Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Is it worth it?

The second episode of Mystery Teacher Theater 2000 came out last week.
My partner in MTT2K, John Golden, did an excellent summary of his perspective on Khan Academy here. In this post, I want to give a bit of background on how we came to use this video and expand on John's point that "at some level this is two guys goofing around to make a point about good use of resources."

I first saw Khan Academy's videoIntroduction to matrices, while doing an observation of a student teacher. As a part of the lesson, the student teacher decided to show this nearly twelve minute presentation to a class of precalculus students. Throughout the video, the students paid very little attention to the screen and the student teacher ended up going over the basics again.

The idea of having over 3,000 videos on a variety of subjects available to anyone with an internet connection is appealing to me. If the quality of the videos is suspect, it is less attractive but it really is none of my business. When those videos are assigned to K-12 students to watch either in class or after class, then it is part of my responsibility as a teacher educator to question their use. In this case my question would be, "Is this video worth showing in class or could the time be better used?"

In other words, how is this video better than:
  • the teacher providing this information through a more interactive lecture;
  • the students reading the textbook section on matrices; or
  • the class working on an "archeology project" where they try to discover the  basics of matrices using artifacts strategically "found" by the teacher?
Grant Wiggins talks about the juice needing to be worth the squeeze when it comes to assessments. I would say the same could be applied to other instructional decisions like the use of Khan Academy videos as a part of a school's curriculum. In the case of the student teacher, I would say it was definitely not worth the time it took to watch the video and get the students focused back on the lesson.

Perhaps the problem is that the videos were not intended for whole group instruction. A recent post from a Teach for America staff member explains how he used Khan Academy to help differentiate his instruction.
I could point my most advanced students towards videos instructing them on multiple application of a particular theory while I simultaneously walked students struggling with the same notion through a lesson explaining its fundamental premises. It helped me to be a better teacher who reached more of my students more effectively.
Several promotional videos from Khan Academy offer the same testimonial. Teachers assign Mr. Khan's videos to students to watch while the teachers work with smaller groups. Here are two teachers from Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, California talking about using Khan Academy in their classrooms.

If Khan Academy helped these middle school teachers to break out of the mindset of simply giving notes to students, then I really do owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Khan. However, because valuable school time is being used to watch these videos I must push these teachers to think about what comes next. Repackaging the lecture as a video is not a re-imagining of education nor is it true differentiation of learning.

The way they are using the videos sounds more like addressing a classroom management issue than truly facilitating learning. If these teachers are looking for something productive for other students to do while they work with small groups, then I would encourage them to talk to their colleagues who teach reading and writing and manage small groups regularly without assigning videos. I can think of at least a half-a-dozen things that are more worthwhile to do in class than watching a video like the one I sat through during that precalculus lesson. 

I will write another post about alternative activities (if there's any interest) but this post is getting long and I want to give those teachers who assign Khan Academy videos to their classes a chance to respond to the question, "Is it worth it?" Please post your comments below with the understanding that any off-topic comments will be deleted - I would not want you to waste your time.

1 comment:

  1. I am looking forward to reading about examples of "videos instructing them on multiple application of a particular theory." I have yet to witness that level of depth in a KA video.