User Generated Education

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Is the Educational Revolution About Videos: Ted-Ed and Khan Academy?

with 7 comments

The Ted-Ed website was introduced today and received a lot of press coverage:

Prior to going into my critique of this so-called educational revolution, I am giving this disclaimer, I love TED and love the videos being produced by Ted-Ed.

Khan Academy and the new Ted-Ed website are being touted to create an educational revolution.  What I am concerned about is the underlying pedagogy of Ted-Ed and Khan Academy.  I love listening to a good talk and talking about it afterwards, but does it change my thoughts and/or behavior? Typically not.  Grant Wiggins’ recent post, Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really discusses this point:

The point of learning is not just to know things but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense.

In the flipped classroom, as it is being discussed, the videos, instead of a live teacher, are at the core of the learning process, become the venue for the didactic presentation.  The explanation of the flipped classroom provided on the Ted-Ed website . . .

The [flipped classroom] refers to a method of instruction where classroom-based teaching time and traditional “homework” time are reversed (flipped). A teacher provides video lessons to be reviewed outside of class, which in turn gives teachers more time in class to focus on higher-order learning skills.

. . . and from the Mashable article:

When a teacher flips the classroom, they assign lectures to watch at home and save class time for working on homework together. When a teacher flips a video, they add supplemental content such as questions and additional resources.

The TED-Ed website has a suite of tools that allow teachers to design their own web-assisted curricula, complete with videos, comprehension-testing questions, and conversational tools.   The Think and Digging Deeper questions are, I assume, prompts or guides for the higher level thinking.  The use of lectures, quizzes, and questions to teach and for students to demonstrate learning is a Eurocentric, consumption-based model of education. There is value in linguistic-oriented and Socratic method (adding reflective questions and discussion) of teaching but it does not honor learning-by-doing.  Tinkering and experimenting; engaging in the arts; going out into the community; tapping into students’ talents, interests and passions are not part learning process.

Harvard Professor Chris Dede believes of the flipped classroom . . .

I think that the flipped classroom is an interesting idea if you want to do learning that is largely based on presentation. You use presentation outside of the classroom. Then you do your understanding of the presentation and further steps from the presentation inside the classroom. I think it is a step forward. It is still, in my mind, the old person.  It’s still starting with presentational learning and then trying to sprinkle some learning-by-doing on top of it.  I am interested more in moving beyond the flipped classroom to learning by doing at the center than a kind of the intermediate step that still centers on largely on tacit assimilation (

I proposed The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture as a way to get educators’ attention given the press this model is receiving.  I did so in an attempt to encourage educators take the resources and opportunities that technology (including the use of videos) affords to truly create a learning revolution, one that is constructivist, student-centric, hands-on, and passion-based.


So are Sal Khan and Ted-Ed initiatives really going to disrupt education, create a learning revolution?  It sounds a bit like Thomas Edison’s thoughts about how film would change education.

It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed inside of ten years. (

I do see a use for high production, high interest videos but to support a student’s learning not to direct it.  There is where the flipped classroom and the Ted-Ed, Khan, and other videos have value – to reinforce and add to a student’s learning – not be central to it.  TED is about ideas worth sharing.  I am curious if the kids, after being directed through the Ted-Ed lessons, will develop and spread their own ideas with their peers.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

April 26, 2012 at 12:41 am

7 Responses

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  1. I like your post, Jackie, and largely agree with it. We are making no claim that TED-Ed customized videos should somehow take over the main task of teaching. Instead the hope is that they open up some classroom time so that there can be a far greater focus there on teaching-by-doing. The site will make it easier for many more teachers to experiment with different forms of the flipped classroom… but no one here thinks it’s THE answer. (However we do hope some forms of flipped teaching are PART of the answer.) Your own “teaching with TED” wiki has been a fabulous source of inspiration, and comes from the same core instinct: that by opening up tools to many thoughtful teachers, great ideas will emerge.


    April 26, 2012 at 10:56 am

    • Thanks for your response, Chris. This post is my continued reaction to and push back at the flipped classroom and the “Khanification” of education where as Chris Dede so eloquently stated, “It’s still starting with presentational learning and then trying to sprinkle some learning-by-doing on top of it. I am interested more in moving beyond the flipped classroom to learning by doing at the center than a kind of the intermediate step that still centers on largely on tacit assimilation.” I appreciate the efforts of both Khan and TED to provide high quality content videos and the tools for individualized education, but individualized education is not personalized education.

