User Generated Education

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Posts Tagged ‘Khan Academy

A Review of Sal Khan and Khan Academy

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I had the opportunity to hear Sal Khan speak live at the Boise, Idaho Ed Sessions on May 1. This post is not a description of Khan Academy.   A lot has been written about Sal Khan and Khan Academy.   What I provide here is a short review of what I find to be the strengths and drawbacks of Khan Academy as a model of education.

Khan Academy’s Vision and Mission

Sal Khan and Khan Academy have a great vision of providing resources to all.  The goal of the Khan Academy is to use technology to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere.  Khan Academy does not charge nor do they plan to charge for their services.

He prides himself on showing testimonials of the use of Khan videos from around the globe.

I see want to see a world that we tap into the potential of kids. I want Khan Academy to provide a love of learning. Sal Khan

The Ability to Learn Content Based on One’s Own Time and Need

A strength of content-based videos, not just from Khan Academy, is that people can view them during their own time frame, reviewing parts that are of particular interest or to develop greater understanding.  Sal Khan emphasized this point during his talk.  He described how students in our traditional education system are provided with an instructional unit and then tested.  Then the next unit is taught.  But what happens to those students who tested lower on a unit?  They are asked to move on even though they have not achieved proficiency.  This often results in the student failing to fully understand the concepts, often giving up and feeling like a failure.

Sal Khan stresses that learning content should be based on the students’ timing.  It is based on knowledge acquisition and gaining proficiencies.

There was one young man in the audience who held up a I Love Sal Khan sign prior to and after the presentation.  This enthusiastic young man summed up his love of Sal Khan.


Content-Driven Model

It is a content driven model with an end state or outcome being the acquisition of the knowledge about something . . . about math, . . . about science . . . about history.  Learning the “how-to” processes such as those related to innovation, creativity, digital literacy, searching/evaluating content are not part of Khan’s educational model.

Data-Driven Assessments

Khan developed a dashboard for students and teachers to track their progress through the website’s Knowledge Map.  Teachers and coaches can access all of their students’ data. Teachers can get a summary of class performance as a whole or dive into a particular student’s profile to figure out exactly which topics are problematic (

I believe a quiz model of assessment has limited value except for assessing the lower level of Bloom’s Taxonomy – understanding and comprehension.  Students aren’t assessed via the Khan Academy model for their ability to apply the concepts to a variety of scenarios, to evaluate and critique the ideas, and to create new ways of using the concepts in the real world.

Face-to-Face, Classroom Time

Sal Khan emphasized that watching the content videos frees up the class time to do more experiential learning, group discussion, and question-answer sessions.  He repeatedly used the example that during a summer camp that he facilitated, the kids played the board game, Risk, to learn about stock trading.  The video example of classroom setting he used showed all of the kids on their own laptops viewing the Khan Academy videos.

I discussed in The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture, that a problem is that educators, who are used to and trained in using class time for lectures, do not know how to transition from a lecture-based classroom to one that includes other student-centered activities.

A major roadblock or barrier to the implementation of this model is that many educators do not know what to do within the classroom, what to do with that “whatever they want to do” time.  For educators, who are used to and use the didactic model, a framework is needed to assist them with the implementation of the Flipped Classroom.  In other words, the message to teachers to do what they want during classroom is not enough to make this transition.

Khan Academy often produces some emotional reactions by educators – on both ends of the spectrum, from believing this model will produce an educational revolution to the other end with educators totally dismissing it as just a restructuring of traditional pedagogy.  Sal Khan is a good guy with great intentions.  It is important to review all new educational approaches with an open mind while at the same time with a critical eye.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 3, 2012 at 1:03 am

The Flipped Classroom Model: A Full Picture

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Due to Khan Academy’s popularity, the idea of the flipped classroom has gained press and credibility within education circles. Briefly, the Flipped Classroom as described by Jonathan Martin is:

Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures… for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved. Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures… for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved (

A compiled resource page of the Flipped Classroom (with videos and links) can be found at

