Will Khan Academy change education?

Credit: Eric Turner/KTVB

Sal Khan

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by Scott Evans

Bio | Email | Follow: @ScottEvansKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on May 3, 2012 at 9:13 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 2:37 AM

BOISE -- For decades -- centuries even -- students have relied on classrooms, teachers, and books to learn. Teachers stand at the front of the room and lecture -- students take notes and study.

However, in all that time -- technology has come a long way.

Here at KTVB, we've been talking about the state of Idaho's education reform since last year when we introduced you to the Ed Sessions, a series of speakers who bring fresh thinking and new approaches to education.

Sal Khan and the Khan Academy wrap up the trio of speakers.

Khan, who went to school at MIT and Harvard, learned like the rest of us, through teacher lectures and textbooks. He wants to use technology, to which just about all of us have access, to make education free to everyone everywhere.

The Khan Academy emerged in 2004 from one person helping another.

"My 12-year-old cousin Nadia was having trouble with math, so I said, 'How about when you go back to New Orleans I tutor you over the phone?'" said Khan.

With complicated subjects like math, Khan’s voice wasn't enough. So he turned to videos and YouTube to teach what grew to be 20 cousins across the country.

"I started getting feedback from my cousins and then other people out there who I wasn't related to, saying this actually felt really human, it felt really connected," said Khan.

His videos, his lessons, viewed more than 140 million times are, on purpose, simple.

"You don't want to jinx it, but it looks to be going in the right direction," said Khan.

His lessons are delivered by way of a black canvas, plus colored ink, plus a voice.

"I actually think human faces are very distracting,” Khan said. “If you have a human face, and you have math, we naturally are wired to look at the human face.”

So Khan removed his face from the equation. And through each 10-minute-or-so lesson anyone can learn for the first time, or get a quick refresher on topics like multiplication, the parts of a cell, or art history.

Currently there are more than 3,400 videos available at Khan Academy.

"With the way we view Khan Academy, the bulk of our users are just using it, no one told them to use it, they're just going there to learn things better, and we're starting to be used in a lot more classrooms as well," said Khan.

The Khan Academy is currently working directly with 50 schools, and 5,000 more are using it on their own.

"Khan Academy is here to empower the teachers. We want to make you as high value as possible. We want you to take your classrooms to the next level, and we want to build the tools for the teachers to really empower that," said Khan.

Khan believes a teacher is best used, not as a lecturer, but as a coach and a mentor, free to roam the classroom and help individuals on an individual level. That's done through a tool on Khan Academy, showing progress and proficiency as well as areas where a student is struggling.

"We hope we're at least a catalyst,” Khan said. “We're offering a tool. We're not just telling people here's some ideas. We're saying here's a tool, it's free."

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