It’s interesting to compare the public metrics of Khan Academy and McDonalds.

Serving / Delivering < > Teaching / Learning

Last week’s 60 Minutes episode about Khan Academy opened many people’s eyes for the first time to the power and utility of free idea sharing via YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, take 13 minutes and watch it.

I think many of the videos Sal Khan is sharing via Khan Academy are great, but it’s important to remember a few key ideas from “Teacher Education 101.” Access to information and resources is important, but not the same thing as education. Serving or delivering (math lessons instead of hamburgers) does not equate to teaching or learning. Providing a high quality education for students is different in many ways from serving consistent fast food. Sir Ken Robinson writes about this well in his book, “The Element.”

Can math students learn a great deal from Sal Khan? Of course. Math students can also learn a tremendous amount from the YouTube videos of Minnesota math teacher Marty Brandl, who has almost 1 million page views.

Even more exciting than these “teacher screencast” videos, however, is the work of Yarmouth, Maine, 7th grade teachers Morgan Cuthbert and Mike Hagerty who are helping their STUDENTS create math tutorial videos. When students become teachers of content, far more “gaps” in learning are often revealed than when students simply work problems at the end of the chapter. This is a lesson Darren Kuropatwa verified repeatedly in his high school math classes via his “scribe blog” post assignments.

Check out Yarmouth 7th grade teachers and students’ YouTube channel HMSFlippingCMP for examples. Also check out the resources for Mike and Morgan’s presentation tomorrow for Yarmouth’s district PD day, “Flipping the Classroom.”

As several authors have noted in the past, education is not simply filling a pail, it’s lighting a fire.

fire starter_quote

education fire

These ideas coincide with my comment on Bill Gates’ blog post yesterday, “Technology’s Promise to Education: Reimagining Textbooks

Please don’t forget great teaching and learning isn’t JUST about “access to the right resources.” Certainly access to resources is very important and can open new doors… but for too long I think policymakers have undervalued and underemphasized the importance of the teacher and the teacher’s relationship to students. This is true in all learning environments, but especially so in schools serving students from poverty / low-SES situations. I would love to hear you amplify this message as you evangelize for digital learning with digital tools. The role of the teacher is vital and we shouldn’t emphasize “resources” to the point we encourage educational stakeholders to overlook the primacy of teacher/student relationships.

In his post “Every Student Deserves to Have Great Teachers” the same day, Bill Gates (or his proxy blogger, not sure which) wrote:

Today, a lot of research has shown that teacher effectiveness is one of the most important factors in determining how well students learn and whether they succeed in school. But we don’t really know very much about what makes some teachers great, or how to help other teachers be like them. Our foundation is helping support research to help figure this out, so that high-quality teaching will become more of the norm.

What?! Are you kidding me? We “don’t know much about what makes some teachers great?!” This is a FALSE CLAIM. We absolutely DO know a great deal about great teachers and great teaching. “Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement” is one well-known meta-analysis of research which comes to mind immediately. “Understanding by Design” is another title which comes to mind. There are many more.

In addition to these research projects, we can ask other people for their “teacher impact stories.” “Who was your best teacher and why?” You never hear someone say, “Oh she was great because she used the filmstrip projector.” You never hear someone say, “Oh he really used the overhead projector well to make our learning come alive” when you ask this question. Technology does not make great teaching, and neither does simply transmitting information efficiently to students. Passion, relationship, creativity, and engagement are all essential for good and deep learning.

At one level I am appreciative of the work Bill Gates is doing via his foundation to amplify innovation in education and encourage constructive educational reform. At another level, however, I am deeply troubled by claims like this which are simply not based on research or a well-informed background in educational literature. The 60 minutes episode last week cites Bill Gates in the opening segment as “one of Sal Khan’s students.” It has appeared for many months that Khan Academy is Bill Gates’ favorite educational technology project to highlight. The educational philosophies and ideas of both Sal Khan and Bill Gates are related and connected therefore, and important to highlight.

Thankfully, we’re not living a day when only the wealthy and powerful have access to the means of publication.

Serving or delivering does not equal teaching or learning. Bill Gates’ confusion on this topic is not unusual or isolated, however. In my post, “Show Up and Throw Up?” from December 2005, I quoted Paulo Freire’s “banking model” of education, described well on page 22 of his book “Teachers As Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach:”

For this reason also, as I have said so many times, teaching cannot be a process of transference of knowledge from the one teaching to the learner. This is the mechanical transference from which results machinelike memorization, which I have already criticized. Critical study correlates with teaching that is equally critical, which necessarily demands a critical way of comprehending and of realizing the reading of the word and that of the world, the reading of text and of context.

On page 72 of “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” Freire further articulated this “banking model” which both Khan Academy and Bill Gates appear to embrace:

In the banking concept of education, knowledge is a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Projecting an absolute ignorance onto others, a characteristic of the ideology of oppression, negates education and knowledge as processes of inquiry. The teacher presents himself to his students as their necessary opposite; by considering their ignorance absolute, he justifies his own existence. The students, alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic, accept their ignorance as justifying the teacher’s existence —but, unlike the slave, they never discover that they educate the teacher.

Am I supportive and positive about Khan Academy and Sal Khan’s work? Yes. As we look at Khan Academy and the wonderful resources offered there (thank you Google and YouTube) we have opportunities to ask basic questions about teaching and learning. We should embrace this opportunity, because many misconceptions continue to exist in our societies about what constitutes good teaching, authentic learning, and the roles of both schools and educators.

Does your school put a message on your marquee out front that reads, “4000 lessons served?” Probably not. Educators at your school understand education is far more than “serving” and “delivering.” Hopefully in our conversations with others about education, teaching, learning and schools, we can highlight this truth.

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  • MTLinville

    I think it would be very exciting to see a national competition where students like those in the Yarmouth school could compete against each other to bring more light to ways that technology can facilitate peer learning and students teaching students. I’m thinking of something along the lines of MATHCOUNTS’ Reel Math competition but at a much larger scale.
    http://www.reelmath.org/ 

    Michael

  • Pingback: Nerds, Skunks, and Educational Theory, Oh My! « slm508kk()

  • http://blog.pwnthesat.com/ PWN the SAT

    A lesson “served” does not always equal education–that’s true. What Khan has accomplished, I think, and why Bill Gates is so enamored with him, is that he has provided a mainstream frame for the technology-and-education conversation. Instead of discussing what might work and what might not, we can discuss what does work and what does not on a site that laypeople and experts are increasingly familiar with.

  • Kchristieh

    Hi! Nice post. You might want to correct the spelling of Khan Academy in several places. It’s “Khan” not “Kahn.” 

  • http://www.speedofcreativity.org Wesley Fryer

    Thanks so much for catching this typo. I fixed the spelling of “Khan” in the post. :-)

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