‘Flipping the Classroom’ – Integrating Education with Technology

I just watched a segment on “60 Minutes” about the Khan Academy.  Apparently, I missed it the first time around…it was originally broadcast in March. For those of you, like me, who are uninformed, the Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to provide a ‘free world-class education for anyone anywhere’ in the form of 10 minute videos.  Created by Salman Khan, these videos cover topics from K-12 math to biology and physics and are totally free of charge.

English: Salman Khan, famous for the Khan Acad...
Salman Khan, famous for the Khan Academy, speaking at TED 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were a few things that jumped out at me from the television segment. Originally, the videos were constructed by Khan himself, working out math problems with a microphone and a digital blackboard. As Khan stated in the 60 Minutes segment, “I’m 95 percent of the time working through that problem real-time. Or I’m thinking it through myself if I’m explaining something. And to see that it is actually sometimes a messy process. That, you know, it isn’t always this clean process where you just know the answer.” I really liked that quote.  Learning is messy.  It’s full of scribbles and crossed-out answers and do-overs. It’s a process.  And I think that children need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. We need to emphasize that perfection, or getting the right answer, isn’t often achieved the first time.

Another portion of the segment that got my attention was the actual application of the Khan concept to an education environment. This model is based on having the students watch the videos outside of school hours and then working through the related problem sets during school.  This is where the idea of ‘flipping the classroom’ comes from.  Basically, ‘school work’ or lecture time occurs after school while ‘homework’ or the application of knowledge to problems occurs during school.  This means that the teacher spends his/her time helping the students with the problems, not using the time for lectures.  This idea makes perfect sense.

However, like the doubting scientist that I am, I’d like to see the data behind the model. How does applying the Khan concept to standard education practices affect student learning?  As of the original broadcast of the segment, most of the schools involved in a pilot study were in California, not selected randomly from across the country.  Also, to fully incorporate this model, students must have access to computers.  California schools in the pilot program removed the issue of a lack of personal computers at home by staying open longer.  Yet, this solution, which requires an extreme time commitment from teachers and an extension of resources to keep the school open, might not be an option for schools around the country.

Despite my questions, I still find Khan’s commitment to learning and education to be very impressive.  He has changed many lives by doing something as simple as narrating 10 minute videos about things he was interested in or curious about.  Plus, he also has a video that has a direct application to my own life.  After watching the television segment, I explored the Khan Academy website. And, lo and behold, there’s an immunology lesson about B cells/B lymphocytes.  So, for all of you who have asked me over the years what I study, watch and learn!  That includes you, Mother!

Khan Academy B Lymphocyte video


4 thoughts on “‘Flipping the Classroom’ – Integrating Education with Technology

  1. alison2012internship says:

    What an insightful blog post, thank you. I agree, we need to teach kids that it is okay to make mistakes; it is how they learn and grow. I think an education system based on grading scales contradicts this idea. But grades are helpful in that they provide students feedback. How do you think we can keep grades around but reduce the pressure students feel to be perfect and not make mistakes?


    1. Kirstin says:

      That’s a difficult question. You want to encourage experimentation but, yet, there still needs to be a way to quantify results. One possible solution would be to use pass/fail rating in primary school. Basically, if you understand the concepts then you would move on to the next grade. Scores could be kept but not shown to the students. At that stage of education, I don’t feel like a numerical grade provides much benefit. College scholarships aren’t based on primary school grades.

      Another simpler solution would be to introduce a “Why?” board into the classroom. During the school year, the teacher would write all of the questions he/she didn’t know the answer to on the “Why?” board. Then, the teacher and students would explore these questions together. Students are under the assumption that the teacher is all-knowing. However, as adults, we understand that the extent of one’s knowledge has limitations. If a teacher were to admit that they didn’t know the answer to a student’s question, this would illustrate these limitations. Plus, by exploring the answers together, teachers could model the process of discovery for their students, thus, empowering the students with the skill necessary to answer questions by themselves.


      1. alison2012internship says:

        I think the “Why?” board is an excellent idea. I also think it’s important for teachers to not lead students to an exact answer but push them to explore many possible explanations and to think critically. This is really what I love about the socratic method.


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