Aug 12 2014

Revisiting Khan Academy with a Clean Slate

Khan Academy can help teachers learn more about their students and where to focus their efforts.

“Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who do not use technology will be replaced.” -Dr. Ray Clifford, 1983.

Thirty years later, this quotation still rings true. However, I would argue that it’s about a lot more than just using technology.

Technology in education is a game changer because it transcends old pedagogical methods in a way that affords new learning opportunities. I don’t mean to sound critical of didactic teaching; after all, it definitely serves its purpose, and in some cases it may still be appropriate. Nevertheless, the aim is to leverage the opportunities offered by digital ecologies. In a previous article in the Connect IT series, I outlined methods for identifying if teachers are simply using technology or if they're integrating it in a manner that transforms the way we plan and deliver instruction.

As we consider these new opportunities, differentiated instruction is an area where teachers can harness the power of technology to meet the individual needs of their students.

Khan Academy (KA) differentiates instruction in one of the most efficient, dynamic and cost-effective ways. When I bring up KA to a teacher or mention it in a presentation, the typical response is, "Ugh, my students think those videos are so boring."

Forget the Videos

Have you signed up as a coach? That’s where the real magic happens.

KA gives teachers robust, in-depth data about the progress of every student in their class for free. It even provides a level set test for teachers to administer at the beginning of the school year to recommend a starting point for each student. Teachers can get an overview of the whole class or drill down into a particular student's profile to determine in exactly which topics the student needs additional support.

At the individual student view, data exists on the concepts that have been mastered, the areas that need improvement and how much time the student has spent working on a particular concept. This allows a teacher to assign content appropriate to the students' individual needs. KA is also valuable because of its practice problems, which contain step-by-step hints, scaffolding the student’s ability to master a mathematical concept and determine how much more practice is needed.

Notice that I haven't even mentioned the videos yet.

In my view, the videos are for supplemental instruction and should be considered the last resort. Too many times, I've heard about a teacher playing the videos in place of teaching. That's where the "those videos are so boring" comment comes from.

As Chad Stevens (@k12cto) mentioned in an article, technology provides new avenues for teachers to develop and grow, but it can’t replace them. The videos are there for when the teacher is not — at home for homework help, or for students who can move ahead.

A Beginner's Mind

I encourage readers to forget everything they have heard about KA and revisit the site with a fresh perspective. More importantly, I hope this article sparks conversation about how technology is used in your school this year. This is just one example of using technology to differentiate student outcomes, and meeting the needs of each individual student are driving this approach. Some teachers can get caught up in the latest ed tech resources and forget to prioritize educational value above all else. Read more about not falling into the trap of cool tools rather than learning in this Connect IT article.

If we want better student outcomes from math classes, we need to move away from the teacher-centric model of standing by the document camera, explaining how to solve problems while students scramble to take notes, and giving a weekly summative assessment. Some districts are paying upward of $50,000 for programs that provide essentially the same data and practice problems as Khan Academy. Imagine if those districts reallocated funds for professional development: That money would go a long way toward professional development training on problem-based learning and student-centric instructional practices.

What is your district doing to move teachers away from old pedagogical methods and leverage technology in a way that affords new learning opportunities?

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

This article is part of the Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

Sergey Nivens/ThinkStock

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