      I was 18 when I started saying that if I had one wish, it would be to change the education system and I have spent a lifetime attempting to do so. TED really is about changing the world – saving the ocean, ameliorating obesity, building new cities. I just wish TED had taken this opportunity to propose a new model of teaching and learning.

      There are pockets of educational innovation – several in New York City, TED headquarters – The Blue School, Quest to Learn – but these are the exception rather than the norm.

      TED, as you know, has a place close to my heart so it breaks my heart to see the promotion of a teacher-centric model of education, an extension of the status quo. I just don’t see room for the kids’ passions and products in the format you developed. The educator selects the video, the educator gives a quiz to assess and track student learning (and why a quiz? – how many kids would choose to do a quiz on their own?), the educator asks the open ended question, the educator suggests addition thoughts and questions.

      I believe my role as an educator is to be a tour guide of learning possibilities with the student providing me with the insights about where he or she wants to go. As you stated in your talk, “How web video powers global innovation”, young people are finding their own communities of practice – from dancers to unicyclists to scientists. You emphasized that all you need to have is desire and a like-minded crowd that shines a light on what can be done. You also stated that you have a vision of individuals as net contributors instead of net plunderers. I just don’t see these elements in the Ted-Ed lesson format. Where is the place for the learners to live out and practice their desires? to be part of the crowd that teachers others? Communities of practice driven by each individual’s passions, where all of the participants are teachers AND learners, is the model of education I wish to see in the world.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      April 26, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      • Actually one of the most exciting (to us) aspects of the new TED-Ed site is precisely that kids themselves can get involved in lesson creation. A teacher could challenge them “find a topic you’re passionate about, and turn it into a lesson to share with the rest of us.” It’s very deliberately a wide open platform intended to seed a thousand experiments. Wait and see what people do with it. I think you’ll be surprised and pleased!


        April 26, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    • Great post. It seems a key aspect of your model Jackie is more doing than watching. I would agree. However, one other aspect that we never really give more than a parting glance, is addressing the students’ needs and interests. The best we can do is say, “Here’s this big long list of standards you need to learn. We’re going to tackle these in a hands-on project based, “flipped classroom” approach.” What we don’t do is ask, “What makes you tick?” What are you interested in?” Once we have the answer, we as educators design the instruction to address these learner interests and integrate as many of the standards as we can. The standards should not be the priority. The learner’s interest should be the priority. Granted, that’s not an easy job for the educator. However, If what we do are design hands on, constructivist, “students doing” projects based on things the students don’t really care about, we are not doing them or ourselves any favors.

      My suggestion for the TED-ED folks would be don’t ask teachers to submit the narratives, ask the students to submit the narratives 🙂 …or at a minimum allow students to submit, their interests and the TED crew expands on them with animation, etc.


      April 26, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      • John, I agree with you all accounts. If I could re-design the schools, I would start with asking students, “What do you wonder about?” and go from there!

        I would add to your thoughts to have students generate lessons.

        Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

        April 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm

  2. Jackie and TEDchris, this is a really interesting post and ensuing conversation. Jackie, your article resonated with me when I read it, but when I read TEDchris’ comments I must say that the power of TED-Ed as a tool really “clicked” for me.

    YouTube is “open” and TED-Ed capitalizes on that openness in a smart way in that it allows any user to create a lesson around any YouTube video….but not in a way that litters the site with a bunch of cat videos! Curation, curation, curation.

    I didn’t get that capability right away, but now that I do (via tedchris response and a bit more clicking on the site) it is kind of mind blowing. Essentially, every person—teachers, students, professionals from any field, anyone with access to the internet—just became both someone’s potential online student and someone’s potential teacher.

    And regarding the learning by doing thought, which I couldn’t agree more with, I could see how someone could use the wiki section (“Think”) of the site to link to various actions that someone could do. And to me, TEDchris & team, that is the next horizon. How do you facilitate the doing and allow people to get feedback down that path? Is it another lesson section? I don’t know the answer here, but if a site ever had the chance to achieve the critical mass for figuring that out (we may find out that no website could do this) it is probably this site.

    Thoughtful post and a thoughtful website.

    Cameron Johnson

    April 26, 2012 at 3:56 pm

  3. […] I like most about some of these resources is their focus on social justice and taking action. As Jackie Gerstein describes, the TED-ED site offers teachers the option to “design their own web-assisted […]

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