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.
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!