Ten days ago I had the extraordinary good fortune to see and hear Salman Khan speak to an audience of 3000; I will say it was genuinely a “heartthrob” moments in the field of education, as if seeing the Beatles at the Ed Sullivan show.
I think Khan is a true transformer, a visionary, activist, architect and engineer of a new form for teaching and learning that will raise the educational prospects of millions, perhaps billions of students.
The core of his message is this: if we use technology effectively, we don’t diminish the interpersonal and relational qualities of education, we enhance it.
(A spontaneous applause followed this line, and it was sweet to see the way it caught Khan off-guard and delighted him).
Khan just very recently spoke at TED, in a talk pretty much identical to the one I saw at NAIS.
No individual, by my lights, is going to more greatly transform how learning works in the next decade than Khan, and in person he was charming, energetic, and inspiring. His slides were illuminating, well chosen, and well-designed.
The story begins only two or three years ago, I believe: Khan, hedge fund manager, was tutoring his nephews and nieces at a family gathering in math, and after the family dispersed, he offered to continue tutoring and began using web-video as a tool for tutoring. Soon one video became several, and without thinking too much about it, he began collecting them on a web-page that gradually gained wider and wider recognition without any promotion at all.
Khan explained how valuable it is for students to have access to succinct, clear, quality lectures on digital video: students can pause, they can replay, they can play them over and over if they need. If they miss class they can still access the lecture; if they are reviewing weeks or months later it is always still there for them.
He told a very funny story when he again visited with his nephews and nieces and resumed tutoring in person, only to encounter the reaction: we like the Uncle Salman tutoring on the computer more than the Uncle Salman in person. I was struck by his observation that sometimes, when we are learning something difficult, we might prefer to do so without a teacher, parent, or tutor hovering over us and asking explicitly or implicitly: do you get it now? do you get it now? do you get it now?
Of course, this is not to say we should deprive students of the opportunity for person-to-person coaching, only that it is great for kids to have the best of both worlds: in person when they seek it, which they can have more of if the lectures are delivered in video as homework and classtime is for coaching, and on-line if the student prefers it that way.
I have been writing a lot in recent months about how use of Khan academy on-line video lectures, and other tools akin to KA, are inspiring new approaches to teaching and learning, (Reverse Instruction, Collapsing Binaries, and Advancing the Flip) so it was very exciting for me to hear Khan discuss how educators around the country are engaged in a fast-rising conversation about how his videos for content delivery so that our classrooms can become places of tutoring, collaboration, projects, and inquiry learning.
This was where he made the point highlighted at top: technology used well makes our learning spaces more human and humane, more interpersonal and relational, than they have been for the past two centuries.
As I walked out of the lecture hall afterwards, I strolled alongside a group of 4 or 5 middle school teachers very excitedly discussing this approach, saying to each other:
I can’t believe I never thought of this before, but what an amazing idea: I can’t wait to try this back at my school.
I know I am not the only one to notice the response this new technique of reverse instruction is receiving: educators all over are jumping to the concept with great enthusiasm. It is not my writing ability but the enormous appeal of this educational “flipping” technique that has made the Reverse Instruction piece the most (by far) viewed post on Connected Principals.
Now until recently, KA’s program was exclusively composed of video lectures, but now, fabulously, Khan is taking it to another level, offering built-in practice assignments and assessment tools for students and teachers both. The use of new computer generated problem-sets associated with each unit of instruction are embedded into the system; when students get a problem wrong the program can direct students straight back to the right video explaining the concept upon which they went awry. Teachers can review the analytics of the student practice, and similarly identify exactly in which skill areas students are finding difficulty, and intervene accordingly.
All this is explained in a ten minute video that I suggest to you, my fellow principals and 21st century educators, you really do want to watch.
In his talk ten days ago, Khan explained his emphasis on “mastery:” students are not able to proceed to the next unit of study until they get ten problems in a row correct. He made a funny joke about education’s common rule of letting students proceed with only 70% mastery: if after two weeks bicycling you told me that you were only falling off your bike 30% of the time, I would then say great, let’s go on to ride a much more difficult mountain bike trail.
Khan Academy’s new assessment tool has certain similarities with an on-line tool we use now at my school, ALEKS. However, our teachers see advantages and strengths in the KA system over Khan, and, in what is a big difference, Khan Academy is entirely free.
That is part of the revolution: Khan Academy is entirely free, is getting bigger and stronger every month, and Salman Khan has pledged that it will always and everywhere be free. He has now big funding coming from both Google and from Gates.
It is not that I entirely love every single element of Khan Academy; of course not. The “badge” system for merit in using the Khan academy practice tools makes me a little uncomfortable, and I shudder to think what Alfie Kohn would make of it.
I realize that many teachers viewing this will begin to ask: if this is so great, what am I necessary for? What is the teacher’s role if Khan can offer so much?
These are difficult questions for anyone to have to ask of oneself as a professional educator, but I want to humbly suggest that they are great questions to be asking, with or without Khan Academy to prompt them. As technology advances so rapidly, (Hello, Watson!), all professionals need to be asking themselves how should our roles be changing such that we can ensure we are still offering a true “value-add?”
Some professional educators, seeing Khan Academy, ALEKS, and other such tools, are asking themselves these questions regularly, each and every day, and by asking and seeking the answer, they are greatly enhancing the probability that they are continuing to be relevant. The ones who are asking these questions are the ones who will successfully transition; it is the ones not asking these questions we need to be concerned about for their future.
Before concluding, let me direct you to two very fine posts regarding Khan Academy:
- Dolores Gende: What Khan Be Done With It?
- Aaron Senze: Yes, the Khan Academy IS the future of Education
There is no Nobel Prize for Education (there ought to be!), but it is fun and easy to imagine one. I was thinking about such a prize as I saw Khan speak last week: I had an impulse that I was seeing a speaker who was most certainly a contender, perhaps ten years hence, for the Education Nobel Prize.
I’ll end with an extended quote from Khan, from a piece he wrote last fall in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Youtube U. beats YouSnooze U.
Being able to directly learn from the professor actually becomes much more likely when the lecture happens on the student’s own time, with on-demand video. Then the professor is freed to be an active participant in an interactive, peer-to-peer problem-solving powwow in the classroom.
The classroom will be a place for active interaction, not passive listening and daydreaming. The role of the teacher will be that of a mentor or coach as opposed to a lecturer, test writer, and grader. The institutions that will remain relevant will be those that leverage this paradigm, not fight it.