Monday, July 23, 2012

Khan Academy: Savior of the American Educational System?

The video above is an entry in a contest. These Khan Academy critiques, in the style of MST3K or Mystery Science Theater 3000, are about making a screencast of your own critiquing a Khan Academy video. This challenge is called the MTT2K Prize: Mystery Teacher Theater 2000 Prize. Many of Khan's videos are good introductions to the topic at hand. However, many teachers complain that the Academy is being touting as "all things to all people." In other words, can these videos take the place of actual classroom learning? The "Powers That Be" now feel justified in cutting teachers' jobs and subscribing their school to the Academy instead! Many educators, however, feel that Khan is a "Jack of all trades, but a Master of none." Many of the videos have subtle, if not blatant, errors and misconceptions not altogether obvious to the layman. Why not let the professional educators be the judge?

What follows is a reply to a related thread on the ap-physics edg, aka listserv, about the effectiveness of Khan Academy videos in the context of the flipped classroom:

It doesn't take funding from a Jaugernaut like the Gates Foundation to make, edit and index educational videos on YouTube! I've been doing so on a budget of spit and shoe polish for some 5 years now. I'm not saying that my videos will save American Education or that they are the best educational screencasts ever made. I simply screencast all the new material from one given course each year live as I teach. I teach primarily Math and CompSci now, so I'm not the savior for Physics. But I now have over 5 years worth of video resources to show for my efforts on YouTube for my students' benefit. 

I have 3 different Calculus courses, 1 of preCalculus and 1 of AP CompSci plus a few SAGE tutorials on YouTube. I will continue to record one course each year. I will focus on courses that I haven't had the chance to record yet or rerecord a course when there's a significant change in content, technology or delivery. 

For instance, next year I will record my preCompSci class for the whole year as I never had the chance to record it before and since its expanding to a full year for the first time. Also, next year I am experimenting with new technology (using SAGE instead of a TI-83) in preCalc, so 2 years from now I will rerecord preCalc. I am also using a new textbook this coming year in AP Calc BC, so 3 years from now I will rerecord that class! I recorded my Summer Calc I and Calc II a few Summers ago. I will have to record AP Calc AB sometime before I retire.... 

I am doing all this recording as much for the students in my class and online as I am for myself. Now, I have a record of YouTubes as well as SmartNotes and code for the courses I teach most often to help me prep and improve future classes! I also get students from other schools here in the States and internationally that don't have access to these classes that email me about their successes and are very grateful for such a resource. I find their successes most gratifying as well!

Sample Quote from my YouTube Channel, CalcPage2009:
@calcpage2009 "Hey Mr. Garcia. I just want to say thank you so much for posting all of those videos of your AP Computer Science class. My school didn't offer AP CS so it was up to me to find some way to educate myself on the topic to pass the test. Your videos were a crucial part of my self-learning process. I totally didn't understand gridworld when I tried to study it myself, and then your videos were able to clear up just about everything about it. Thanks to you I got a 5 on the AP Test. Thank you for the help."

My Reply:
@justforfun610 "Wow, that's great! You really got a 5 on the APCS Exam after watching my videos? Lucky for you I decided to record this course this year for the first time! Sorry I didn't get to finish GridWorld Part IV and some of the final project...."

Here's a note I got on my Edmodo page for APCS:
Joey O: "Learning with u guys has been such a previledge and I will remain grateful. I have begun teaching some of the material I learnt to my peers here in Africa!"

So, do these videos fix what's wrong with the American Educational System? No! Am I going to rush into flipping all my classes next year? No! Should YouTube or Khan Academy replace teachers in the classroom? No! But, screencasts of your own classes for your own use do have thier benefits! My students especially like being able to review old videos for material they are rusty on. Also, they can make up work very quickly when they are absent.

***UPDATE*** I had several email queries about my "recording studio" aka screencasting setup. So, here's some of my my replies:

Reply 1: 
Whenever I'm recording a keyboard intensive course such as AP Computer Science where I'm typing a lot of code during class, I'm sitting in the back of the room at my PC but I still have the wireless mic on in case I have to move around the room or go to the SmartBoard briefly at the front of the room. I designed my room for AP Computer Science students, so this is a natural way for me to teach. I even setup all their monitors so I can see what they are doing from the back of the room! However, I do use the SmartBoard and VTI from the front of the room a lot in Math classes.

