Khan Kerfuffle

A previous blog post by Brian Katz shares his experience with the Khan Academy. He breaks down his review into two sections: the videos and exercises which comprise the site. His post describes the videos of Salman “Sal” Khan as personal and traditional, perfectly acceptable for their inteded purpose of reviewing material outside of a classroom. Brian’s discussion of the exercises mentions the inclusion of techniques from mastery learning and spaced repetition. He implicitly mentions a third aspect of the site, the database of topics which glues the videos and exercises in a fundamental manner. One lasting influence of Bourbaki in education has been the presentation of basic mathematics as a giant partially ordered set of topics in the form of textbooks and cirriculum materials. This organization brings with it–for better or worse–the possibility to test skills in detailed isolation. Technologies like those created by the Khan Academy are, in this sense, a logical next-step in the evolution of these ideas.

A week ago, the Washington Post published a blog post titled Khan Academy: The hype and the reality by Karim Kai Ani which elicited a response from Sal Khan. The author echoes, but amplifies strongly, Brian’s comment that the videos “are not error free.” In fact, Mr. Ani’s primary critique of the Khan Academy is that the videos aren’t any good (though little evidence is provided). The focus on Khan’s videos to the exclusion of the other aspects of the Academy is the biggest problem with the essay. For a more in-depth look at the activities of Khan and the charity he formed, I suggest this article from Inside Higher Ed:

I think too much conversation about Khan Academy is about cute little videos,” Khan said in an interview last week. “Most of our resources, almost two-thirds of [the staff], are engineers working on the exercises and analytics platform. That, I think, is what we’re most excited about.

If you’re only familiar with Khan through his Wacom tablet, click through to get behind the scenes of the technology Khan has adopted to implement the “classroom flipping” philosophy.


About Derek Smith

Former weather dude and scientific software developer. In the upcoming 2015-16 year I will complete my PhD at UCSB in nonlinear dispersive equations. I enjoy spending time with my two young daughters and running.
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