October 25, 2011

What is good about the Khan Academy?

I've already hinted at what I think is bad about the Khan Academy (KA), but in my upcoming talk at the Illinois Science Education Conference, I promised to talk about what is good about the KA.

I have identified four specific things which I think represent the good parts of the KA.

  1. Breadth of topics - Having what is closing in on 3000 videos in the KA, there is no doubt that the breadth of topics that is covered is incredibly wide. If you are a student in grades 4-12 and/or college, chance are good that the KA has a video which is related to something that is being discussed in one of your classes. That alone doesn't make KA a good resource, but if a video can serve as a launching point for discussion in class that would be a good thing. The more videos they have, the greater the chance that topics in more classes could have discussions related to something students watched on KA.
  2. Resource for "flipping" - Much has been said about the potential for using KA to "flip" the classroom model. I don't want to make this discussion all about whether or not trying using "flipping" in a physics classroom is a good thing or not. I can see the value in the idea doing something to encourage engagement with the course material is a good thing.  Full disclosure: I made videos for 2 terms that students were encouraged to watch to guide their reading of the assigned material. I believe that critical reading is a skill we overlook in the college curriculum, and that I should be doing more to help my students be better readers. With respect to the KA, I think that if you have decided to use a "flipping" technique in your classroom then you owe to yourself to at least look at KA and decide if it could be a resource for you.
  3. Connection to Peer Instruction - One of the basic principles of Eric Mazur's "Peer Instruction" technique of teaching is that the students learn by talking to each other more effectively that by hearing a lecture because the students in class who just learned the concept can explain the concept in a way that makes sense to others in the class. That's the "peer" in Peer Instruction, right?  Students learn from other students better since the professor has forgotten what it was like to not understand the concept and can't connect with a struggling student as well as another student.
  4. Virtual Tutor - I do believe that one of my jobs as a teacher is to have alternate ways of explaining a concept to students. Not everyone is going to understand every concept the first time we cover it, and there may be students who don't understand something the second, third or tenth time I explain it. If a KA video provides an alternate explanation for something that didn't click for a student in class, then I'm all for that. It is sort of like having a virtual tutor, except you can't really ask questions of the tutor.
So there you have it.  Four things I think are good about the Khan Academy.


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