I've been using a Radio Shack 75 MHz wireless lapel mic like
this for years now. The one pictured is not 75 MHz but its otherwise just like mine. Its not the best mic in the world but its reasonably priced. I got it for $50. I added a warranty policy from Radio Shack for $5 and had the whole thing replaced for free a year later when I snapped the wire on my lapel clean off! I've been told that there's better mic solutions out there, but whenever I try one like this I always go back to the Radio Shack model!

Here's a picture gallery of my room right after I got a SmartBoard for the first time:
SmartBoards, FlatScreens and IdeaPads, oh my!

Here's how I setup my hardware:
CIS(theta) Natty 64bit Ubuntu Install Fest!

Here's some more about my "recording studio:"
ScreenCasting 101 - To Be Or Not To Be?
SmartBoards in Linux? They said it could not be done!
Setting up for LIMACON is hard to do!
SmartNotebook for Linux, I Presume?

Reply 2: 
Thanx for all the kind words! I'm glad you got something out of my blog. I hope you visit often. I have some 300 posts dating back to 2009 mainly on teaching Calculus and Computer Science with technology in the classroom. Please feel free to use any of my freebies from my blog's side bar: screencasts, smartnotes and code! If you are interested, I also have a link to my EBay store here and at the bottom of this page!

BTW, I use a Radio Shack 75 MHz lapel mic! It has served me well. It has 2 components. One part is the base which plugs into an AC outlet and also connects to the headphone output socket on my PC. The other component I put in my pocket and is powered by batteries. It has a wire to a lapel mic that I usually clip to my tie or shirt just under my chin. Beware the batteries you use! I found out the hard way that the unit I put in my pocket eats batteries for breakfast. Ordinary alkaline batteries would literally last only a few hours of recording time. You really need to get some of those Lithium Ion EverReady AA batteries which will give you weeks of recording time say 1 or 2 periods per day! 

Also, the Graphing Calculator Emulator I use in my screencasts is VTI: Virtual TI.

***UPDATES SQUARED*** Here's a related email query I just recieved:

"Hi Mr. Garcia,
I am an instructional technologist at a small girls high school in Queens, NY. One of my teachers was very excited to see one of your videos and shared it with me to get some answers to a big questions she has after watching 

In your lesson, you are talking with students about getting a new SMARTBoard. Your students clearly believe they are a waste of money, and you clearly had a $300 alternative.  We are on an extremely limited budget, and I am looking for alternatives to SMART boards.  CAn you tell me what device you were using in the video?  And is Ziggy a name for the IT calculator or is that the name of the interactive tool you are using.

I am very impressed by your website and work. I intend to share it with all of our math teachers!

I would appreciate your help and hope to hear from you soon!"

Here's my reply:

"Thanx for the kind words and for sharing my materials! I'm more than happy to answer your question.

(1) As you can see, I was "SmartBoarding" long before I even had a SmartBoard. I was using Smarttech products, however. What you see in the video is a combinations of SmartNotebook with the Smart Airliner Slate. The Airliner is really another name for a Wacom 6x8 Graphire BlueTooth Tablet otherwise used by graphic artists. It is very easy to connect to your PC but it does take a little getting used to writing on it. This tablet is not like the more modern iPad or Xoom as you cannot see what you write on the tablet itself, but it has proven quite useful. I still use it as a portable SmartBoard when I'm on the road at a Math Conference or when teaching my Summer course at the local college.

(2) Ziggie is my nickname for the TI-83 Graphing Calculator. What you see on the video is Virtual TI software which lets you emulate the TI-83 by copying your calculator's OS to the PC.

(3) If you want to record for YouTube as I do, all you need to add is screencasting software and a mic. I like an online screencast solution called and the 75 MHz Wireless Lapel Mic from Radio Shack."

A. Jorge Garcia
Applied Math, Physics & CS

Well, that's all folks!

Teaching with Technology,

1 comment:

  1. Sal also can do mistake. But their videos are generally very good. I don't know whether or not the teachers lost their job. Not for america but also like me from other countries (Turkey) watch it with great interest