Khan Academy, digital artefacts and The One World Schoolhouse
One of the best-known names in terms of digital artefacts and education is Salman Khan. His book: The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, presents his vision for an education that is free, world class and available to anyone working anywhere in the world (Khan, 2012, p. 1). In its 257 pages, it outlines the events and experiences that led to his development of the Khan Academy as a theory and in practice. It has resonated with my study of Knowledge Networking for Educators in many ways; starting with one of his selected opening quotes from Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet. This sums up one of my concerns when observing the preparation and presentation of colleagues over the years I have been teaching: “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time” (Khan, 2012, p. vii).
Using a range of digital resources made available to twenty-first-century educators, or specifically created by them, or presented by their students, is one of the most positive aspects of access to technology and Internet connections. Such resources enable a range of teaching goals to be met through media that can be easily personalized, incorporate feedback mechanisms and be accessed anytime, anywhere, as often as required by the learners who use them.
While teachers must meet the requirements set by a mandated curriculum and assess within a standardized structure, they must also accept that no two learners are exactly the same (http://www.vcaa.vic.edu.au/Pages/index.aspx). Standardizing works with curricula but not with the human brain (Khan, 2012, p. 52). Changing the system is difficult because it is the normality to which we are accustomed (Khan, 2012, p. 61).
Sugatra Mitra believes our current education model was designed in an era where civil service was a desired career, hence the skills were designed to assist with passing the entrance examinations. His proposed alternative, based on his wonderful hole in the wall experiment is described by him here:
Khan compares it to the Prussian model, which he acknowledges as revolutionary in in its time, but partly designed for the purpose of turning out tractable citizens who were imbued with the value of submitting to authority (Khan, 2012, pp. 76 – 77).
Mitra and Khan both consider teachers as integral to the learning process due to their unique gifts (Khan, 2012, p. 74). The difficulty for teachers in terms of avoiding the “Swiss Cheese” effect (where students have gaps in their earlier learning that cause them to “hit the wall” later) is their inability to provide sufficient time for all students to develop deeply functional understanding, due to the pressure of needing to have students ready to take scheduled tests (Khan, 2012, pp. 86-89).
How do teachers fulfil the needs of the students and those of the curriculum at the same time? What is the role of homework in this equation? Khan quotes a student who says, while he gets less homework than at his previous school, he spends more time working on harder tasks and feels a real sense of accomplishment when he completes the tasks (Khan, 2012, p. 107).
Khan’s video library academy has successfully provided access to learning materials that have been used successfully by students all over the world. While not designed with the intention of supporting “Flipped Learning” models, it has been used in this manner, which Khan sees as a double edged sword (Khan, 2012, p. 117). Despite the focus of flipping being to free up class time to delve into topics in a more stimulating manner using the advantages of face to face interaction, it is still based on the basis of the Prussian model of age based cohorts moving through topics within a set time frame (Khan, 2012, p. 118).
In his reflection on the differences between pedagogy and andragogy, Khan considers the importance of the emphasis. In the former, it is on the teacher; in the latter, the learner (Khan, 2012, p. 175). The key difference between the two, is, of course, the focus on choice: adults who want to learn are making that choice for themselves. Sugata Mitra, in his hole in the wall experiment, has demonstrated the power of children pursuing something because they want to know about it. Khan also poses the question: is andragogy appropriate for everyone (Khan, 2012, p. 176)?
Khan presents a broad view of the value of technology, nominating an enlightened approach as crucial (Khan, 2012, p. 123). He rightly emphasises the need to alter the whole learning process: the methods, goals and assessments and thereby liberate teachers from the mechanical chores and replace them with human to human interaction (Khan, 2012, p. 123). If school is to continue as the place where education occurs, it must offer something beyond what can be done from textbooks or online; the obvious difference is the face to face social interaction which teachers in classrooms can facilitate. Davidson, C. N., & Goldberg, D. T. (2010) consider some of the aspects of this in their work focussing on the way in which institutions should be different in this digital age.
