Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sal Khan, Teacher or Opportunist? #ties12 #edchat

Between the blizzard, my own sessions, and having to go back to school to teach Monday afternoon I didn't get to very many sessions at this year's TIES Conference. I did, however, manage to attend one session that has been bothering me enough to feel the need to write about it. Tuesday afternoon I attended a Q&A session with Sal Khan of Khan Academy.

I have largely avoided any critique of the Khan Academy on my blog because for the most part I have never seen any problem with the basic concept of having a catalog of tutorials that students can reference just as I have never seen any problem with having a class library. I also don't see any problem with the flipped classroom concept. In fact, I have used the flipped classroom model for professional development for the past five years and have often used it with my students. However, after attending this session I am left with a few serious issues with regard to KA.

First, Khan claims to have been the innovator who revolutionized teaching and learning through the flipped classroom but I know better. I first became aware of the idea of the Flipped Classroom from Karl Fisch, a technology coordinator and professor from Colorado, who had pioneered the idea with two high school science teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams. According to was first registered March 14, 2006. While it appears Khan, Jonathan, and Aaron all seemed to start "flipping" around the same time I know for a fact that the term is one the boys from Colorado coined. Besides, tools like TeacherTube and Screencast-o-matic have been around for quite some time, tools that offer and anticipated this kind of use in the classroom. So, perhaps we should also credit Lloyd Smith, who created TeacherTube on April 6th, 2006.

Second, the Khan Academy videos are simply recorded tutorials. They are no different than any other instructional video that pre-dates the Internet. What Khan does that the producers of most multimedia curriculum of yesterday didn't do was claim that this is teaching. Before the Q&A a video from 60 Minutes was shown where the journalist asks Khan if he is the most watched teacher in the world. Khan doesn't dispute that. But, this can only be true if teaching is the same as content delivery. We used to call the producers of such content curriculum developers or curriculum publishers, not teachers. The teacher who produces their own curriculum actually teaches with it. The curriculum is not the teaching. Khan Academy may be a nice resource to have but it is not a teacher any more than a book shelf is a teacher or a textbook is a teacher. Teaching involves much more than delivering information.

Third, in the 60 minute video there is an interview with Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, where he says that we can't look to teachers working in the system for innovation, that we must look to outside sources for innovative solutions. He simply says, "That is not how innovation works." He doesn't qualify his remarks but speaks very dismissively of innovative attempts by educators. This is a basic propaganda technique meant to convince the public that private organizations and external non-profits are the answer and that anyone working within the system has bankrupt ideas. I find this enormously dishonest and incredibly offensive especially shown at a conference full of educators from around the Midwest who are being innovative. Every conference presenter at TIES who is a teacher showing an innovative method or strategy should be offended by this. Karl Fisch, Jonathan Bergman, and Aaron Sams should be offended by this.

Khan is not a teacher, he is a opportunist who when the stock market started to take a dive left his job as a hedge fund analyst to start a company. I suspect the only reason Khan Academy is a non-profit is he knew he would run into legal trouble claiming he invented the Flipped Classroom if it were a for-profit venture and besides, as a non-profit he can accept loads of Gates Foundation money.


David said...

I agree with you on some points, and have found Sal's description of himself as the inventor of this process to be a bit ignorant of history, if not deliberately misleading. Surely minimal research would show this not to be the case. Even Aaron and Jon are a few decades behind the idea of using multimedia as a tool for teaching, but they probably did coin the term "flipped classroom."

I tend to give him a bit more of the benefit of the doubt on his motives though. I think he genuinely made the Khan Academy non-profit for non-selfish reasons.

Unknown said...

I am bothered by a few trends:

1. The fact that someone who doesn't understand pedagogy is somehow an expert both in content and in learning. Pretty offensive.

2. The notion that teachers from within can't lead innovation isn't just dismissive. This actually misses the reality of all the innovative teachers doing amazing things.

3. The education community needs to quit talking about Apple, Google or Microsoft in such glowing terms when the tech companies are so quick to insult teachers. Besides, in most cases they are not all that innovative. The real innovation often happens in the open source movement before corporations ever co-opt it.

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