Friday, March 18, 2011

An apology for Salman Khan

So, my head professor just sent me this youtube video critiquing KhanAcademy's science portion. I proceeded to watch it, then send my professor a lengthy email back, but it has since got me thinking about online education. As stated before, I am a huge supporter of online education, but with science, there is a unique problem- how to address misconceptions. Khan Academy does not really address misconceptions in what science videos of his I've watched, and while they are a great refresher for me as an adult with a good science background, I do feel that they might not be ideal for students as a sole source of science education.

But then again, I've never felt that KhanAcademy alone should teach students. There will always be a place for that one on one, human interaction. It is always amazing to see a student who has been struggling with material for a while finally come to you for help, and after a minute of pointing out misconceptions, they immediately understand it. KhanAcademy can't do that, but there are still strengths. It is good for review, or an alternate representation of material for students who are having difficulties. Once the initial misconceptions have been dealt with, I think they are great for providing information. Also, the fact that they are freely available on youtube is an added bonus. Their math videos are very intuitive, and he is a phenomenal lecturer.

But most students need a bit more. And that's why it's important to have someone who can help them through it, and troubleshoot their difficulties directly. I think a lot of schools, both online, and bricks and mortar, fail. Often times, in a class of 32 students, a teacher doesn't have time to address individual misconceptions, and students, sensing this, simply don't ask. However, if there was a way to cut down lecture time and simply focus on misconceptions and specific learning barriers, I think students would be better off.

That's my dream of online education, a plethora of amazing information for students to access that appeal to all sorts of learners, while there are staff available to guide students through their difficulties. KhanAcademy is a great single resource, but there are so many others out there.

I recently submitted an article to /. about online science resources for kids. Hopefully it'll get published, and I'll gain some cool stuff to use with my students. My cooperating teacher has sent me a few worksheets and labs, some of which are from university science departments and are amazingly well written and freely available, but it seems that these resources are rarely in a central location, which seems incredibly illogical- Wait, I decided to google it, and found the Open Directory Project Science Ed section. Cool. I'm sure there's more stuff, but from what I saw, that was cool. However, what I *really* want to find are citizen science things, not just worksheets and whatnot. I want stuff like galaxyzoo, where kids are helping astronomers classify galaxies, or, where students are learning how to fold proteins, and their results are actually used in science. Anything like that is right up my ally as far as things I would love to get students involved in.

But then again, anything and everything helps. As a beginning teacher, I'm realizing I'm not the best activity designer, and while practice makes perfect, I see no need to reinvent the wheel. If some people at the University of Ohio's genetics program have made an amazing genetics lab aimed at 8th graders, I think it'd be a crime to substitute my haphazard attempt when a superior one is available. Teaching is an open source medium, the only goal is to provide the best learning experience for your kids, and it's wonderful how willing people are to freely share their stuff.

Of course, this could segue easily into a rant about educational materials publishers, but I'd rather not get into that right now.

Also, I found out from a friend that he's reading this blog. I'm mostly writing this for myself, but if there's anyone out there who is reading this, I'd love to know so I can start answering questions, or addressing issues they're interested in. Feel free to comment, I'd love to hear from you.


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