Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Khan and the XO

I've been reading along with the excellent ideas in the olpc community about sharing Khan Academy videos with schools around the world. Ever since my report on Khan Academy for Plan Ceibal, I've been thinking about the best ways to put aside some difficulties and make this a reality. Still, there are some major red flags to consider:

Translation-longer than you think

Khan Academy videos are narrated, and animated, in English
Due to how they are animated, some translators are redoing the entire videos to make the written content match and sync to the narration. Is this still Khan Academy, or a volunteer inspired by Khan? I can't say. But it means that a quality translation, to haitian creole for example, would take a lot of skilled and tedious work, and subsequent translations could be just as difficult.

Secret sauce

The selling point in olpc, and the larger education community, seems to be Khan Academy's unique progress tracking and problem review system. It's the central point into research from the Gates Foundation and other key players. What we won't be seeing in the near future is an opened up version of this system, no matter how cool it would be. Like Apple's strategy to keep the iPhone exclusive, Khan Academy recognizes that their structure doesn't just help them stand out from the rest-it's their unique blend of content, careful explanation, and integration with the education progress system We can attempt to duplicate it on the school servers, but Khan won't be letting just anyone experiment with the platform and risk losing the polished image that education research has of his project.

XO vs Video

I have a lot written in my notebook about this, but I'll just say: nightmare.

Education culture and content

First off, there's precious little content in Khan Academy below algebra. This could change, but it'd take a concentrated effort by teachers. If you're just going to translate it afterwards, you might as well make the content yourself.

Second, you'll notice that Khan Academy is a little weird to explain to people. From a traditional perspective, we should be using the internet to listen to experts and lecturers, not some one on YouTube... We've reached a meritocracy in some ways in the us, to the point which we accept Khan Academy on reputation and results. This kind of thinking is not universal. It's also very focused on the individual-one of the reasons we trust in Khan is that he's invested a great deal of his time and energy, which makes him less of a stranger than our actual professors. Does all of this translate across cultures?

I think we need to look at khan academy in the context of other education crazes such as Schoolhouse Rock. Disruptive and interesting, but not necessarily the solution. Whatever happened to constructivism? Lets not give up on individual creativity yet, please.

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