There are some schools which are challenging this paradigm of education: Templestowe College Bridgemary Community School in Gosport, Hampshire, UK, and Hodgkins School, Adams County, USA, are examples of this. Unfortunately, the effects of such changes will emerge over time and for many in leadership the risk is too big a requirement. Hybrid models which are enthusiastically recommended by those who have set up such learning programs, occupy the middle ground. Northern Beaches Christian College in Sydney is an example of this.
Templestowe High School, Melbourne’s Principal, Peter Hutton describes the teaching and learning program as:
“We have deliberately removed many of the restrictions that “traditional” schools place on students, such as year level structures, single age classes and authoritarian hierarchy structures. We do have a vibrant and productive learning atmosphere, scheduled class times, a uniform which is worn with pride and very high standards of respect shown for one another”. They are still meeting the curriculum requirements for the Australian Curriculum Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (n.d.).
Bridgemary Community School in Gosport, Hampshire currently has classes with mixed age ranges based on ability. Currently, this is based on a two-year age gap. Head teacher, Cheryl Heron states:
“This is stage four in a five-stage process which we hope will end with the school open 365 days a year, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We want it to be a true centre of learning for this community and this is just a step along that path. Eventually, this school will be open to adults and youngsters offering them courses and lessons they want to do when they want to do them.”
Adams County School District moved from age-based grouping to standards-based learning, three years ago. This belief is founded on the principle that every child learns in different ways. Hodgkins School Principal, Sarah Gould, states:
“Every single student is getting an individualized education. We are giving our kids exactly what they need when they need it.”
CNN televised a report on this process with the unfortunate title: School lumps by ability not age:
Northern Beaches Christian School in Sydney has created a model that is somewhat hybrid, falling ideologically between the examples above and the traditional model of school. Their Principal, Stephen Harris is proud of the project based learning embedded into their curriculum, describing students as authors of their own learning journey, co-creating their learning with teachers as mentors, experts, and guides.
In all these examples, the issue of effective teaching (dependent on a combination of attracting the right people, and successful teacher training) is paramount. The following table indicates the skills and practices required:
Khan proposes a change to the way in which teachers are deployed, not a reduction in teacher numbers. His solution to the loneliness and isolation of conventional classroom practice is to see teaching as a team sport and facilitate this by placing between 75 and 100 students in a large space with 3 to 4 teachers (Khan, 2012, pp. 197-198). He also postulates that school would better serve its purpose of educating young people if it became a perpetual offering, much in the manner that Cheryl Heron foresees at Bridgemary Community School. The fluencies of C21st learning are well suited to this type of model (Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. 2011). Khan is putting into practice some of the theories postulated by those such as Lemke (2010).
Where does all this leave teachers debating the value of digital artefacts? Like any resource, there is a time, place and student whose learning will benefit from viewing such a production. Effective teachers will apply their skills to selecting artefacts recorded by others and making appropriate examples themselves. As with any other tool, digital artefacts will provide an addition to a personal toolbox developed since these teachers began their professional training.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority. (n.d.). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability. Retrieved from Australian Curriculum: F-10 Curriculum: http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/generalcapabilities/information-and-communication-technology-capability/introduction/ict-capability-across-the-curriculum
Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is Not Enough, 21st-Century Fluencies for the Digital Age. Corwin.
Davidson, C. N., & Goldberg, D. T. (2010). The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age. Cambridge: MIT Press.
De Saulles, M. (2012). New Models of Information Production. Information 2.0: New Models of Information Production, Distribution and Consumption., 13-35.
Higgins, S., ZhiMin, X., & Katsipataki, M. (2012). The Impact of Digital Technologies on Learning. Durham University. Durham: Education Endowment Foundation. Retrieved from Education Endowment Foundation: http://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/uploads/pdf/The_Impact_of_Digital_Technologies_on_Learning_(2012).pdf
Khan, S. (2012). The One World School House: Education Reimagined. London: Hodder and Staughton.
Lemke, C. (2010). Innovation Through Technology. In C21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn (pp. 243-274). Bloomington: Solution Tree.