The advantage of the flipped classroom is that the content, often the theoretical/lecture-based component of the lesson, becomes more easily accessed and controlled by the learner. Cisco in a recent white paper, Video: How Interactivity and Rich Media Change Teaching and Learning, presents the benefits of video in the classroom:

  • Establishes dialogue and idea exchange between students, educators, and subject matter experts regardless of locations.
  • Lectures become homework and class time is used for collaborative student work, experiential exercises, debate, and lab work.
  • Extends access to scarce resources, such as specialized teachers and courses, to more students, allowing them to learn from the best sources and maintain access to challenging curriculum.
  • Enables students to access courses at higher-level institutions, allowing them to progress at their own pace.
  • Prepares students for a future as global citizens. Allows them to meet students and teachers from around the world to experience their culture, language, ideas, and shared experiences.
  • Allows students with multiple learning styles and abilities to learn at their own pace and through traditional models.

One of the major, evidenced-based advantages of the use of video is that learners have control over the media with the ability to review parts that are misunderstood, which need further reinforcement, and/or those parts that are of particular interest.  (Using technology to give students “control of their interactions” has a positive effect on student learning,)

It is important, though, not to be seduced by the messenger.  Sal Khan is very charismatic and has produced good videos to explain some complex mathematical concepts.  With the growth of open education resources via Youtube and Creative Commons, it is important to note that excellent video lectures have been and are freely/easily available.  The Flipped Classroom concept, though, was not developed and articulated by Khan but by teachers such as Karl Fisch and Jon Bergman/Aaron Sams.

The problem is that educators, as a group, know how to do and use the lecture.  When educators are asked to replace their in-class lectures with videotaped ones (either their own or others) that learners watch at home, educators may not know what to do with this now void in-class time.  Those who advocate for the flipped classroom state that class time can then be used for discourse and for providing hands-on, authentic learning experiences.   In a recent interview Khan stated. “If I was a teacher, this is exactly the type of class I’d want to teach, I don’t have to prepare in a traditional sense. But I do have to prepare for projects and all that, so I have to prepare for creative things” (Meet Sal Khan).  As Frank Noschese notes:

Sal Khan is not showing any examples about what students and teachers are doing beyond Khan Academy. The news stories are not showing the open-ended problems the kids should be engaging with after mastering the basics — instead they show kids sitting in front of laptops working drills and watching videos. The focus is on the wrong things. Khan Academy is just one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. (If it’s the only tool, that is a HUGE problem.)

In other words, the message being given is that teachers can do what they want to during class time. Now educators have time for engagement and interaction with the learners (#EdCampChicago presentation).

A major roadblock or barrier to the implementation of this model is that many educators do not know what to do within the classroom, what to do with that “whatever they want to do” time.  For educators, who are used to and use the didactic model, a framework is needed to assist them with the implementation of the Flipped Classroom.  In other words, the message to teachers to do what they want during classroom is not enough to make this transition.

In order to minimize the flavor of the month syndrome (recall character education, phonics movements, multicultural education, Reading First, powerpoints in the classroom), the use of video lectures needs to fall within a larger framework of learning activities – within more establish models of learning, providing a larger context for educator implementation.

What follows is an explanation of the Flipped Classroom Model, a model where the video lectures and vodcasts fall within a larger framework of learning activities. (Note: I am titling it the Flipped Classroom Model to get folks’ attention given the Flipped Classroom popularity right now.  It really is a cycle of learning model.)  It provides a sequence of learning activities based on the learning theories and instructional models of Experiential Learning Cycles – and Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT Cycle of Instruction-

The Flipped Classroom Model

Experiential Engagement: The Activity

The cycle often begins with an experiential exercise.  This is an authentic, often hands-on learning activity that fully engages the student.   It is a concrete experience that calls for attention by most, if not all, the senses.  According to McCarthy, learning activities are designed that are immersive.  Learners “experience the now.”  They become hooked through personal connection to the experience and desire to create meaning for and about that experience (ala constructivist learning).

