Everyday makes me wish more and more that I had been a student in today's world to have access to the amount of technology and resources students have that are free. A while ago, I was told I was autodidactic. This was said with the implication that I could learn anything and they were unable to. It is amazing how labels put us into boxes.
For those who think that learning on your own is impossible I teach you how to learn anything and give you resources for online learning. To think of what I was able to learn with the library and Web 1.0 and realizing the exponentially greater resources of today makes me hopeful that classrooms will shift from teaching skills to facilitating exploration and creative thinking.
Salman Khan has become a household name in recent months, and well deserved of that recognition. He created hundreds of high quality education tutorials of his own volition and shared them with the world for free at KhanAcademy.org. The tutorials cover a wide variety of topics in Science and Math and even a few on finance and history. Bill Gates gave him a huge amount of praise recently, saying how often his children and he watch the videos.
If you have been to the site before, you will want to check it out again because financial and technical support has rallied to Khan side to further improve the site. Go to KhanAcademy.org and browse through the tutorials. What you will notice is that these videos are intended to teach discrete skills. This is useful because many videos breeze through too many topics quickly before one can get the hang of it.
The second thing you will notice which is much appreciated is the built in ability to download the videos. Many schools restrict access to YouTube and while I had previously recommended Browser Extensions and sites like KeepVid, having an easy way to download a video is priceless. Note: the video will download as an FLV file which takes up little memory and can be viewed for free with the VLC Player (aka "the cone").
The most intriguing new feature are the exercises. Students of all ages can click on the Do Exercises button and conveniently login with their Facebook or Google Account.
You will see a game like interface with levels of mathematical knowledge ranging from addition to calculus. Students can travel through the exercises via multiple routes of their choosing and receive energy points for completing the objectives. Hints are offered if requested but bonus points are awarded if completed on their own.
Teachers can be added as a "coach" and see the progress and data on their students. Just click on the buttons at the bottom of any screen a student has logged into.
The videos have been wildly successful, with data showing dramatic gains in student performance. I appreciate the fun and interactive interface but I hope teachers do not rely to heavily on the extrinsic motivators to have students want to learn math.
What this could provide classrooms is freedom from skill building lessons and now being able to spend more time on activities and projects that apply and deepen learning. Thank goodness for the altruism of people like Salman Khan who choose to keep this free in order to help as many as possible.
If you would like to support the Khan Academy, they state that their primary need is to get the word out. Share this with all of the math/science teachers, IT Managers, Administrators, family members, and struggling students you know. If you have knowledge of a second language, they would appreciate your help in translating the videos. But, of course if you have the means to financially support the endeavor they would appreciate it. Information can be found here.
Let's make sure people and programs like this are supported and used as much as possible. It is a great time to be in education. This is the type of programs I was hoping for and encouraging in the Hub Proposal. Never before has quality education been available to all and I am excited to share these resources with you.
Update: Since this post was written, a developer has created an iPhone, Android, iPad app that allows you to easily watch the Khan Academy videos from the phone.
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