Khan Academy: An Evolution in Education?

“I teach the way that I wish I was taught. The lectures are coming from me, an actual human being who is fascinated by the world around him.” —Sal

“Khan Academy lessons are great. My children like them, and I've used them myself to review concepts. What Sal Khan has done is amazing. Sal Khan's approach and the results in the classroom continue to impress. He remains one of the most exciting innovators in technology and teaching--a pioneer in a movement.” – Bill Gates

“Education will only truly be transformed when we stop trying to jam content into our kids’ heads and start allowing them to explore and learn in contexts that feed their desire to keep learning. To that end, I don’t think Khan Academy does or can change much at all.” – Will Richardson


Introduction

Online education industry has existed for quite some time now, but it still lacks quality as well as audience. Khan Academy is a player in online tutoring which boasts of having achieved what other online educators have been lacking – quality and audience. The organization has been offering help to students primarily in the field of science education. They have been innovating new service offerings quite frequently which has given them an upper hand in an industry which is somewhat difficult to capture. Khan Academy has designed its tutorials based on the fact that students have a very less attention span and also that all students in a class might not have the same level and pace of understanding. Their service offerings are also based on the same criteria.

Khan Academy has garnered acclaim from all corners and the biggest fan of this tutoring organization is Bill Gates. People have praised their innovative service offerings and the simple way in which even most complex concepts are explained. But they have also bagged their share of criticisms.

What is khan academy?

Mr. Salman Khan started Khan Academy in the year 2006 as a not – for – profit organization. It is a website that holds around 3200 video tutorials on subjects of mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. The video tutorials are all of 10 to 15 minutes of time span. The tutorials have become very famous among school students, teachers and parents for their simplicity and short durations. (Annexure 1, 2 and 3)

Initially Khan Academy was started with almost no funds. Later Google funded $2 million and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation donated $1.5 million. As the popularity of Khan Academy increased, so did their need for more employees and more funds. These needs were met by donations from organizations like Reed Hastings, the O'Sullivan Foundation, the Valhalla Charitable Foundation, the McCall McBain Foundation, and John & Ann Doerr. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation further gave a huge grant of $4 million after their initial funding.

Watch. Practice. Learn almost anything for free

The website - www.khanacademy.org -
boasts of delivering almost 148,034,349 lectures till date. There are following sections on the website (Annexure 4):

  • Watch
  • Practice
  • Coach
  • Volunteer

Under the watch section, there are around 3200 videos on the subjects of mathematics, science, finance and economics, humanities and tests. The section on tests helps the students preparing for competitions like IIT JEE, GMAT, SAT, etc. (Annexure 5). Presently the tutorial drawings are made using Wacom tablet. SmoothDraw3 application facilitates the tutorial drawings in a free natural way. The tutorials are recorded using the screen capture software provided by Camtasia Studio. Mr. Khan records his audio narratives using Samson C03U USB Multi Pattern Condenser Microphone
4.

Khan Academy is not only limited to giving lectures. Students also get a chance to practice on problems (Annexure 6). Students can start practice online from a basic level and based on their performance the level of questions increases. They can also practice on a section of their choice. This particular practice software is also available on MIT open courseware. The software maps the progress of the student and gives an idea as to what segments have been practiced, what segments need to be reviewed again and what are the segments where the student is proficient. Google powers this knowledge map and student progress reports can be viewed on student dashboards. (Annexure 7 and 8)

A very important and popular feature of Khan Academy is that teachers and parents can keep an eye on how their children or students are progressing in their studies. All they need to do is to create an account and ask their children/students to add them as their coaches on the website. With this they can track the progress of their students and help every student on the skill that needs proficiency. These student-tracking reports can be viewed on coach dashboards. (Annexure 9 and 10)

Khan Academy also encourages academicians and others to submit tutorial videos. People can volunteer to write subtitles for the videos or dub the videos in whatever language they want to help spread the popularity of these tutorials. Presently dubbed Khan Academy tutorials are available in 16 different languages of the world.

Khan Academy had more than four million unique visitors and 46 million page views in January 2012. Almost 120 million videos of Khan Academy have been watched and more than 365 million exercise problems have been completed. Though Khan Academy resources are used all across the globe, major traffic (almost 70%) comes from United Sates.

Number of unique visitors (January 2010 – January 2012)

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New endeavors

Khan Academy is not only limited to posting video tutorials and creating progress reports online. They have been continuously coming up with newer endeavors to reach out to as many people as possible and help as many lives as possible.

