In doing some MOOC reading I again got into the comments section to find a difference of opinion, this time on Khan Academy, a content delivery system many xMOOCs herald as inspiration for their wares. I evoked Seymour Papert’s 1991 book The Children’s Machine, specifically his kitchen math discussion, in an attempt to look at why a lecture-based mathematics instruction often doesn’t translate into understanding math for application in life. Another commenter provided this Papert quote in saying that Khan and Papert would agree on the benefit of Khan Academy:
“There won’t be schools in the future…. I think the computer will blow up the school. That is, the school defined as something where there are classes, teachers running exams, people structured in groups by age, following a curriculum-all of that. The whole system is based on a set of structural concepts that are incompatible with the presence of the computer. …But this will happen only in communities of children who have access to computers on a sufficient scale.
1) I have not read all of OWS, but I have viewed Khan’s TED talk, a Forbes interview, and a recent Gates Foundation keynote where he discusses his views on the education system, so I feel like I understand his perspective, I just disagree. He looks at edu as a content delivery system…kids come in, get content, show mastery, matriculate. He doesn’t see why that has to follow the Prussian model of formal ed where students are placed in age-based cohorts. For him, the ease of content delivery in numerous ways (he would call it Personalized Learning) makes our current model ineffective at best.
2) Papert believed in constructivism, a learning theory focused on the student as a maker of knowledge (constructivists often talk of knowledge as something everyone creates) through hands-on practical exercise and authentic experimentation that affect the student and his/her environment (crude summary). For Papert, computers were transcendent machines that allowed numerous opportunities for hands-on practical application that changes environment through programming, design and application. The classroom becomes ineffective here because students can create and program with ease, not be lectured to and run through meaningless exercises of drill and kill.
So while Khan and Papert see the computer as transformational, how they get there could not be more different. Khan Academy replaces the teacher for a video, but it’s still lecture. The flipped classroom says you do your homework at school, but if the homework looks like the quiz problems KA generates in their tutorials, it’s just behaviorist assessment of an inauthentic situation. Papert wanted the computer as a machine of creation, not as a replacement of an outdated learning model.
Khan Academy is not new…it’s technology used to do something we’ve been doing for a long time…lecturing at kids and having them do drills to show a competency. Papert wanted knowledge to transform students…not just competent enough to pass an arbitrary exam, but the ability to use the knowledge in a life context as needed.
I watch how-to videos a lot…how to fold a fitted sheet, how to tie a bow tie, how to change my car oil. It provides me a startin point for a skill I need in that moment (but still need practice for). That being said, tying a bow tie won’t help me launch rockets with my son, and folding a fitted sheet won’t help me communicate a thought effectively. The skills we teach youngsters and want our students to learn are those applicable, transferrable cognitive and creative skills. In my life, I never solve for x on paper…I am presented with a problem and have to utilize algebra in my environment to solve. For some kids, switching from the lecture and worksheet to real life is easy peasy, but most struggle, and in effect don’t do well with math. Khan Academy doesn’t change that paradigm, it just cuts out a weaker lecturer for a stronger one, never questioning that this didactic method might not be the best one.