Students become interested in the topic because of the experience.  They have a desire to learn more.  This is in line with John Dewey’s thinking regarding experience and education. The nature of experiences is of fundamental importance and concern in education and training.  People learn experientially.  It is the teacher’s responsibility to structure and organize a series of experiences which positively influence each individual’s potential future experiences (

Examples of Experiential Engagement include Experiential Learning Activities, Science Experiments, Simulations, Games and use of the Arts.

Setting:  These activities are designed for in-class time and often occur in a group setting.  In a blended course, these are synchronous activities conducted during face-to-face instructional time.  In an online course, students could be asked to go to a community event, museum, . .  or the creative educator could provide some type of hands-on activity or simulation for students to complete during a real-time synchronous webinar session via Adobe Connect, Elluminate or through a 3D Learning experience such as Quest Atlantis

Conceptual Connections: The What

Learners are exposed to and learn concepts touched upon during Experiential Engagement.  They explore what the experts have to say about the topic.  Information is presented via video lecture, content-rich websites and simulations like PHET and/or online text/readings.  In the case of the flipped classroom as it is being currently discussed, this is the time in the learning cycle when the learners view content-rich videos.  This is where and when videos such as those archived by Khan Academy, Neo K-12, Teacher Tube, or other video services are used to help students learn the abstract concepts related to the topic being covered.

McCarthy reinforces that concepts should be presented in accessible form.  By providing learners with online resources and downloadable media, learners can control when and how the media is used.  This is the major value of flipping the classroom . . . content-based presentations are controlled by the learner as opposed to the lecturer as would be the case in a live, synchronous, didactic-driven environment.

In a user-generated learning environment, students could be asked to locate the videos, podcasts, and websites that support the content-focus of the lesson.  These media can then be shared with other students.

Part of this phase includes an online chat for asking and addressing questions about the content presented via the videos, podcasts, websites.  Through a “chat” area such as Etherpad or Google Docs, learners can ask questions with responses provided by co-learners and educators.  Videos could even be embedded into a Voicethread so students can post comments/reactions to the content.   Obviously, in a face-to-face setting, students can bring their questions into the real time environment.

Setting:  These materials are used by the learners in their own setting on their own time.  In other words, students have the opportunity to access and interact with these materials in a personalized manner.  They can view them in a learning setting that works for them (music, lighting, furniture, time of day) and can view/review information that they find particularly interesting or do not understand.   It is asynchronous learning and as such permits the learner to differentiate learning for him/herself. 

Meaning Making: The So What

Learners reflect on their understanding of what was discovered during the previous phases.  It is a phase of deep reflection on what was experienced during the first phase and what was learned via the experts during the second phase.

Learners can articulate and construct their understanding of the content or topic being covered through written blogs or verbal-based audio or video recordings.  Within the standard school system, this would be the phase when students are tested about their understanding of the content.  If this is the case, it is recommended that the tests target higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy – evaluation, applying, synthesizing.

Setting:  If possible, learners should be given the opportunity to reflect upon and make meaning of the content-related concepts within their own time schedule . . . both at a time when they feel ready to do so and taking the time they personally need for producing self-satisfactory work.

Demonstration and Application: The Now What

During this phase, learners get to demonstrate what they learned and apply the material in a way that makes sense to them. This goes beyond reflection and personal understanding in that learners have to create something that is individualized and extends beyond the lesson with applicability to the learners’ everyday lives.  This is in line with the highest level of learning within Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy of Learning – Creating – whereby the learner creates a new product or point of view. In essence, they become the storytellers of their learning (See Narratives in the 21st Century: Narratives in Search of Contexts).  A list of technology-enhanced ideas/options for the celebration of learning can be found at:

Setting:  This phase of the cycle is best when it occurs in a  a face-to-face, group setting within the classroom.  The reasons for recommending this type of synchronous learning are (1) the educator can guide the learner to the types of projects and tools best suited for him/her, and (2) an audience of peers and mentors increases motivation and provides opportunities for feedback.  Obviously, in an online course, students can work on their projects and present them to peers/educators during a synchronous, interactive online forum.

