Khan Academy is Our Ally, Lets Work Together

This article is crossposted and in reference to The Time Has Come to Stop Playing Defense and Change Education but is in reference to many posts and tweets over the last few months.

I want to call our attention to a worrisome trend emerging in the online Education world. Our disagreements are leading toward division and preventing us from making effective change. Revolutions are doomed to fail when fear and strongly worded language is used to incite and stir up the masses. 

We do not need to burn someone else at the stake in order to have reform. Nor do we need an enemy. If you dislike that teaching has a bad rap or that students have poor learning opportunities you simply need to share what you do and let it stand on its own. What I am hearing is a lot of anger and frustration, and rather than tweeting and creating inflammatory posts that divide we should find our common ground and work together towards our common mission.

Frankly while I respect all sides on this discussion (and would consider many of you friends and colleagues) I feel like there is a lot of undue ire toward the Khan Academy. In my opinion, this will get us nowhere. From everything I have seen Sal is equally committed to helping change education for the better. If you disagree with it then like he said on HA post your own stuff. To be honest, I have exhaustively read and researched all of the interested parties posts about modeling and instruction as well as the books and resources out there (about 6 months of intensive research) and I agree with them, but they are what most great teachers would agree with anyways. Modeling is not this OMG pedagogy, it is taught in many University science education programs. However even the instructors of modeling pedagogy still suggest worksheets with questions that if they came from anyone else would be considered pseudocontext. If we are willing to promote that program even though it is still in need of refinement and growth then we should do the same for Khan Academy while it is in its early development stages. There is still much work to do and we can do more if we do it together.

We do have our problems. We have a huge population and the “teachers who care and are qualified” to “students” ratio is rather dismaying. There is an exponentially increasing amount of information and we agree there is not enough time to go through it all with students (far less so if you are trying to do any kind of deep and meaningful learning). The idea that we cannot use video technology to support learning flies in the face of everything we have learned about YouTube. Millions go on every day to learn something new and while it may not be deep learning, it was not intended to.
If we wanted Khan Academy to cover every viewpoint or concept, our world's surface would be covered by servers maintaining all of the data. The hope is that teachers will use these videos for students to support or review what is in the classroom and students will use it to take control of their learning. Of course there are those teachers who are going to use it as the primary teaching tool but that is not the fault of the Khan Academy any more than it is Facebook's fault that students get distracted. Tools can be inappropriately used but that does not mean they should be discredited. Some complain that his videos are the same as a lecture and do not change. This is no different than textbooks but textbooks are an incredible reference for students as they are working to understand just not as their primary learning tool. By that standard almost everything on the Internet is static and unfit for reference and instruction but we all know how silly that is. There is no technology that will or should ever replace student - student and student - master interaction.

There is hope, support, vision, and funding behind the Khan Academy, something that education reformers greatly covet. We can find ways to work with their very open development team: from the lead programmer Ben to Sal himself, to create a resource we can all be proud of. Having series of posts and webinars dedicated to tearing down Khan Academy will only lead to a pile of rubble and no progress. The number of us online and actively thinking about our pedagogy is sadly a small percentage of the teaching population, if we cannot support each other as allies then our mission is doomed. If you are going to propose something else, post concrete and specific things to support teachers. My philosophy is to give teachers something to think about but also something they can use tomorrow. Please try do the same and let me know how we can help because you are not alone to do all of the work. 
Having high minded ideals is one thing but when the students come in the next day, what are we going to do that meets the goals of our collective pedagogy while still (as long as we have to) meeting the State/Federal requirements that keep us employed. Khan Academy is not controlled by government organization so in fact they could be one of our best hopes for learning opportunities outside the classroom and for those who do not have access to the great resources that we all enjoy.

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