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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Khan Academy -- Go There!

There was a write-up of Khan Academy in last week's Economist.  I just now checked it out on YouTube.  http://www.youtube.com/user/khanacademy.  Wow.  I wish I'd done that.  I'm sure glad he did.  He has over 2200 lectures on-line on all subjects, from elementary school to high school.  And he's good.  The lectures are entertaining and memorable.  And he never appears in them -- he uses software (described here; mostly inexpensive or free) to give the lectures.  I've always thought the lecturerer was a distraction anyway.  This way, the focus is on the "board," where diagrams, pictures, and equations appear.


The idea is to "flip" learning.  If the students watch the lectures at night -- at their own pace, rewinding or replaying as needed -- then class time can be devoted to the "homework."  The teacher can monitor how each child is doing on the homework, and can see where kids are stuck, and can either (1) walk over and help that child through the concept or (2) get another kid to provide the help.


If any adult knew and understood everything in those lectures, he or she would have an extremely strong grounding for college.  And there's really no reason college can't be taught the same way.  As the Economist points out, many college lectures are available for free.  For example, Open Yale and openmitcourseware,  And many more college-level lectures are available through companies like The Teaching Company, Modern Scholar, and Barnes and Noble's "Portable Professor."


Given the price of tuition nowadays -- and the fact that at the end of the day, nobody really remembers all that many of the "facts" that one learned in college -- why not just set up some classrooms, staffed by quasi-trained teachers, where the entire course is simply watching (or listening to) a lecture one night, and then coming into class the next day to (1) take a factual quiz on the subject matter, and (2) then move on into a discussion, which could include ways of applying whatever the lecture was about to everyday life and current problems, as well as in future jobs.  To the extent grading is necessary, perhaps there would be a second quiz that you could take at the end of class, and then your grades would be averaged.  And of course, additional tests could be given periodically.

Obviously, this won't work for every class.  A lot of classes involve substantial reading and writing (or computer programming) that needs to be done outside the classroom. 

But lots of classes could work this way.  I'm currently listening to
The Great Courses "Classics of Russian Literature" lectures by Northwestern's Irwin Weil, and it's great.  So great, that while it would be great to be in Weil's class, I could get by just listening to his lectures and actually reading a selection of the books he discusses.  The discussion leader need not be an expert on Russian literature; instead, just a person, possibly older than the students, who has an interest in the topic, and is just as interested in the students in learning it. 
 

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