Here is a slideshow of former students’ Demonstration and Application Projects and Presentations.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


The Flipped Classroom offers a great use of technology – especially if it gets lecture out of the classrooms and into the hands and control of the learners.  As it is being discussed, it is part of a larger picture of teaching and learning.  The Flipped Classroom videos have a place in the models and cycles of learning proposed by educational psychologists and  instructional designers.  Providing educators with a full framework of how the Flipped Classroom can be used in their educational settings will increase its validity for educators and their administrators.

A Simple Example: Undergraduate Communications Course

Goal of Unit: Identify and analyze strategies for using language more effectively.

Experiential Engagement

Students participated in the Mine Field and Bridge-It experiential exercises.

Mine Field


Concept Exploration 

At home students reviewed related media and had associated text readings.  Here is an example of one of the videos students reviewed at home:

Personalization and Meaning Making

Students blogged about what they learned comparing the in-class experiential activity with their text readings and video viewings.

We broke into groups of three and were asked to create one side of a bridge within our group to connect to the others groups bridge.  We were in two separate rooms, with the same supplies and could only communicate with one member of the other group at a time, every five or so minutes.  I was the communicator for my group.   This was extremely hard trying to build the same thing as someone else in a totally different room.  As the project moved further along, people began to get frustrated and irritated for different reasons.  Even though it was successful as far as the construction, many of us left class upset and frustrated. In the readings I read “the process of constructing meaning is itself symbolic because we rely on words to think about what words and other things mean” (Wood, 2010, p. 100).  I think this is so true and it was evident in our project.  Each team was relying on the words of the other team to determine the explanations of the bridge construction.

. . . and from another student:

To clarify, without our ability to SEE the other group’s project, we had to solely depend on words. Words are discussed as never being self-evident or absolute (Woods, p. 100). With each person’s individual perspectives, we assign individual and unique meanings to words.  In that process, we unintentionally open the doors to misinterpretation.  As Woods describes, language defines, evaluates, organizes, allows hypothetical thought, and also allows self-reflection (Woods, p. 103-107). The key roles witnessed during this activity were the organization of perception, hypothetical thought, and evaluation. Mainly these were present between each group’s communicator to the other group, but they also trickled down to the communication within the groups as information was passed along; much like a chain of events. The power of verbal language is almost jarring.

Demonstration and Application

This phase had several components:

1)  Students demonstrated what they learned through in-class listening exercises.

2) Then learners selected listening skills they decided to practice in real life.  They reported on their results through blog entries.

When it comes to pseudo listening, it seems like for the most part there were just too many distractions or barriers going on. I found myself wanting to listen to people around me, but I couldn’t turn the internal dialog off. So throughout the week I tried to catch myself, and found that it wasn’t too hard. Most of this type of non-listening occurs when I’m on the phone (particularly with my parents) for a long period of time. I’m not very good at talking on the phone anyways because of the lack of eye-contact and my distractions caused by trying to multi-task. The best results in correction my pseudo listening were to go and sit in a quiet area (have a smoke) and literally sit on my free hand.  If my mind still wandered, I fought to catch myself and redirect my attention to who I was speaking with on the phone.

3)  Finally students integrated their course learning through a celebration of learning.  They created metaphors for the course content, and explained personal learning and future applications via these metaphors.

A Board Game

A Face Metaphor

. . . and Celebrating

Postscript: Learner-Educator roles change. At the conclusion of this course (June, 2011) a student stated, “You were so much more than a teacher to us.”

Final Note:   The title of my blog is User-Generated Education.  I have a goal of assisting with educational reform in that a learner-centric system of education evolves.  I believe that this cycle of learning is a natural way of learning and that educators can assist students in understanding this cycle so they can use it for their own personalized learning experiences.

Photo Image for Phase 3 Blog Picture: Blog Photo Image:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm

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