are my edits to indicate long a and e, respectively). Note that it lists "com" as the normal past tense. I don't know what the frequency of "cam" vs. "co:m", but my guess is that the former must have eventually become frequent enough to take over for most dialects.

    Now on to your second point. It's true that just because one sees the morpheme "come" does not mean the verb necessarily conjugates (not declines) like the base verb "come". However, in the case of "become", we know that it does in fact conjugate the same as the base. In fact, pretty much all verbs that are formed by adding a prefix like be- and for- are conjugated the same as the base verb. You only get a different conjugation when the stem in question is laundered through another part of speech. In the case of "welcome", there is a noun "welcome" and that is the basis for the verb "to welcome", which is thus conjugated like a weak verb (as all verbs derived from nouns are conjugated). The derivation seems to go back to Old English, where the verb was "wilcumian" ( and thus a weak verb derived from a noun.

    Final point: it's entirely possible that it was just a typographic or spelling error. Not knowing whether the writer of the sentence in question is from an area where they speak a dialect that has "come" as the past tense of "come", I cannot say for sure which is the actual case. Either way, it's really just not that big a deal.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 16, 2011 @05:02PM (#36788628)

    Critique the lecture and perhaps it will be changed.

    Alternately, perform what you'd like to see and post on Youtube.

    Apparently you missing the point being made by the parent. A good "lecture" is not just a matter of a canned speech with good examples. When I "lecture" (which I do often) it is a dynamic process that is driven by the audience. Even in the least interactive form, a good lecture involves reading the audience and knowing when to provide additional examples or when to plow ahead faster. Better lectures involve full participation, where the audience is made to think and answer questions and encouraged to ask ones of the own. We can go one step better than that (as implied by the parent) and get rid of the lecture part altogether and let the audience gets hands-on with a topic (e.g., lab driven courses). None of these things can be done on Youtube, and, as the parent says, none of these things can be done with a 300-student lecture.

    Of course, maybe you were going for a funny mod and it went over everyone's head. With a handle like couchslug, though, I do have to wonder...

Loose bits sink chips.