Flipping the Classroom

After making a strong hold in the online tutorials segment, Khan Academy has innovated a new service offering to enter the physical world of teaching as well. They have collaborated with the following schools5 to work on their project of flipping the classroom –

Public:
  • Los Altos School District with largest implementation of over 40 classrooms
  • Mountain View School District (also a public school district in the San Francisco Bat Area)
Charter:
  • Summit Preparatory School
  • KIPP charter network
Independent
  • Eastside Preparatory in East Palo Alto has students whose family members have never been to school
  • Hope Technology School, which has a major chunk of students with special needs.

Flipping the classroom happens when students listen to lecture notes at home and in class they practice the concepts, with the help of their teachers. The schools that have implemented Khan Academy in their system, ask the students to listen to Khan Academy tutorials at home. Then in class the next day, those concepts are practiced through solving problems. Flipped classrooms are supposed to help students in having self-paced one to one learning. Student tracking reports are a part of these flipped classrooms.

Khan Academy’s entry into the schools is also to understand what are the needs of students and hence base their videos on these requirements. They conduct workshops with teachers where they plan how to implement Khan Academy in schools, best practices of teachers are improvised and teachers are trained on various implementation parameters. Khan Academy also improvises blended learning models to be used in class, for example, small group instruction by teachers, one on one sessions by teachers, peer to peer tutoring and project based learning.

Discovery lab

Khan Academy does not want to be synonymous with the number of hours spent on the website. Hence they came up with another service offering – Discovery Lab. Discovery lab is kind of a summer camp, which runs for a period of two weeks. With the motive of making education as engaging as possible, discovery labs facilitate project-based learning. There is no one teacher with 20 students; rather there is a group of teachers with a group of students to facilitate project works. Students are encouraged to see the practical side of what they learn by making models, questioning concepts, etc.

Discovery labs are also a way to understand what are the requirements of students. The developers and designers of Khan Academy work closely with students and teachers attending the discovery lab to further enhance their website content.

Collaborations

Khan Academy has also collaborated with many colleges and organizations to reach out to as many people as possible. They collaborated with MIT so as to develop more specialized videos on various topics of science and engineering. Hippo Campus, a project of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE), also collaborated with Khan Academy to host their video on its campus. They also collaborated with Renren Inc. of China to host the videos on 56.com, a subsidiary of Renren, in the local language. Similarly they have started collaboration with Nascenia IT to host the videos for Bangladesh in the local language.

Khan Academy has developed Apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phones and other tablets. This will facilitate use of Khan Academy videos by tablet users also.

Evolved education system or drill and kill

Khan Academy feels that they have developed an evolved education system where students and teachers get more time to work on practical problems by flipping the classrooms. The group learning system, peer to peer learning system etc. is expected to bring about a spectacular change in the way education is being imparted (Annexure 12). But there are also some who have criticized Khan Academy for promoting a rote learning system.

Some academicians have stated that to change the education system one needs to develop practical learning approach in schools. Students should be directed towards critical thinking rather than a drill and kill approach which Khan Academy is promoting. Khan Academy is criticized for telling the students how to solve a problem but what is required for critical development of students is to tell them what the problem really means and how it evolved.

Another criticism of Khan Academy is that since it is offered for free which makes it difficult for other online education providers to enter the business. There might be other providers with a better content also, but being offered at a price. And hence they are not able to compete with Khan Academy.

No matter what people have to say, Khan academy claims to have created a “Global Classroom”
1 where students from all round the world study on a single platform and at their own pace.

Refrences

  1. www.khanacademy.org
  2. www.thegatesnotes.com
  3. www.joebower.org
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org
  5. http://khanacademy.desk.com
  6. www.wiredacademic.com
  7. www.mathalicious.com
  8. http://quarksandwuirks.wordpress.com
  9. http://techpp.com
  10. http://k12videos.mit.edu

Annexure

1. Vision of khan academy

Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization with a mission of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere.

At Khan Academy, we believe students of all ages should have free, unlimited access to top-notch educational content on any topic. Learners should be able to consume and master this content at their own pace. We believe the technology exists today to fundamentally transform education, making it more accessible and individualized, and we are trying to build the tools and resources every student deserves.

In addition, we believe a great teacher can use technology to push learning to new levels. We are piloting the use of Khan Academy in classrooms at a variety of different types of schools and are studying how teachers can effectively use our resources in a blended learning environment.

