Khan’s Experiment: “splitting up the work of teaching between man and machine, and combining teacher-led lessons with computer-based lectures and exercises.”

December 5th, 2011

The TImes has a profile of the work of Salman Khan, of Khan Academy fame, who is trying to “weave [his] digital lessons into the fabric of the school curriculum.” The software provides a “peephole” into the student’s brain.

He can see that a girl sitting against the wall is zipping through geometry exercises; that a boy with long curls over his eyes is stuck on a lesson on long equations; and that another boy in the front row is getting a handle on probability.

Each student’s math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures. For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers.

Today, the Khan Academy site offers 2,700 instructional videos and a constellation of practice exercises. Master one concept, move on to the next. Earn rewards for a streak of correct answers. For teachers, there is an analytics dashboard that shows both an aggregate picture of how the class is doing and a detailed map of each student’s math comprehension. In other words, a peephole.

One of the elements I enjoy most about using a live-feed during class is that I get a peephold, or in my own sense, get a pulse, on what the class is thinking. This, is invaluable to help you shape the direction of the lesson. The technology does not replace me. It helps me.

Ms. Tavenner says she believes that computers cannot replace teachers. But the computer, she recognizes, can do some things a teacher cannot. It can offer personal feedback to a whole room of students as they work. And it can give the teacher additional class time to do more creative and customized teaching.

“Combining Khan with that kind of teaching will produce the best kind of math,” she argued. “Teachers are more effective because they have a window into the student’s mind.”

The Times entire series on “combining man and machine” can be found here.