Khan Academy: The hype and the reality

Here’s a good Washington Post article about Khan Academy that I’ve come across: (Hat Tip: dangerously ! irrelevant )

Some quotes from the article worth sharing:

…effective teaching is incredibly complex. It requires planning. It requires reflection…

…the truth is that there’s nothing revolutionary about Khan Academy at all. In fact, Khan’s style of instruction is identical to what students have seen for generations: a do this then do this approach to teaching that presents mathematics as a meaningless series of steps.

The real problem with Khan Academy is not the low-quality videos or the absence of any pedagogical intentionality. It’s just one resource among many, after all. Rather, the danger is that we believe the promise of silver bullets – of simple solutions to complex problems – and in so doing become deaf to what really needs to be done.

Overall, I think the article is harsh on Khan, calling him a “bad teacher”. I don’t think Khan is a bad teacher, at all. In fact, I think the opposite, he is very natural and has a knack for explaining things.  What Khan isn’t is revolutionary, nor is he a great teacher. His style is a typical monologue you would expect from a knowledgeable, but otherwise average high school teacher or college instructor.

The strength of Khan Academy is it’s breadth of videos, price, and convenience,  and I wouldn’t hesitate to send students there to brush up on their skills to help them prepare for tests, but to hold it on a pedestal as an example of quality education? It’s just more of the same, minus a social learning environment and a teacher who actually knows the student trying to learn the material, and actually cares about their success.

Luckily, I have yet to hear too much noise about Khan Academy here in Canada, as of yet. Teachers know it exists, some may even use it, but seeing it as a silver bullet to improving math education? If only it was that easy.
PS, It was nice to see Kate Nowak was mentioned in the article as an example of someone who is “doing it right”.

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About James C.

A pre-service teacher about to start his first teaching practicum.
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