Sal Khan On 60 Minutes

Sanjay Gupta, introducing Khan Academy:

Take a moment and remember your favorite teacher. Now imagine that teacher could reach, not thirty kids in a classroom, but millions of students all over the world. That’s exactly what Sal Khan is doing on his website Khan Academy.

If your favorite teacher did anything other than lecture for 10-20 minutes continuously, though, Khan Academy may seem like several steps in a different direction.

Students Don’t Like The Videos

60 Minutes reported the quantity of videos Khan has produced and the time and effort it took to make them. It didn’t report the efforts some students take to avoid watching them. Here’s a white paper from Stanford’s

We were surprised to find that students preferred to teach themselves or each other through the practice problems and hints rather than watching the Khan videos.

My own classroom observations confirm theirs and a Khan Academy employee confirmed both: kids watch videos as a last resort after exhausting other efforts, some of which don’t look much like “learning.”

Pivoting From The Flipped Classroom

That is a critical design challenge for Khan and his team as they put distance between themselves and the “flipped classroom” model he promoted in his TED talk a year ago.


And the teachers would write, saying, “We’ve used your videos to flip the classroom. You’ve given the lectures, so now what we do … ” – and this could happen in every classroom in America tomorrow – ” … what I do is I assign the lectures for homework, and what used to be homework, I now have the students doing in the classroom.”

Last night:

I kind of view [the flipped classroom] as a step in the direction. The ideal direction is using something like Khan Academy for every student to work at their own pace to master concepts before moving on and then the teacher using Khan Academy as a tool so that you can have a room of 20 or 30 kids all working on different things but you can still kind of administrate that chaos.

This is a enormous expansion of the Khan Academy vision. No longer is the message, “Do the basic skills with Khan Academy outside the classroom to free up time for projects and higher-order thinking inside the classroom.” That message raised a lot of interesting questions which are now moot. (eg. “Why are video lectures the best way to learn basic skills? Why are we separating basic skills and higher-order thinking? Who decides which is which?”) Now Khan Academy is the classroom. Kids come into class, sit in front of a laptop, put on headphones, and pick up where they left off from the last class. The teacher monitors the class dashboard and offers coaching when necessary. If you think I’m extrapolating too much from Khan’s remarks, the same Khan Academy employee confirmed that vision to my Stanford team a few months ago.

We could argue whether or not that kind of future for our math classrooms is depressing and dystopian but all available evidence indicates that kids won’t put up with it. I’m curious what changes, if any, Khan will make in response to the evidence that kids don’t like watching his videos.

BTW: The strangest editing decision CBS made last night.

BTW: Edtech Hulk has the vibe surrounding Khan Academy and the just-announced TED-Ed exactly right.

2011 Mar 13. Sue Van Hattum e-mailed to suggest that the middling student reception to his videos explains Sal Khan’s hiring of Vi Hart and Brit Cruise, both of whom do good work with video. I think that’s plausible.

2011 Mar 14. I Would Have Loved Khan Academy In Eighth Grade.

2011 Mar 14. Welcome, EdSurge readers. Let me point out that EdSurge rebuts [amended below] the’s report that kids make efforts to avoid watching Khan’s videos (confirmed by a Khan employee and my own observation) with no stronger evidence than a) an iPad app released by Khan Academy this week and b) a Gates Foundation op-ed. We’re all playing on Team Student Learning here. It does nobody any good to paper over bad news. Let’s figure out the nut of the problem and fix it. Take it as a design challenge for EdSurge’s design-minded readership.

2011 Mar 14. I misinterpreted EdSurge as rebutting my case. According to their editor, that wasn’t their intent. Here is the item in its entirety:

THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION: That’s how CBS 60 Minutes–like so many others–billed the Khan Academy in its feature of Salman Khan last weekend. Such great PR has Dan Meyers on his feet, pointing to studies that say students don’t actually like watching Khan videos. Dan also notices a discourse shift from emphasis on flipped classrooms to a model where the Academy is the classroom. His take: “all available evidence indicates that kids won’t put up with it.” Khan clearly feels otherwise, particularly as it is now offering a collection of ipad apps. A cogent argument in favor of blended learning is set forth by Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation in the Harvard Business Review. It’s among the most read pieces in the issue. Full disclosure: EdSurge has received support from the Gates Foundation for our beta website.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.