Friday, July 6, 2012

Why did you do it? Part II

In a prior post, I explained why John Golden and I used satire to critique a Khan Academy video for MTT2K. As Audrey Watters points out in the Tweet on the right and a post at Hacker Education, the approach has worked and started a serious conversation on Khan Academy's role in education reform. (You can add an article on Huffington Post Education and blog posts from Rhett Allain at Wired, Robert Talbert at The Chronicle, and Keith Devlin to the ongoing discussion.) But starting a conversation was only part of what I hoped to accomplish with the MTT2K parody. My primary reason for this project is revealed here.

A few people have attributed MTT2K to my not being a fan of Mr. Khan. This is only partially true. I am a big fan of his idea of moving K-12 education forward into the 21st Century. Anyone who wants to help teachers and students improve learning is someone I would consider an ally. Mr. Khan is not alone in this endeavor to provide online lectures, nor is he the first, but he has an incredible story and over 3,000 videos across several different disciplines.

While I love the idea of Khan Academy, I am not a fan of its implementation. Mr. Khan's videos are reminiscent of the lectures many of us experienced in math class, but they are lacking in some essential elements. As is the case with many people in the U.S. who think they understand education and what is wrong with it, Mr. Khan has a one-sided view of teaching. That side is from behind a student's desk, and because most teachers do not make visible all the work that goes on behind the scene before, during, and after the lesson this picture is incomplete.

As teacher educators, we share the Teaching-Learning Cycle with our preservice teachers in an effort to introduce them to the entire picture of what it takes to be a teacher. The work of assessment, evaluation, and planning often go on unnoticed to the casual observer, so people can be excused for not being aware of them. But in order to foster learning, a teacher needs to not only be aware of these parts of the Cycle, they need to know how to implement them effectively.
Much like the preservice teachers just entering our program, Mr. Khan seems unaware of the importance of each aspect of the Teaching-Learning Cycle. For example, in this Wired piece from last year, he seems to suggest that before his dashboard system, teachers usually "fly blind." This demonstrates a lack of awareness of the multitude of formative assessments that teachers use for evaluation which go far beyond counting video views and the number of right answers.

Furthermore, many of the math videos I have watched from Khan Academy suggest a lack of planning on the part of Mr. Khan. This is confirmed in a recent Time article:
He doesn't use a script. In fact, he admits, "I don't know what I'm going to say half the time."
There is something to be said for a teacher exposing students to an authentic learning experience and expert teachers can make this look easy. But it is not easy. As Mr. Khan showed in the video we critiqued and novice teachers find out on a regular basis, lack of planning can have disastrous results. Teachers who do not know the vocabulary used in the lesson or think the numbers used in the examples can come out of thin air risk fostering misconceptions rather than learning. Novice teachers who make and catch these kinds of mistakes have opportunities to quickly set things back on the correct path. It is unclear how Khan Academy handles this as the video we critiqued was more than a couple years old.

So this is what I hoped people would get out of the video. Yes, Mr. Khan has a good idea - let's improve education by allowing teachers to work more directly with students. He is not a world-class teacher, however. In fact, his videos demonstrate that he suffers from many of the same mistakes that preservice teachers make because they do not understand the complexities of the Teaching-Learning Cycle.

Given this line from the Time article, my greatest concern is that Mr. Khan is satisfied with his current understanding of teaching which perpetuates the idea that teaching is easy:
I think there is an advantage to being an outsider - I'm not colored by the dogma of the Establishment.
Which brings me back to the power of satire. The Time article was done prior to MTT2K hitting the scene. Let's see if it does anything to push Khan Academy to  improve its implementation. There are expert teachers willing to help. All Mr. Khan has to do is ask.