There’s been a lot of attention paid lately to the resources being provided by Salman Khan and the Khan Academy.1 Salman talks about the epiphany he had when remotely tutoring family members and how perhaps his videos could replace the lectures happening in classrooms across the country. As Salman says:
“Our goal is to use technology to humanize, not just in Los Altos, but on a global scale, what’s happening in education. And actually, that kind of brings an interesting point. A lot of the effort in humanizing the classroom is focused on student-to-teacher ratios. In our mind, the relevant metric is student-to-valuable-human-time- with-the-teacher ratio. So in a traditional model, most of the teacher’s time is spent giving lectures and grading and whatnot. Maybe five percent of their time is actually sitting next to students and actually working with them. Now 100 percent of their time is. So once again, using technology, not just flipping the classroom, you’re humanizing the classroom, I’d argue, by a factor of five or 10.”
Here’s his talk titled, “Let’s use video to reinvent education”
About 90 years ahead of the Khan Academy, Thomas Edison was making related arguments about the ability of film to replace much of the teaching done in schools.
“Film teaching will be done without any books whatsoever The only text-books needed will be for the teacher’s own use. The films will serve as guideposts to these teacher instruction books, not the books as guides to the films. The pupils will learn everything there is to learn, in every grade from the lowest to the highest. The long years now spent in cramming indigestible knowledge down unwilling young throats and in examining young minds on subjects which they can never learn under the present system will be cut down marvelously, waste will be eliminated, and the youth of every land will at last become actually educated. By making every classroom and every assembly hall a movie show, 100 per cent, attendance will be assured. Why, you won’t be able to keep boys and girls away from school then. They’ll get there ahead of time and scramble for good seats, and they’ll stay late, begging to see some of the films over again. I’d like to be a boy again when film teaching becomes universal.”
Here’s the source of that excerpt.
On the surface, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of these assumptions. But at the same time there’s the implicit conclusion that the delivery of content is what learning is made of.
Media can’t recreate the community of school. The best things that happen in classrooms have nothing to do with the delivery of a lecture or the viewing of a video or the solving of problem sets. The best things that happen in classrooms have kids and teachers working through things together.2 Kids talking and writing and learning in community with one another. The delivery of facts is the smallest part of learning.
I like the concept of providing content for students to individualize and personalize their learning. But I worry when the thinking is that simply providing a set of media resources, even when they’re linked to data tools will somehow make students into learners. The magic of learning happens when students are connected to content in a way that motivates them to want to learn more. No video can bring about that change.
Change requires that we be willing to rethink not only the delivery of content, but also what we have students and teachers do with that content. Change requires that our assessments value the use of content, not the acquisition of content.
Change requires that we acknowledge there’s more to learning than access to information and then spend time and money figuring out those bits too.
- Bill Gates is one of the folks talking. I want to believe that he’s truly interested in improving education. I really do. [↩]
- Isaac Asimov wrote about it years ago. [↩]