Monthly Archives: September 2012

Khan Critiques: We Were Promised Jetpacks & Got Lectures

By Justin Reich on August 31, 2012 11:55 AM 


“We were Promised Jetpacks and Got Lectures

For me, the primary lament of #MTT2K was this: We’re in a revolutionary age of low-cost media production and sharing, Gates and Google have given Khan Academy millions and millions of dollars, and what they have to show for it is scaled-up, online versions of lectures, worksheets, and stickers. Dammit, we were promised jetpacks! The media said that this was the future of education.

In it’s present form, Khan Academy accepts the premise that the fundamental building blocks of math education are 1) didactic lectures to teach math, 2) worksheets to demonstrate proficiency and evaluate students, 3)stickers (leaves/stars/points) to motivate students, and 4) teachers to act as coaches when students get stuck. Khan Academy rearranges those pieces without fundamentally changing their nature. Khan Academy’s primary move is to make the lectures, worksheets, and sticker-distribution mechanisms freely-available online, so that students can move through a standardized curriculum at an individual pace, and so teachers have more time to tutor (Frank Noschese’s video, Khan Academy Classsrooms: Rhetoric and Reality, effectively illustrates what these classrooms now look like). Everyone, however, immediately recognizes the lectures, worksheets and stickers as riffs on common elements of math education. In fact, part of the success of Khan Academy is that these unchanged core elements are immediately recognizable to everyone.

So, the question is, does scaling up the delivery of well-establish products constitute a revolution? Did the Gideon’s produce a revolution in Bibles by leaving them in lots of hotel rooms? Jetpacks would be a revolution. Talking robots would be a revolution. Are a lot of video lectures on math, with a set of online practice problems, a revolution?…”

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