David and Khanliath

For those who don’t know, the Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that has published on youTube more than 2,000 short videos explaining everything from single digit addition to linear algebra to the French revolution. Founder Salman Khan has a background in math and comp sci from MIT and business from Harvard. Bill Gates and Google have sponsored him, and he’s given a TED talk. He’s 34 years old.

Sounds pretty neat right? Here’s one of his videos:

Couldn’t get through it either?

I’m conflicted on how to feel about this guy. Khan is misguided, but not wrathful (obligatory Star Trek nod). He got the distribution model right: go nonprofit and make your videos freely available on a platform you don’t pay for. He’s pioneering what could be the future of education, but like all pioneers, he’s made some mistakes. He’s been incredibly prolific but that does not mean he’s any good. In terms of education, Khan teaches very mechanistically, by rote, without much emphasis on underlying concepts. He doesn’t give a sense of structure or connection between different topics. I asked my Khanplaining twitter followers, if he’s so bad, why don’t you make your own videos? Khan has posed them the same questions. It’s not a competition; we both want to educate a wide audience (although I have the ulterior goal of getting viewers excited and confident about learning.) So I got fed up (read: bored) enough to make a video myself.

Videos cannot substitute for a one-on-one conversation with a teacher; I know that. Even videos attempting to be lectures are still supplementary, but I contend that they’e not useless. I may or may not have succeeded in avoiding teaching to an automaton, and I certainly haven’t matched Khan’s output, but I know I’ve got him beat on production quality.  To watch him write on a virtual blackboard, make mistakes, and stumble just doesn’t fly for recorded media. It’s incredibly boring to watch him write out every word. I made a point of grabbing viewer attention and not letting go, a tactic inspired by this video:

Khan could take a page out of Vi’s book and speed up his drawing and then do the voiceover on top of it. But as my sister pointed out, it’s not nearly as boring to watch someone draw on paper than it is on the computer. My medium of choice is Keynote. It lets me prepare my visuals, it’s already available to me, and Magic Move is the perfect combination of cool and helpful. The built in recording doesn’t give me enough control to string multiple takes together, so I used Audacity and an external mic from around the house. There are about ten different sections of voiceover but you (almost) can’t tell. It was worth it to avoid stuttering over the script without rehearsing twenty times. (I sincerely doubt Khan uses a script.) Once I got that done, I exported to iTunes so Keynote could play it while I recorded timings. And if all goes well, Keynote will put it on YouTube.

I feel like this project incorporates everything I’ve been learning for the past few years. I’ve drawn on my Wikipedia expository writing skills, my radio DJ voice, my experience tutoring (partially in physics), my budding knowledge of education, my understanding of design and visual communication (see last past), and my passion to turn this summer into something worthwhile and purposeful. So here goes.

Constructive criticism welcome.


4 responses to this post.

  1. I got 2 minutes into it and I still have no clue what the point is, or the learning objective. I’m glad you are trying to make good instructional videos but there is nothing here that gives you position to criticize what Khan has done.

    OK, now I am 3 minutes into it, I see a jumble of images and I still don’t know what I am supposed to learn.

    I apologize for being testy. I don’t see the problem with Khan videos being used for their purpose. And the videos are not going to be improved by changing the voice, changing the writing to something more scripted, or changing the color scheme. To even be competitive with Khan, you have to create a collection of physics vids (or chem, or econ, whatever.)

    An instructional video is pretty straightforward – it has to be clear and teach something concrete. There are many examples on Youtube, here is one in particular. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49k88Alfh88 It’s not flashy, it’s not anything other than useful, and that is what these videos need to be. They are meant to help the viewer learn something concrete – the learner should be able to do something she couldn’t do before and in most cases, that means solve a particular type of problem. Khan does these things and I’ve never understood the reason for the attacks on what Sal did – he made his vids to help his relatives learn specific material. It’s not revolutionary outside the way it provides free learning to anyone with a computer – and after following the story very closely – that is exactly why it was applauded from the beginning.

    Will these types of videos revolutionize education? At some point, they could replace textbooks, so it’s possible. But are they something new? Yes – they are free to all. Those of us in the USA forget that public education is not available to all and for those who do not have opportunity, free video is new.


  2. Hi,
    I think your video is a good try, but perhaps it moves pretty fast. In the first minute, students see 2 new words (vector and scalar), along with 2 new terms (scalar physical quantity, vector physical quantity) and the term unit thrown in. All of this is removed within seconds, and then arrows are starting to be drawn.

    I like the graphics, and I would suggest carrying more graphics/words from one slide to the next. Example: keep the “3 meters right” on the screen while drawing the lines. Secondly, I would simply slow down a bit. That’s just my $0.02!


  3. I think this is a good start. I’ve written a bit on my blog a bit with <a href="https://quantumprogress.wordpress.com/?s=khan“>criticism of Khan’s approach, and I too noticed that Vi Hart does a far better job of capturing her viewers interest and communicating the deep understandings of the subject. If I were to suggest directions for you to explore further, I might suggest inserting real, meaningful questions into your videos, and asking the viewers to pause the video and try the problem for themselves.


  4. Stuff on the screen appears and disappears on the screen too quickly. I prefer Khan’s approach of building concepts relatively gradually over time on the same screen.


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