Wednesday, April 6, 2011

"Flipping", video and the KhanAcademy.

It is often said that the school room is the one place in our society that seems immune to change.  In many schools educational practices are still fairly consistent with those of many many decades ago - “school” has remained fairly constant for generations.  The growth of the Internet and the technology of video promises to change that.

Salman Khan, the almost accidental founder of the KhanAcademy, gave a speech at TED recently - “Let’s use video to reinvent education”.   In it he describes the developmental pathway of the site.  The fact that it began as his own attempts to tutor his cousins remotely via video link explains the production values and style of the videos.  

At this point I have to state my personal bias - I’m not a huge fan of the site. Whilst I rate its intent highly I have issues with production values.  You only have to watch a few videos, particularly the early ones, to see that production values were low and the pedagogy dated - despite the ultra-modern “screen capture” style presentations.  In a sense this is to be expected for Khan is not a teacher - and it shows.  (He worked at a hedge fund prior to the growth of the KhanAcademy.) However, whilst this may be true - it offers a comprehensive collection of “no frills” explanations of mathematical procedures via web-based video free of charge.   The site now is a registered “not for profit” organisation and receives support from Bill Gates’ charity. This is allowing the KhanAcademy to become more professional and it is now offering some enhanced services to educators and families such as charting student progress.

Khan makes some interesting points in his speech, not the least of which is his notion that video can be used very effectively to enhance what teachers do in school.  If a student is away at the start of a unit and misses some crucial explanation by the teacher how do they catch up? What about students who may have attended the lesson - but failed to understand it?   Does the teacher make the rest of the class sit through it while they explain it again? Do they expect the absent student  to miss out and catch up as best they can?  This issue is avoided if the teacher uses video.

A teacher can either  video the actual lesson they present or prepare a video based lecture; for example, create a narrated powerpoint to introduce a topic or as a lesson.  Students can then view the lesson when they are able or the child can review it as often as needed until “the penny drops”  - either in class or at home.  Thus no child needs to miss the lesson or not understand something heard only once.  Surely this is an aim worth pursuing.

Associated with this is the notion of “flipping”.  Instead of the teacher introducing the topic in class time and then having some time practising examples and then students completing homework to consolidate skills ,“flipping” swaps the process around.  In the “flipped” classroom the teacher prepares a video lesson and students then watch it for homework BEFORE coming to class.  This frees up class time for discussion of the concept and generally working with the concept.  Students who need more time can revisit the video, those who don’t can get straight down to work.  The claim is that this results in much more productive class time - and should, in theory, allow for class time to devoted to higher level exploration of the topic.     It is too early for reliable data to establish if this approach does actually result in higher student achievement and understanding - but there is every reason to believe that it could.  Surely this is an aim worth investigating.

The case for  video lessons would appear to be strong - maybe we should press the “play” button and see if the reality can match the rhetoric.  

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