Moving Backwards

Big news this week: Khan Academy releases an iPad app and the TED organization opens their education channel on YouTube.

The Washington Post asks if Khan is education’s future and calls both “the new leaders in education reform“.


If that really represents cutting edge in education reform these days, the whole process is moving backwards.

Let’s face it, Khan Academy is nothing more than a large collection of lecture/demos in the classic instructional sense, and the ones I’ve seen are just as boring as those given by too many teachers who simply present information without interacting with their students. Khan’s advantage is a good press agent and some deep pockets with little understand of instructional pedagogy.

While TED’s materials are much better produced – many of them inform, motivate and even inspire, all the things you want from a great teacher – they are still lectures.

Then there’s the idea of the “flipped” classroom, a concept that the media inextricably links to the Khan videos and too often declares to the next ultimate in education reform. So, where’s the change in having students watch Khan or TED lectures at home instead of at school?

Kids are still watching a lecture with no options to interact with the presenter or anyone else. At least watching it live in the classroom they might have the option to ask questions. The only major difference with making the lecture homework is the venue (and the pause button).

And showing Khan videos during class, taking valuable time that could be spent on more immediate activities (as I’ve watch a few teachers doing in recent weeks) is bordering on educational malpractice.

No, Khan Academy is not reform. Not even close. Sending kids home to watch boring lectures is worse than most of what passes for homework now.

To me, all this emphasis on Kahn represents the desire on the part of many political and business types to automate and standardize the learning process, minimize the impact of the teacher, and turn it into something that can be easily measured.

It can’t be done. Advocates of this approach completely ignore something any good teacher could tell you: there’s very little “standard” about any group of kids.

* That’s the PG version of the explicative I really use when reading stuff like this. :-)

10 thoughts on “Moving Backwards

  • March 14, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Hi Tim,

    I’ve never been a fan of educational mono-cultures – everyone having to things the same way. Or everyone having to do the same thing all the time. Personally, I love a good lecture and learn from them. They “inform, motivate and even inspire” me. Do I want interaction sometimes? Of course. Do I want to read and reflect, yes, sometimes. Don’t object to on particular style of teaching (or learning). Object when it is the ONLY style.


    • March 15, 2012 at 7:15 am

      I agree with you Doug, there is a time and place for lecture as an instructional tool, and I enjoy a good one as well (and occasionally link to them as I did in the previous post). What I find wrong with Khan Academy is the excessive praise being offered for a collection of screencasts with mediocre production values and questionable pedagogy, and especially with the way many high profile people are suggesting they be used in schools.

      I would much rather see lots of teachers and students creating their own tutorials, and some rich guy like Bill Gates paying for an “academy” to store them. I’d bet the variety and creativity would blow the Khan stuff away in just a few months.

  • March 14, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Thank you,
    I was starting to think I was crazy. Everyone seemed to be raving about Kahn. I looked at the app, and found the lectures not only boring but poorly produced. I had considered making the app available for kids working in centers. After watching his regrouping video I think the kids would have been more confused.

    • March 15, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      NO, the videos are not Khan Academy is about. Its the easy access AND the measurable exercises ( time spent on what problem, where each student gets stuck etc etc). It appears most journalists/writers dont understand how math is really taught in schools, Its easy to fall through the cracks. The videos are themselves ONLY for occasional reference. The initial exercises, periodic reviews ( based on each individual’s weak spots) provide continuous feedback about mastery. Coaches also get several metrics to assess each student’s weakness. Really, you should only write about this after you have followed at least one student’s progress through a few exercise streaks.

      • March 16, 2012 at 6:50 pm

        Actually, the assessment provided by Khan Academy is a large of the problem. Since the math tutorials (the one’s I’m most familiar with) are all about the rote mechanics of the subject, the assessments also address only the basics of each process. They do nothing to tie the topics together or help students understand how math can be applied. And I don’t want to hear the old business of the kids have to learn the process before they can learn applications. The fact that the K12 math curriculum wallows in the mechanics is one big reason why kids are turned off to the subject early in their school experience.

        • March 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm

          Yes and that applies if you use ONLY Khan Academy. Why would anybody do that?

          • March 17, 2012 at 7:40 am

            Why indeed ARE people doing that? I don’t understand it either.

          • March 17, 2012 at 12:51 pm

            We agree then. Its not crap, and we still need good teachers.

  • March 17, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I never said that the Khan Academy materials were crap. I said they were mediocre. What’s crap is the way they have been elevated in the media and elsewhere to a high level of educational innovation.

    And yes, every student needs a good teacher to directly and uniquely connect with them. I wish that was a given in the discussion of educational reform, but I know it’s not always so.

  • March 18, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Rumor has it, and I hope its true, that Khan will begin to host material submitted by teachers. I’m really hoping that is the case. Mr. Khan has a folksy voice, but I really don’t get what the fuss is about his neon colored lectures. I half remember sleeping through the same kind of thing in college.


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