(Dan Meyer’s take on Khan Academy)
Last night 60 minutes did a story on Khan Academy (video here, text here). A member on my staff emailed the links to all staff, recommending the videos as a good resource for students. Admittedly I have not watched said video yet, but judging from what came across my twitter feed, it’s the same basic Khan story. As a result, I jumped on my [email] soapbox with the following reply;
[Start of email]
I totally agree that the videos below are a good resource for students.
However, Khan Academy as a larger concept scares me. Seriously scares me.
When I first learned about KhanAcademy about a year ago, I was very excited that this excellent resource was available to my (and any) students. The problem is that Khan [and others] want to take something that is a good external resource and turn it into the main method for student learning. In a Khan school, students would walk in, sit down at a computer, and watch lectures over and over, then regurgitate the information in computer-generated problem sets. There is SO MUCH research out there that lecture in general is NOT the best way for students to learn. Over the last 7 years of teaching physics I have shifted from 90% lecture 10% learning activities to about 80% learning activities 20% lecture. Lecture is a great way to summarize what students have learned and pull concepts together. But, to be honest, I in no way believe that any class should be taught with 100% lecture. It just really isn’t how students learn, per the research and my own experience. Specifically in physics, I have found that through lecture they can memorize Newton’s 3rd law, but they cannot correctly apply it to new scenarios unless they have experienced how it works. This is consistent with research; lecture works if all you are assessing is memorization and basic skills, but not if you want students to use higher-order reasoning skills. They need to be able to think for themselves.
The concept of Khan schools is to reverse the last 20 years of solid research on constructivism and make force kids to learn traditionally, through lecture. His ‘assessments’ in math test basic algorithms and don’t get into complex problem solving or analytical thinking. Do students do better on that kind of assessment when they do Khan Academy? Sure. But do they actually think better, become better problem solvers, better analytical thinkers, better citizens? I think not.
Much of my thoughts about this stem from a wonderful blog written by a seriously awesome physics educator, Frank Noschese. He has become a leading voice nationally on criticism for Khan, along with Dan Meyer, an inspirational math educator. Dan gave a nice, sarcastic, analogy here. Frank has a number of nice posts; You Khan ignore how students learn, Khan school of the future, and here is a post comparing constructivist learning with Khan’s methods, even using video.
I’d be happy to dig up some of my research on constructivism, but I must warn you that most of what I know specifically relates to physics education. I know there is a body of info out there supporting constructivism in other subjects, I just haven’t delved into it as deeply.
Sorry for the treatise. This is currently one of my hot-button issues (I know, I know, I have many of those…)
[End of email]
As a side note, I am not at all against the flipped classroom. I have actually done some flipping myself, when I thought the topics at hand (conversions, etc, in physics) warranted the flip. We used the extra class time to practice conversions in the context of some cool nano-science activities. I do, however, think Sal Khan has taken what could be a good thing (the videos themselves as a resource for students) and turned it into something awful (a complete instructional program dominated by kids sitting passively at computers).
I welcome your thoughts.