Friday, March 2, 2012

Getting Stuck

Great presentation by Salman Khan where he talks about Khanacademy's past, and some of the new classroom initiatives KA is involved with. It is important to emphasize what online education can do, and what KA is doing, and the differences of old and new approaches.

There is a lot of confusion about new education; I keep coming back to the "constants" of the new age. Online education isn't necessarily about doing away with schools, teaching everyone at their homes. The latter is certainly possible with online methods, but in certain cases if the kid lives in a abusive home, poor neighborhood, it is good for such kids to be able to *go* to another place outside their home. Or, in a scenario when both parents work (which is most of the time) school is a good place to drop kids at.

So yes, kids can go to school, can sit in classrooms, can sit there for certain amount of time where they are expected to study (instead of running around), etc. This doesn't necessarily change. What *is* different however that the teacher does not teach anymore. The execution of teaching now belongs to Mr Salman Khan. Why? Because a) he can do it 10 times better than average teacher b) his videos can be watched over and over again. c) His videos can reach anyone, anytime, all the time [1].

In this scenario, the "teacher" is someone who monitors kids' progress using the software dashboard that is part of KA (I like that idea, KA lectures have tests at the end, the answers are tracked and is shown to the teacher on this dashboard), and the teacher can see who is stuck immediately, and focus on helping that kid, offering customized help for a specific problem for a specific child.

This talk also reminded me how students can get stuck on small, random subtopics, concepts, and how that can hinder them from moving forward, especially in topics like mathematics which build on previous knowledge layer by layer. If there are gaps in the knowledge base turning it into a "swiss cheese", then all that comes next will stand on shaky ground. The topic a student can get stuck on varies highly from student to student, so that's why it's important that teaching is asynchronized, everyone moves at their own pace, on their own path.

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[1] My ideal would be doing away with teacher completely, but this is a good middle ground if there needs to be one. In a KA style classroom, teacher can actually be any adult, anyone who can monitor progress, ensure some amount of discipline (silence) in the classroom, and be able to help if necessary. They could themselves be watching KA lectures, when necessary, so they are in a way part of the learning process.

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