2. Quick facts about khan academy

  • First YouTube video uploaded: 2006
  • Year founded: 2008
  • Unique users per month: 4M
  • Videos watched: 120M+
  • Exercises completed: 365M+
  • Videos: ~3000
  • Exercises: ~300
  • Number of employees: 25

3. How did khan academy get started

In August 2004, Sal Khan began remotely tutoring his cousin, Nadia, who was struggling with “unit conversion”. This “swiss-cheese” gap in her knowledge was preventing her from being placed in the more advanced Math track. Since Nadia was in New Orleans and Sal was in Boston working at a hedge fund at that time, Sal started tutoring her via telephone and Yahoo Doodle after work. As Nadia improved in math class, Sal began tutoring her brothers Arman and Ali. Eventually, word got around and he was tutoring a handful of his cousins and family members. Scheduling became a real issue and Sal started recording videos and posting them on YouTube in 2006 so everyone could watch on their own. More and more people kept watching, and Sal has continued to make videos ever since. Sal talks about how he got started in his TED talk (http://www.khanacademy.org/video/salman-khan-talk-at-ted-2011--from-ted-com).

The organization was incorporated as a 501c(3) non-profit in 2008. Sal continued to work on Khan Academy during his spare time until the fall of 2009, when he quit his hedge fund job and decided to pursue the endeavor full-time. He lived off of his savings for the first 9 months until he received his first significant donation from Ann Doerr. In September 2010, Khan Academy received large grants from Google ($2 million) and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation ($1.5 million) and began to build out an organization. Sal called on Shantanu Sinha from McKinsey & Company to join as President & COO. They were former high-school math competitors in New Orleans, freshman-year roommates at MIT, and long-time friends. They immediately hired Ben Kamens and Jason Rosoff, both from Fog Creek Software, to head up software development and design. The small team moved into office space in October 2010.

4. Khan academy home page
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5. Iit math on khan academy
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6. Individual exercise module on khan academy
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7. Student dashboard activity
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8. Student knowledge map
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9. Coach dashboard progress over time
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10. Coach dashboard progress report
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11. How many people work at khan academy and what are their backgrounds?

As of January 2012, we have 25 full-time employees at Khan Academy. We have been able to attract many high-caliber individuals who are drawn to the vision of transforming education. These include individuals such as John Resig, creator and lead developer of the jQuery JavaScript library, who is leading Khan Academy's open source initiatives.

Many of our employees have had very successful careers at places like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, McKinsey & Company and Mozilla, some have been leaders at technology start-ups, and others have come from education institutions such as Teach for America. All have either put those careers on hold, or like Sal, decided to quit and dedicate their lives to the mission of Khan Academy.

In addition to our full-time employees, we have an amazing community of volunteers who help with translations and exercise development.

The intent for Khan Academy has always been to expand faculty beyond Sal. Sal has collaborated with a variety of talent including:
  • Dean Phillip A.Pizzo and Dr.Charles Prober of Stanford Medical School
  • Geoffrey Morre, author of Crossing the Chasm
  • Dr.David Aqus, renowned Cancer specialist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Southern California

In October 2011, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker joined Khan Academy full-time as Co-Deans of Khan Academy’s Art and History offerings. Dr. Zucker was formerly Chair of Art and Design History at Pratt Institute. Dr. Harris was Director of Digital Learning at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Their videos are now available at http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org, and we are in the process of exploring the addition of other distinguished lecturers in the coming months. We look for unique voices that get traction and engage with students. As we expand our faculty, we’ll enable more teachers to share their enthusiasm with kids everywhere.

In January 2012, Vi Hart joined Khan Academy full-time as the creator of imaginative out-of-the-box Math and Science videos. Vi's blog Vihart.com had earned her critical acclaim, and as part of Khan Academy she hopes to focus full-time on nurturing young minds in Math and Science with her fun filled, discovery based approach.
We continue to look for unique voices that get traction and engage with students. As we expand our faculty, we'll enable more teachers to share their enthusiasm with kids everywhere.

12. How do you respond to comments that khan academy is enabling rote learning - sometimes known as “drill and kill” ?

We believe Khan Academy is a tool that can be effectively used to empower students and teachers. Our philosophy of learning strongly incorporates elements that “humanize the classroom” with project-based learning, peer learning, and lively discussion. We believe Khan Academy can enable the core skills to be built, in many cases more quickly, and free up the classroom for more interactive activities that focus on creativity, leadership, and teamwork.

In reality, we have seen with Khan Academy…
  • Students empowered with choice of what to work on and ownership for their learning. They feel like they are ”exploring” math, not being drilled on it.
  • More time being freed up for the teacher so (s)he can deliver hands-on learning by applying different skills through projects.
  • Students have rich conversations in Math with other students and with their teachers and parents. This happens particularly when students are working on topics that are challenging to them.
  • Students challenging teachers on a concept.
  • Students redoing a video for the class or re-explaining a concept in front of the class because teaching is one of the best ways to solidify understanding.

We believe projects can play an important part in the learning process. In fact, Khan Academy has run summer camps in the past that were largely focused on project-based learning. We are looking into incorporating a catalog of projects in addition to all the granular exercises into our system, which can then be suggested to a student or a coach at relevant times during the learning process.







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