July 02, 2012

Invitation to the Khan Academy

I've been watching the unfolding of Justin Reich and Dan Meyer's "Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000" challenge over the last week or so.  Last Friday, Rhett Allain posted his critique of a kinematics video from the Khan Academy.  Over the weekend, Sal Khan posted a "correction" to Rhett. Lots of angry comments were posted all over the internet, and we've got the makings for a mini-internet soap opera. 

I remember when I first started teaching, hearing all the retired teachers who were still coming to AAPT meetings yammer on about how careful you have to be when choosing words to describe the introductory topics.  Mixing up "throw" and "drop" was something I probably did the first two years I taught physics. Other teachers with decades of experience helped me understand how I could be making it harder for students to understand the more challenging topics later by not being as precise early in the year. The more experienced teachers showed me a better way, and I became a better teacher.

I see a lot of what I was doing in my first years of teaching in the Khan Academy videos.  Sal's attempt to correct Rhett illustrated (at least to me) that he truly does not have a deep conceptual understanding of the introductory physics material.  That's not to say that he is not good at explaining what he does understand. He lacks the depth of conceptual understanding which students NEED for meaningful learning. Of course, the Khan Academy has said that their videos are only a part of a student's learning process. But  I don't believe that his videos are optimized for effective learning.

I also don't think that the Khan Academy is going away anytime soon.  Since I believe that anyone can improve their abilities, I thought I would provide Sal Khan some feedback in the style of the coaching that I received from the Global Physics Department last year.  I chose a series of videos about a topic in astronomy, watched them all, took notes and recorded my feedback.  Here's my feedback video:

I hope the Khan Academy is willing to take my feedback and use it to improve their videos. I really do.  We need more GOOD resources in this world.

What I hope comes out of the MTT2K competition is that the Khan Academy would engage with the physics education community at a meaningful level. Engagement between educators should be a two-way street, though. I want a dialogue between physics teachers and the Khan Academy. So here is my invitation to Sal Khan:

Sal Khan, you are always welcome to chat online with us in the Global Physics Department meetings on Wednesday nights. Let us know if you're free at 6:30 pm California time on a given Wednesday and we'll set you up. Or, if you don't mind traveling why not come to a meeting of the American Association of Physics Teachers? I won't be in Philadelphia this summer for the AAPT meeting, but I will be in New Orleans (that's your hometown, right?) for the winter meeting. Or, if you'd like to interact at the local section level, I will be hosting a joint meeting of two of the most active sections in the country right outside Chicago in October.  Would you be willing to come and talk with physics teachers and physics education researchers face-to-face? I know you run a non-profit, but I bet we could arrange to fly you here and I have a guest bed at home you are welcome to. Let me know!

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