Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Khan Academy Is Good For Schools

I am doing this post because I am sick and tired of all the KA-bashing blog posts written by "educators" (read: teachers who are scared of losing their job). I'll talk later about how flipping the classroom actually turnes teachers into actual teachers, rather than merely lecturers. I put "educators" in quotes because if anyone is an educator, Sal Khan is.


First Point:
Using KA in schools, as a flipped classroom thing, there are two main parts to being in class:
  1. The lecturing 
  2. The practicing
The lecturing can be done either in person or by video, because teachers reuse most of the material from year to year (80%, according to one of my former teachers). The practicing part can be done best when students have the opportunity to do the problems either by themselves or with others. When class time is used for lectures and non-class time is used for homework, students only get to do practice problems by themselves. If they have a question, they are stuck because
  1. they can't re-watch the teacher's video
  2. they can't ask their classmates for help
However, if you flip the classroom, now when they do practice problems, they can:
  1. get help
  2. re-watch the video
This is not hard to understand. 

Teachers think they'll lose their job through this. If they're good teachers, they won't because now they'll have the chance to actually teach, instead of just lecture. If they're bad teachers, they will because they won't be able to help their students since they don't actually know what they're talking about and before, they could get away with just lecturing. 

Second point:

All the people and teachers who write snide blog posts about how KA can't teach "interactive" projects are completely missing the point. The point of using KA in classrooms is so that teachers can do that sort of thing, during class time. When you think about this rationally, this is exactly how the real world works. When you're working, you spend your time at work doing projects and if you need to learn something, you don't spend the time you have available at work to learn it; you learn it outside of work. This is because when you're at work, you have access to others and can ask them for help with what your learning, as well as work with them on other projects using that knowledge.

Third Point:

All the people who dislike KA because it "isn't new": That's true, there have been iTUnes U and OCW for years now. However, those video haven't been viewed nearly as many times as KA. Furthermore, those videos are hour-long, whereas KA videos are 10 minutes long, making them much more manageable.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Compilation of the best articles on Udacity/Coursera


Shorter video clips w/ embedded quizzes are better

While watching Coursera's Quantum Mechanics class lectures, which were each about 16 minutes long, I realized two things:

1. I was getting bored with the long length of the videos and after a couple of minutes, tended to stop watching.

2. I wished there were embedded quizzes every couple of minutes. After a new concept was introduced, I found myself wanting a quiz so I could see if I understood it. Even though I could pause the lectures (something I wouldn't have been abe to do had the class been in-person), the fact that it didn't include a quiz every couple minutes made the class feel more like an in-person class rather than how an online class should feel.

In my opinion, it is not enough that you can pause lectures when they are online. You also need to be able to check your understanding with quizzes scattered every once so often.

Another thing that just occurred to me: In my interview with Sebastian Thrun, he said multiple times that at Udacity, he (and his colleagues) don't lecture. When he was at Stanford, he would lecture, but at Udacity it's more problem-centered. When I was watching the Quantum Mechanics lectures, they felt a lot like standard lectures because there were no breaks for me to practice the concepts being taught. The professor was just lecturing, and not taking advantage of the fact that online, you can include quizzes because you suddenly don't have to worry about wasting students time. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thoughts on some of the new Coursera classes

Some thoughts on some of the new Coursera classes:

I think it's funny that Coursera offers these; clearly some schools are feeling pressured and are willing to put whatever they can on Coursera:

Also this one - it's about basically undoing how we're taught math in school:

Absolutely hilarious:

This professor's book, Predictably Irrational, is good:

This one looks interesting, and the professor definitely has it correct regarding the minimum wage, legalizing drugs, vouchers:

How on earth would you teach this online?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Why students don't actually learning anything from school & How we should teach math

Students are forced to go on to their next class if they "pass" it with a C or better. However, this means that they can go on while only knowing 70% of the prerequisite material. When you think about it, if you only need to know 70% of, for example, Pre-algebra, in order to succeed in Algebra 1, and then you only need to know 70% of Algebra 1 to succeed in Algebra 2, and then you only need to know 70% of Algebra 2 to succeed in Pre-calculus, by the time you get to Calculus, you will know only a small percentage (out of knowing 100%) of the prerequisite material. This policy makes no sense, if you think school (the way it's set up currently) is intended to actually teach people. 

It's in vogue nowadays to talk about how to encourage kids to pursue math in school. One simple way to achieve that would be to do one of two things:
  1. Require students to retake the class they're currently taking until they get at least a 95%, or another equivalent and/or relavent grade 
  2. Even better, flip the classroom, thus giving students all the time they need to learn the material
What people usually mean when they say they want to encourage kids to pursue math is that they want to spend money (in public schools, they're spending my money and yours) on after-school programs or teachers. However, the reason kids aren't interested in math is because they don't understand it, and that comes from two things:
  1. They don't understand it because they were never given enough time to actually comprehend what they're learning, what it means, and why it is important to learn it.
  2. They were made to think that the basics and mechanical calculations are terribly important, when in reality they aren't. That's what computers are for. Conrad Wolfram has an excellent TED talk about this.

Wolfram brings up a really important point. Instead of testing students on calculations by giving them a written test, we should have them write a program that does the calculation. For example, if they were learning how to factor quadratic equations, they would show their understanding by writing a program that factored an inputted quadratic. This way, they would have to take into account any input possible rather than just answering the questions their teacher happened to choose. 

My Reschooling Society Film

This is the latest version of the documentary I'm making on changes in the education system and how online platforms such as Udacity are helping democratize education by making high-quality classes available to everyone, everywhere. I got an interview with Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, so that's why Udacity is featured so much. 

Topics that are covered include:  

  • The difference between traditional online classes and Udacity's classes
  • Udacity's business model
  • How online classes would work for writing-based classes
  • How online classes provide opportunities for people
  • The role of teachers
  • Certificates
  • Why traditional online classes don't help students

Please give me feedback and tell me what topics you think I should include as I continue working on it.