Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blogpost #3 Khan Academy: the Pros and Khans

As a non-traditional student returning to college after 20 years, I definitely needed extra help in math and chemistry. I found this help through Khan Academy and after having completed four years as an undergraduate, I have had the chance to develop a close relationship with it. Khan Academy is a website comprised of over 2400 videos offering instruction in math, chemistry, physics, biology, finance and the humanities. A student can watch a tutorial video on their subject of interest or they can participate in practice problems. The practice problems feature offers 3 hints to the student and then if the student is still unable to generate the correct answer it will show the student how the problem should be solved. The site is very easy to use and best of all it is free. Even with the thousands of positive comments that have been left on the Khan Academy site it is not without its flaws and criticisms which I will explore but first let’s take a look at the site itself.

After logging into Khan Academy and setting up a free account, the student is greeted by name and the home page “The World of Math”. This application allows the student to take a short math placement quiz so that the site can start math lessons at the proper skill level for that student. If math is not what is desired, then a simple search can be typed to find the topic of interest

I personally used Khan Academy extensively for help in chemistry. After searching Chemistry, I was given a choice of topics to choose from. After choosing one of the topics, a detailed list of videos was provided from which I chose the exact topic that I needed help with. I could also have chosen to type in a specific topic at the search prompt and my selections would have been narrowed down to that topic only.  For chemistry I limited my selection to video tutorials which, for the most part, were very helpful. I loved the fact that I could back a video up and re-watch a segment over and over until I got everything down on paper. I did have a problem with the spectrometry segment of Organic Chemistry because the videos approached the subject differently than the teacher and their focus was on a different perspective than my teacher thus leading me down a different path which was not very beneficial.
Khan Academy’s evaluation as a successful form of instruction as viewed in the media is controversial.  The main discontent that is construed by teachers is the fact that it lacks conceptual content. This fact is true but I do not believe that it is the intent of Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, to provide anything more than tutorials and practice problems to help a student. The structure of Khan Academy is to walk a student through basic skills in a stepwise fashion, each skill building on the one that came before. Khan Academy is based on basic procedure. It does not have the intention of replacing the classroom teacher but it can be an effective aid for a struggling student. It may provide a slightly different way of explaining a subject or skill that some students may relate to and find better success with than they did from the instruction provided by their teacher. Sometimes a different explanation of something is all that it takes for a student to get that “ah ha” moment and finally understand what a teacher is trying to convey. A teacher can use Khan Academy as a supplemental instruction tool to bring a student who is lagging behind up to class level without wasting valuable class time. Assignments can be made for homework and the parents can follow along and assist the student to ensure that he or she is successful. Khan Academy can also be used with ambitious students to allow them to move ahead. Challenging assignments can be made for those students and they can work at their own pace which can prevent boredom they may find in a normal classroom setting.
A criticism that has been made of Khan Academy, by Karim Kai Ani, in The Washington Post: ”Khan Academy: The Hype and the reality”, is that Sal Khan has stated that before he makes a video he often does not know what he is going to say. He is compared to an unprepared teacher and would be fired if he was in a classroom setting. It is my belief that the content of the videos is not based on what he plans to say. What is relevant is that he knows the skill that he plans to teach and is able to work through the concept clearly and in a stepwise manor. This is comparable to a classroom teacher with a lesson plan. A teacher does not have to know exactly what she is going to say. If she knows her subject then the words will come just as Sal Khan is able to complete his task unscripted.
For the most part, the instructional videos are correctly presented but there has been documentation of incorrect instruction. This is a continued concern of Karim Kai Ani and others. As with any information obtained on the internet, unless it is from a peer reviewed scholarly journal, it is always best to proceed with some amount of caution. Teachers should always view videos for accuracy, before using them to supplement their own instruction. A teacher should also encourage their students to seek out multiple sources of information.  Mr. Ani has an instructional site of his own called Mathalicious but it cost 185.00 per teacher per year. Unfortunately, not all schools or teachers can afford the luxury of access to this site.
Khan Academy does not herald itself as the fix all for mathematics or other subjects that it represents. Unfortunately it has been presented in the media as something similar to “the outsider that rides in to save the town”, The Huffington Post "Khan Academy: Good, Bad, or Ugly". Khan Academy is not changing the rules but adding to the multimedia experience in education. Thousands of users have been helped to increase their knowledge and understanding in multiple subject areas. This knowledge may not have been afforded to these users by any other means. It is my opinion that the successes that have occured due to Khan Academy have far outweighed the failures that it is criticized for. Khan Academy deserves a place in education now and in the future. They have already proven that they can learn from their mistakes and make corrections to instruction that have been brought to their attention to be wrong. With support from teachers this site is destined to become an even more valuable resource in the future.


  1. Excellent. Thorough. Thoughtful. Well done!

    "...and in a stepwise manor. " manner, not manor

  2. Allison,

    That was an excellent post. As Dr. Strange said, it was very thorough and I can tell you put a lot of thought into what was said. I do agree that Khan Academy can be an excellent resource, but more importantly, I like when you compared it to any other unpublished resource. You stated, "Teachers should always view videos for accuracy, before using them to supplement their own instruction." and I agree completely. If they do this, they can direct their students to specifics on Khan Academy making it an even better resource. I do have a problem with the way material is presented or the limited material but that is a personal problem. I want them to go deeper with math as their information for someone studying math has been limited. Nevertheless, Khan Academy isn't going anywhere and you stated why very well. Great Post!

  3. Thanks Ramsey. Math is not particularly my favorite subject so I am definitely did not pick up on what you did. Maybe one day you can help them to make their math content even better.