For Popular Khan Academy, a Critical Voice Amid the Adulation

Judy Hartnett's picture
Monday, August 13, 2012

In the past year, education-reform icon Sal Khan has been lauded by Bill Gates as the "teacher to the world" and has been listed among Time magazine's 100 most influential people.

His Silicon Valley-based Khan Academy posts free videos -- most of which star Khan himself -- and offers accompanying questions on everything from addition to calculus to art history. As of this month, Khan Academy had tallied more than 177.2 million views of its lesson pages and is being used by traditional and charter schools, as well as individuals worldwide.

Amid the adulation, some teachers now have piped up with criticism of his teaching methods. While they admire the website's accessibility and fun, the question sets and teacher "dashboard," they criticize lapses in content, a shortage of explanation and occasional leaps in logic. And, they say, the collection of eight- to 10-minute videos skips the heavy-lifting part of teaching, focuses on procedures over concepts, and doesn't ensure that students understand what's being taught.

To drive home their point, Michigan professors David Coffey and John Golden posted a video, "Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000," poking gentle fun at a Khan lesson on how to multiply and divide negative numbers. (Khan then took down his original video and posted a revised one.) Other educators created what they've abbreviated as the MTT2K contest. Dan Meyer, a Stanford University doctoral candidate in education, and Boston-based blogger Justin Reich are taking on Khan on his own territory, offering $750 in prizes for the best online critique of Khan Academy videos. The deadline is Wednesday.

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