Tidbits About Kahn Academy

Tidbits About Kahn Academy

I had the good fortune to have breakfast a week or so ago with a young Parker alum who works for Kahn Academy.  By now, you all know the basics about Kahn, an incredible story of great young people doing the right thing with determination and imagination.  So just a few tidbits following that breakfast:

KA is still a small company and I get the sense they are putting in long hours just trying to imagine all the possibilities of their powerful footprint, and then also engineering those imaginings.  They wink and say there are two big companies in Mt. View, at the north end of Silicon Valley: Google and KA.  They may never become as big as Google but they are on the verge of making a huge impact on education as they expand their video library and make the tools for teachers both highly useful and robust.  When teachers now say that they do not have time to integrate 21C skills in the classroom, I immediately think about how they could flip their subject right now and free up time from content delivery to work with students on tailored help or advanced skills.

During a follow-up conversation back here at school, one teacher told me that, following the 60 Minutes piece on KA two weeks ago he asked his 9th graders how many used Kahn at home.  90% raised their hands, and yet we do not have a single teacher at the school that assigns this as homework.  Bottom line: the kids are completely comfortable seeking out dynamic sources of help.  We just need to embrace this type of content delivery and leverage the flexibility it provides.

I don’t think that this type of instruction will ever completely replace face-to-face teaching; at least I hope it does not.  But failure to embrace this technology is just head-in-the-sand for educational leaders.

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  1. Joel Rogozinski April 9, 2012 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    I believe that flipping the classroom has the ability to truly allow every student to reach their maximum potential. As a current graduate student at the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, I can tell you that KA is an important, effective and efficient tool that has helped me move through the program. I would love to see teachers incorporate some aspects into classrooms, as it is highly effective at explaining even some of the most complicated topics in a very simple terms. I don’t think face-to-face teaching will ever go away, and teaching professionals should be jumping at this amazing resource that is available.

  2. John Burk April 10, 2012 at 2:07 am - Reply

    I’d encourage you to dig in a bit to some of the very good criticism out there of Khan Academy. I’d start with physics teacher Frank Noschese’s archive on this topic. This post is also a great place to start.

    I’ve watched a lot of the physics content on KA, and I’ve got to say it’s terrible. It’s filled with many of the misconceptions that novice students have about physics, and makes no use of the tremendous insights on how students learn physics that have been discovered in the past 20 years by Physics Education Research.

    Errors aside, I think the real problem with Khan Academy is hinted at by your observations. Some students really love it (though there is some evidence that students in KA classes do all they can to avoid the videos, and simply try to game their way through the exercises). I think at least some of this enjoyment of KA can be pinned on schools failure give students a real picture of what learning is. In too many classes, learning is about memorizing the algorithm to answer the question to pass the test and repeat the cycle. In these moments, I think Khan can be a breath of fresh air. He’s showing you exactly how to to memorize the algorithm, you can pause and rewind if you get lost, and you get lots of practice before the test.

    Of course, the problem is this isn’t learning, it is what passes as learning in too many classrooms, and what is remembered as learning by too many parents and the larger culture. And the failure is ours as schools and teachers for not showing students a real alternative.

    • glichtman April 10, 2012 at 2:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks, John, I will check out those links and appreciate your feedback. I might even pass some of it along to KA as I am pretty sure they are committed to “getting it right”. But one other important point: perfect or not, this is a service that many teachers can and will use, for free. If schools like Westminster are the Tiffany’s of education, there is a reason why lots of people shop elsewhere and that competition is something that all retailers need to deal with. And this is particularly the case where the alternatives are run by bright people who will improve product and service over time.

    • Matt Wahl April 11, 2012 at 2:57 pm - Reply

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your feedback – I’m on the team over at Khan Academy. As Grant said, we are committed to providing the best possible product for students, and recognize that we’re in the early innings of this journey. Would appreciate if you could shoot me an email (matt [at] khanacademy.org) with the specific videos that you’re referencing (and any ideas for additional great learning experiences in Physics), and we’ll do our best.

      Thanks again for helping us improve,


  3. Catherine Thiemann April 24, 2012 at 2:58 am - Reply

    I spent the day sick in bed, watching Vi Hart’s Doodling in Math Class series. Great, exciting material that makes me want to dig into the “real” math lessons. I’m definitely going to use the KA resource in home schooling my son next year.

    • glichtman April 24, 2012 at 4:04 am - Reply

      KA is an enormous resource and I will look forward to hearing how it works out in the home schooling next year.

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