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I was watching a Ted–talk, from Salman Khan. He was a hedge fund manager but had a radical change of profession. To aid his cousins he posted a few YouTube videos about algebra. His cousins preferred the videos of him, rather than interacting with him in person.
What Solomon’s cousins appreciated, was that they could repeat lessons when they had not grasped the material, instead of bothering him. I know I have been inhibited in interrupting a lecture because I was afraid of bothering the teacher or the other students over some “trivial” matter.
His cousins were allowed to develop an understanding of a new concept, before a new idea was presented. Not grasping one concept while a flood of new ideas is presented is a horrible feeling. It is like treading water in a jar. The water level slowly starts rising, but there is nowhere to go except to be crushed by the approaching roof.
In traditional classroom Swiss cheese gaps appear in knowledge because the teacher has to go at a determined pace even if the concept was not fully absorbed by the whole class. My own understanding of trigonometry and calculus is a testament to this. I can plug in the equations, but I lack a fundamental understanding of what I am doing.
Now, he has founded a nonprofit organization called, the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy Has over 2100 Videos And 100 Self-Paced Exercises Covering Everything from Arithmetic to Physics, Finance and History. YouTube also hosts the same videos.
These are not just lessons posted on the Internet. They are well crafted and expansive. Unlike classroom lessons, the website lessons are detailed and thorough. The teacher takes the time to fully explain what an equation means ie: 7x, means 7 multiplied by x or x added to itself 7 times.
The lessons can afford to be detailed because they don’t have a 45 minute deadline to meet. One of the frustrating things I’ve found the math equations for the things just seem to be missed – it the textbook and the lecture. They were “missed” because the teacher or writer thought it was to basic to include. But, there is nothing like stating the “obvious” and if the students are bored, they can skip ahead. More likely though, I think a student is likely to repeat those sections of the lecture that are problematic.
Salman is not trying to replace the teacher. His reasoning is if the kids could watch the videos at home, then this frees up the teacher to do homework at school. This was Salman’s fundamental shift of the education paradigm. By placing the brunt of lecturing to homework, the teacher is free to deepen the student’s understanding of the material by the application of the knowledge and concepts (ie:homework problems). The software used in schools also allows the teacher knows what video watched how many times they were repeated at if they were having problems with the problems. This humanizes the classroom and allows the teacher to spend quality time where it is needed. Also in Salman’s model, peer to peer instruction is encouraged.
Our current system does not allow for mastery of the material. If I did not grasp a concept in lecture, I would have to make a mental note to ask for clarification. But, more often I would promise myself that I would read up on it further. But, as more and more concepts piled up, these mental notes and promises disappeared in an overwhelming deluge of isolated facts without coherence and connection. Having lectures paced at my own understanding, would have meant that I had time to replay and grasp one concept before moving on to the next.
I would have loved to see something like this in university. Most of the basic lectures could easily be repeated year in and year out. As professors put more of their notes online the burden of simply copying words (as opposed to understanding them) disappears. But, I think it would be better to have an actual lecture with all attendant media. Education happens when teachers and students interact. “Lecture” time should be spent in trying to clarify concepts and applying knowledge, rather than trying to absorb new concepts in a one-size fit all monologue.
The Khan academy brings a fresh perspective and alternative to traditional education. I am excited enough with the material on their web site to try to fill in my own swiss cheese knowledge gaps.