I recently watched a 60 Minutes piece on Sal Khan and Khan Academy. The piece portrays Khan as a hedge fund coordinator who falls into an idea that is "revolutionizing" education. He started his non-profit site by initially trying to give his niece some help in math. Khan creates teaching videos by recording his voice and capturing his ideas on a tablet connected to a computer. Teaching, but using a different delivery method. Although the news piece portrays him as an exceptionally good teacher, he downplays his ability to relay a concept to his audience. If you have ever viewed a Kahn lesson, you would agree that he is engaging in his own way and his voice is distinct.
Strong terms like "revolutionary" and "game-changing" are lightning rods when it comes to education. If you profess to have the next best way to educate our youths' - look out because you are going to get some criticism coming your way from the traditional classroom teacher. The teacher that will tell you that it has been tried before and it is just another fad that will go away. They believe that the only way to teach our students is to present information in an engaging way in a classroom, with the teacher in front of some type of presentation medium. The term "sage on the stage" is now commonplace in the world of educational jargon.
In the last few years, technology has changed every traditional business model that we can think of. Education, on the other hand, has been slow to jump in. You might think that a technology professional in education is just there to show off the bells and whistles and what could be accomplished using technology. I find myself trying to battle fear more than anything else.
Everybody has an opinion about what Sal Khan is trying to accomplish. The negative opinions focus on his inability to teach and the discussion surrounding what makes a good teacher. His delivery methods are traditional and his style is straight forward but Khan has found a way to deliver information to a digital audience that is consuming it at a surprising rate. He really does nothing special in terms of his delivery, he is just one of the first ones to convert to a new digital delivery system. Khan is someone who has hit upon an idea that may work and his value is that he was one of the first ones to do it. He is still a Sage but on a different Stage.
I relate this transition to the birth of the motion picture industry as compared to the theatre culture in the late 1800's. The birth of a new idea that will kill another cultural phenomenon. Last I looked, Broadway was still doing fine and the motion picture industry seemed to be doing pretty well also. Why? Because no matter what the delivery method, people who are successful at their craft will continue to engage the masses.
Khan's new digital delivery system will make good teachers better teachers. Your crowd just went from the 15 - 20 kids in your class to a mass market of students. What if, as a teacher, you could capture the feeling of the best class you ever taught? That day when you were "on" and every student in your class seemed to be clicking and learning. The ideas you were trying to present seemed insanely clear and concise. All the right words came to you and every student was engaged. You capture that moment in time and share it with more students than you can possibly imagine.
The new delivery system is just a new stage, a new platform, a new vehicle by which good teachers can excel at what they do. Don't look at what Sal Kahn is doing as threatening the nature of how teachers teach. As far as I can tell, he has no background in education and has never taught in an actual classroom setting, yet he is seen as a very good teacher. What happens when we take trained professionals who are adept at helping kids learn and give them a better, more engaging and wide-reaching vehicle? A vehicle that Khan has proved will work.
We are now ready to see the other side of educational creativity. We have long been witness to the theatre style of teaching where you had to be there to experience. Technology advancement has allowed us to change stages and create experiences with many students with a medium not too dissimilar to the motion picture camera. We can plan, create storyboards, add engaging content, film and film again if need be - all with the goal of making the best educational experience.
These two methods are not mutually exclusive. If I wish to see a Broadway show - I still have the ability to do that. I can continue to experience very talented individuals at their craft entertaining people in a live setting. If I wish to see a movie, I can experience that as well - once again, taking witness in talented artists doing what they do best. If Sal Kahn is the Charlie Chaplin of the new medium, who will be the next Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese?