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Interviews: Khan Academy Lead Developer Ben Kamens Answers Your Questions

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the listen-up dept.

Education 24

A couple of weeks ago you had the chance to ask Khan Academy lead developer Ben Kamens about the future of online education and the academy itself. Below you'll find his answers to the questions we sent and a few extra that he found interesting.Higher Education
by null etc.

Joel Spolsky has famously stated that he prefers software engineers who come from highly accredited universities, preferably Ivy-league. His thought is that one has to distinguish oneself in order to be granted admission to such places. Do you think that Joel's opinion, and those of other elitist employers, will change with the introduction of free, quality online education?

Kamens:Yes. It's not just access to education, it's the ease with which somebody can demonstrate their ability. Ask any developer if they'd sleep better at night having just hired:

A) somebody from a no-name school with an impressive github profile and side projects
B) somebody from an impressive school with no github profile nor side projects

Then take everybody who answered B and keep them away from me. And here's the thing: I'm confident Joel agrees. Joel's most famous edict when it comes to hiring is making sure somebody's "Smart and Gets Things Done." There was a time when a college degree was the best credential for Smart and Gets Things Done. In many hiring situations, it still is.

In the programming world right now? Not so much. There are too many chances to prove your ability before you graduate for that name on your degree to carry all the weight. Sure, between two otherwise equal candidates, neither of whom have littered the internet with blog posts and side projects and bits of their code, highly accredited universities can still help differentiate. It's a helpful filter, especially when sorting through thousands of otherwise similar resumes.

Even at Fog Creek 6 years ago, graduating from a top-tier university only gave you one point (out of 6 possible) in the initial resume screening process...which was the most trivial part of an otherwise lengthy recruiting pipeline designed to figure out if you're Smart and Get Things Done.

Short version: yes, this is changing and will continue to. Quality online education will hopefully continue advancing alongside easier and easier ways to demonstrate your skills to the world. At Khan Academy, we've hired people from all sorts of colleges (even three high schoolers!) who've demonstrated tremendous skill way before a degree credentials it. We'll continue to do so.



Platform For Schools
by GeneralSecretary

I've heard that KhanAcademy has a platform for schools. Students can learn using Khan Academy and teachers can monitor their progress and help students where they need it most. When I last heard about this the platform was a pilot program being launched at select schools. Are there plans to make this platform generally available? or even open source?

Kamens:It's actually for any teacher in any school right now, for free. Our "teacher toolkit" is the best place to start, w/ videos of other schools' usage and tips from their implementations.

When a teacher signs up and gets their class on Khan Academy, they'll get the exact same platform our pilot classrooms receive. Same product a parent would get if they signed up with their child. Those teachers in the pilot program you mention aren't using anything special.

The significant difference is our ability to personally engage with specific teachers and classrooms. We're a small team and have to focus on a (relatively) small number of classrooms. We use these few pilots to get feedback, learn from students, try to understand how our product can empower teachers, etc. But any changes we make as a result are then given to all students around the world.



Verification
by GeneralSecretary

It seems to me that the problem with online education is being able to prove what you have learned. I can learn Calculus online at Khan Academy or at my local community college. I'll probably learn Calculus better at Khan Academy and for less money. But, I cannot use that knowledge to get a degree nor would I have any other way of proving my knowledge to other schools or potential employers. Do you have a solution to this problem?

Kamens:It's a big deal. The MOOCs have already started tackling this. Coursera, Udacity, and edX are working with colleges to provide official credit for their online classes.

There's more than one way to work this issue. The MOOCs are attempting to build an educational brand that's valued in much the same way as, say, Stanford. They can then hand out stamps of approval that serve as signals for employers or colleges who're trying to assess candidates.

There's also the github model. Github doesn't bill itself as an accreditation machine. It doesn't try to hand out branded stamps of approval. But talk to employers about the power of github profiles and you'll hear an interesting story. And they're not the only ones. Sites like Stack Overflow have managed to build systems of reputation that send meaningful signals (disclosure: I'm biased about Stack Overflow).

Bottom line: your question represents an *enormous*, world-changing opportunity, and Khan Academy has some important choices to make. The team is sprinting on this problem as I type.



Where are all the CS courses?
by Anonymous Coward

Where are all the "traditional" Computer Science courses? I'm not asking about the "interactive manual" type courses like how to do loops in Python - there are a ton of materials about that all over the web. I'm asking about theoretical computer science, such as Turing completeness, Chomsky hierarchy, abstract data types, compiler design, that kind of stuff which is the backbone of a university computer science education. The reason I'm asking is not to diminish the value of hands-on courses, but because many (including myself) were not able to get a "traditional" CS degree, coming into programming jobs from other disciplines (or no degree at all) and are largely self taught. Self teaching is great when it comes to practical stuff early on, but once you move on to more senior roles you start feeling the gaps of not understanding the theory behind your tools, design, and implementation, as much as you should.

Kamens:Agreed!

I'd encourage you to check out the computer science section we have. While it's not the high-level content you mention, it's far from those "interactive manuals" you see around the web. John Resig and his team have built something pretty special.

That being said, the most honest answer we can give when asked about missing content is that we've chosen to focus on a few topics (like core math) until we nail them and the experience built around them.

We're opportunistic when we find an incredible person to help us teach other areas while the rest of the team focuses on core math. Examples would be Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker's Art History content and Vi Hart's brilliant and somewhat indescribable videos.

We are building quite a content team. There's little we don't hope to cover one day. Just not focusing on higher-level CS *yet*.



Explanation vs exploration: Pedagogical challenge?
by fantomas

I've heard a criticism of the Khan Academy pedagogic approach is that it is explanation based (effectively the old model: the teacher talks, the student listens, the student carries out an exercise, listens again) - while schools are moving towards exploration based learning (where students are encourage to try and approach problems from different angles supported by teacher-as-facilitator). To what extent does Khan Academy replicate a very old fashioned rote-learning form of education (albeit delivered and presented via a new media with minor improvements like pause and rewind), and in what aspects does it offer significant new pedagogical advances in learning?

Kamens:Dangit, I just listened to Sal answer this exact question at a dinner yesterday. Now you're gonna make me feel like I'm a puppet. I'll do my best to break free of these puppet shackles and answer with my own words.

The fundamental belief of Khan Academy is that students should engage with content they need on-demand, at their own pace. We agree that any curriculum that forces all students in a class to follow the same, preordained "watch this video, do this exercise, watch this other video" path isn't using technology in a meaningful way. So we design our product and work with teachers to help students feel ownership of the learning process.

Our classrooms see varying implementations, but the best of them try hard to help students move at their own pace. Some students might never need to listen to Sal say a word. They can master content by experimenting on their own. Absolutely. Fine. By. Us. Others may benefit from rewinding one of Sal's videos over and over and over until a concept clicks. But not every student masters content at the same speed.

It takes a fearless teacher to embrace this controlled chaos in a classroom. I've seen it happen. I have the highest respect in the world for those teachers able to do it. They're simultaneously ready to help mentor a student who's stuck working on fractions and another who may've advanced all the way to trigonometry. They let one student run free on her own while giving another strong encouragement to try the next challenge. Watching these teachers in action is a sight to behold.

Khan Academy exists to give students the freedom to engage with the content they need while giving teachers immediate feedback about who's working on what and where they need help. We think we can help teachers by making this acquisition of core skills a more personalized, efficient process.

In doing so, we hope to move teachers _up_ the value chain so they can focus on exploration-based learning and targeted coaching with the rest of their class time.

I personally think that'd be a significant advance in learning. And FWIW, we consider anybody who fights for exploration-based learning to be an ally of Khan Academy.



Plans to make KA easier for researchers to use?
by Anonymous Coward

I'm a middle school teacher experimenting with using KA with my classes. I think it is an amazing tool, especially for differentiation -- helping teachers to help their students who are behind have successes in math and, ideally, work towards getting caught back up to their peers. I think it can allow math teachers to do more interesting and fun (non-drill) types of work in the classroom, such as focusing more on students learning by doing open-ended, authentic, rich projects with each other. The key word there is that I *think* it must be helpful to the type of classroom described above. I want to know it is, and as part of our practice in Ontario, Canada, it is encouraged that teachers engage in personal inquiry projects to get more data on whether what we think is working actually is. It is difficult to get the data I need out of KA. We're having to do a lot of manual grabbing of student usage times and populating spreadsheets with that. Any plans to extend the external API to allow more sophisticated queries? Or, perhaps plans to provide a tool allowing more extensive data dumps which researchers can use? And if you don't have plans at the moment, does this post influence that? ;-) With a more thorough access to student data, I expect there will be researchers who will be more interested in investigating KA in their research and fleshing out the actual benefits (and also any issues that might be addressed). My students and I thank you!

Kamens:Holy crap, I should've just pasted your first couple sentences in response to the previous question! Would've been way more authentic.

Ouch. This one hits home. I want our API to support this type of thing, and I know it's far from perfect. Can you make sure the specific API queries you need are requested here? We haven't had time to do everything we want, but we're always on the lookout for big API wins that'll enable the community to build cool stuff. Thanks for being an early API adopter. Sorry you've had trouble. Please know that we want to help.

The large data dump request is a bit more complicated due to student privacy issues, but it's on our radar.



lead dev
by vlm

I always ask coder/tech types whats their coolest hack / coolest piece of code. Not something else someone else did, not some giant overall project or vague thing like "world peace" just your coolest isolated to one individual "thing" hack. Something they did personally not hired someone else to do, or something their boss did. Maybe in your LOB its an amazing caching technique, or an astounding way to compress video or whatever. Or some astounding workflow thingy. A short story just a paragraph no more. The kind of thing a /. audience would respond with "cool!" when they read it.

Kamens:While I can't promise "amazing" or "astounding" I can at least make you cringe. A couple years ago we had to take Khan Academy down for maintenance. Was gonna take a couple hours. We put up a cutesy little "Shhhh...we're studying!" page to let users know we'd be back soon.

We were Google App Engine novices at the time. The method we used to display that "Shhh...we're studying!" page did something we didn't expect: it returned a caching header that told all downstream clients to cache the page. For 365 days. For _all of our URLs_. And this was _entirely_ our fault (not App Engine's).

Every server or browser between us and our users was now allowed to return "Shhh...we're studying!" for every Khan Academy URL without ever asking us for new content. Our users were gonna sit there, smashing reload, and seeing "Shhh...we're studying!" for a freaking _year_. And our servers would never even see their requests to get a chance to fix the problem. Thankfully, the App Engine team came through in the middle of the night and gave us a way to clear the cache for exactly two URLs on all of their frontend servers, where most of this problematic caching was happening. We chose the homepage URL, www.khanacademy.org, and (here's where the hack comes in), the URL of javascript file that all of our pages, including the static "Shhhh...we're studying!" page, happened to be referencing. Something like khanacademy.org/jquery.js. We replaced that javascript file with a single line that redirected users to a new subdomain we'd set up at www2.khanacademy.org. The www2 URLs weren't cached all over the entire internet, so kids could start learning again!

Once the disaster died down we switched back to www.khanacademy.org and modified our URLs in a different way to avoid any remaining caches. Surprisingly, our traffic didn't take a hit and everything recovered nicely. But we wondered for about a year if anybody was still seeing that "Shhh...we're studying!" page.



Internships
by Niris

As someone who is currently a senior in computer science and looking for summer internships, what is it that Khan Academy developers look for in perspective interns? I've looked over the blog posts from some of the past interns, and their projects all seem pretty amazing. Is it possible for someone who doesn't have a fair amount of professional level experience to jump in to the internship program with Khan Academy? Disclaimer: I currently have an application in for the internship program, hence my curiosity :)

Kamens:Side projects. Blogs. Having built or written things that others find useful. Being passionate enough to find us and ask interview questions on slashdot.

A past filled with creating value will go a long, long way. Rooting for you.



Jude the Obscure
by Quirkz

Discussions about online learning tend to remind me of the book Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy. It's been a couple of decades, but from what I remember it's the tragic story of a poor working man who dreams of pursuing education/knowledge but who can only barely scrape by with the essentials and can rarely afford even the occasional book. Do institutions like Khan Academy mostly or completely erase that scenario in the modern day? Would a modern Jude have been able to educate and better himself? Are there other obstacles that replace the cost as a barrier to taking this free learning and finding advancement or satisfaction?

Kamens:Ever read The Diamond Age? We give a copy to all interns on their first day. Our long-term sci-fi dream is to remove exactly these obstacles. If we can get one small step closer to The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (sounds like it would've helped this Jude)...well, that's a dream.

cancel ×

24 comments

really depends on the subject (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43004381)

I don't think there's a universal answer for this one:

Ask any developer if they'd sleep better at night having just hired:

A) somebody from a no-name school with an impressive github profile and side projects
B) somebody from an impressive school with no github profile nor side projects

Github profiles and side-projects select for particular kind of developers, mostly software developers, mostly focused on web stuff. That's great for some things, especially if the job is mainly a programming job, although it does also often select for a sort of dilettantism. If you want someone who's solid on engineering fundamentals because you're hiring for an aerospace engineering job, on the other hand, you might have different preferences, and be more interested in their level of formal education than in the Ruby blog software they wrote on the weekends.

Elitism (2)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year and a half ago | (#43004427)

Kamens:Yes. It's not just access to education, it's the ease with which somebody can demonstrate their ability. Ask any developer if they'd sleep better at night having just hired:

A) somebody from a no-name school with an impressive github profile and side projects

B) somebody from an impressive school with no github profile nor side projects

That's the difference between an upwardly mobile startup and an entrenched Fortune 500 run by bean counters. Risk. When you have less to lose, you take a greater gamble. When you have more to lose, you tend to stick to 'proven' methods even if they're not optimal.

Re:Elitism (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43004595)

When you have more to lose, you tend to stick to 'proven' methods even if they're not optimal.

They're not just "not optimal," they're outright useless in many cases. College students often don't have any experience and have been babied through the process.

Neal Stephenson (5, Interesting)

Dexter Herbivore (1322345) | about a year and a half ago | (#43004491)

Kamens:Ever read The Diamond Age? We give a copy to all interns on their first day. Our long-term sci-fi dream is to remove exactly these obstacles. If we can get one small step closer to The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (sounds like it would've helped this Jude)...well, that's a dream

Ben Kamens, I already have a lot of respect for what you do... this statement has just given me a HUGE amount more. The Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (in universe) is designed to educate children to question EVERYTHING, to not accept the paradigms presented to you and to challenge authority in an intelligent way. I can only hope that more children get an education like this.

Re:Neal Stephenson (2)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43006123)

Most Americans learn to challenge authority. Very few seem to learn to do it INTELLIGENTLY.

Re:Neal Stephenson (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43009383)

Whereas most /. trolls take any available opportunity to be nationalistic, very few seem to do it IN CONTEXT.

Obligatory (1, Redundant)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about a year and a half ago | (#43004503)

KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!

Re:Obligatory (2)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year and a half ago | (#43007003)

it would be hilarious if William Shatner signed up for a course at the Khaaaaaaaaaaaaan academy

Jude the Obscure/Diamond Age (1)

Quirkz (1206400) | about a year and a half ago | (#43004961)

Whee, I got replied to! I haven't read Diamond Age, but I do like Stephenson, so it's on my eventual reading list. Guess I've got more incentive to check it out now.

Re:Jude the Obscure/Diamond Age (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43005327)

Yesterday you informed me that you were planning on traveling to Ohio. What say you?

Sadly, some disconnect between real world and Khan (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43006067)

Sadly, there seems to be some disconnect between Khan features and usage in the classroom. Although I'm not a teacher, being a software developer who has been helping out in classrooms where they were using Khan, I see functions missing that are important for classroom usage. (Caveat, I gave up on Khan about three months ago so maybe things have changed since then). The teachers, generally, are not sufficiently technically sophisticated to be frustrated by "why don't they just do X to solve my problem Y" -- however, they just don't see Y solved and sometimes get frustrated and give up on Y or just go through the motions of using Khan as best as they can figure out (or, as dictated if the required curriculum includes Khan).

This is unfortunate because Khan Academy seems like it can be a good classroom tool if some of these shortcomings were addressed.

A random smattering of problems, in no particular order, I've encountered [What happened to <ol> on /.? Sorry for the messy formatting w/my own "***" as item headers.]:
  1. *** The inability for a "coach" (i.e., teacher) to set goals for students/classrooms. It's not unusual to find one student in a class of thirty that picked the wrong, but similarly named, video/exercise and be diligently working on it unaware of their error. As well, a significant amount of time is wasted getting all the students started on the right thing.
  2. *** The ability for a student to remove their teacher as coach w/o approval. Students play around and one can tell them not to do this, but they occasionally try it and "hide" from the teacher. Sure, it gets discovered, but it's disruptive.
  3. *** Lack of a way to "block" students from unrelated exercises/videos - possibly until they have completed a set of goals - during particular times (generally class periods). This makes classroom management harder (esp. given the lack of [near] real time monitoring tools - see below) as students are either inadvertently working on the wrong things or are distractedly wandering through things that are not the immediate focus. Class time, with teachers/aides available, usually should be spent on the topic of the day (or, perhaps, prerequisites) until proficiency is established.
  4. *** Inability for a teacher to establish their own criteria for proficiency that is visible to the student. Reporting can be accomplished (either "sort of real time" depending on API speed and certainly offline) via the API - easy for a developer like myself, but way beyond the scope of most teachers.
  5. *** Difficulty in monitoring classroom progress on an "assignment". The exercises have great potential for quick, informal student assessment to give teachers insight on who needs help right now on the given topic (and which of the usual suspects is goofing off - which can be hard to tell without walking behind each student when they all have their computers open!). For example, when some aspect of fractions is being taught, it could be very useful for a teacher to say

    "everyone, work on the exercises for Equivalent fractions, viewing the video as needed. When you have gotten 6 consecutive correct answers on the exercises, you can move on to $SOMETHING_ELSE

    Unfortunately, there is no practical way (without using the API - and even that might be too slow for "almost real time monitoring" for 35 students) with "built in" functionality to monitor what the students are doing during just this period of time when the teacher can be sure students are doing their own work (and haven't already done that section with the help of a friend) and see who has completed the objective, who is making good progress, who is working on other things (probably okay if these are "prereqs" or supporting tasks), who is struggling, who hasn't completed the objective and hasn't attempted to work any problems in the exercise for three minutes.

  6. *** There's no easy way to ask, without using the API and, even then, potentially waiting for the answer for a painfully long time if one has 150 students, questions like "On which exercises do students get the largest percentage of incorrect answers?" or "Which students consistently take a statistically "long" time to answer problems on these ten exercises?"

The API also has some problems:

  1. *** Critical API functions are not documented - for example, StudentLists is only discovered by guessing at the API name as far as I can tell. The source is, unfortunately, not really open any more so that's not an option for the tinkerer and, even then, who knows if Khan Academy really intends to support StudentLists.
  2. *** API usage is poorly documented. For example, one eventually figures out when everything doesn't "cross balance", that if a student has done about 1000 problems (yes!) on a single exercise that one needs to use 'timestamp' queries to pick them all up -- not too bad, except there is no flag in the API to say "there's more" so, lacking documentation, one has to guess at a heuristic to avoid always making an extra API call "in case" there are more available (which would increase the time substantially for some sorts of queries).
  3. *** The granularity of the API is too high and/or too slow per simple request and/or too throttled for practical frequent usage in near real time for a large number of students (say 150). This severely limits what is possible (and, also, leaves one fearful of having the API key banned since presumably the reason responses take so long is that the Khan Academy resources are limited and are being overtaxed by such uses) - esp. from a web based service using the API for multiple concurrent users.

Re:Sadly, some disconnect between real world and K (3, Insightful)

PhloppyPhallus (250291) | about a year and a half ago | (#43008251)

Seems to me a lot of what you want doesn't fit into the vision of KA. You want to be able to control what content the students see and when they see it, so that you can keep the entire class working on the same stuff at the same time and at the same pace. That's in opposition to what I understand to be Khan's goal of encouraging self-directed learning, where students learn at their own pace, ability, and interest. So, the long and short of it is that I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for KA to implement these features given their limited resources and goals.

Re:Sadly, some disconnect between real world and K (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43009963)

I think you are correct. In a classroom environment, KA will not (at least for a very long time) be the primary curriculum so if it doesn't fit into an existing curriculum, it seems unlikely that KA will be very effective or widely adopted "in a classroom". As for "outside of classroom" or "in study time", sure -- it can help when students are having difficulty with a class topic (as any of a variety of materials would) so maybe that's the role it's limited to.

Actually, perhaps the naive vision is evidenced by the comment from the story:

They're [fearless teachers] simultaneously ready to help mentor a student who's stuck working on fractions and another who may've advanced all the way to trigonometry.

There is something seriously wrong with a system that has one student working at 4th grade level (struggling with fractions) and another working on a high school level topic (trig) with the same teacher distracted by dealing with both. There may be an extraordinary teacher here and there that could do that -- but if they had students who were of more similar capabilities and knowledge levels, they would do even more amazing things. The overwhelming majority of the teachers could not be even remotely effective in that environment - nor should they. In a formal educational environment that 'self directed', 'self paced', and 'chaotic', it's very difficult for students to move from school to school because the accepting school, which is likely more like traditional schools, has no class the student fits in.

Human values are the stuff of madness to a system (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43010703)

And that is why schools-as-we-know-them are rapidly becoming obsolete, if they every made any sense at all. See my essay:
http://patapata.sourceforge.net/WhyEducationalTechnologyHasFailedSchools.html [sourceforge.net]

And for general background:
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/fdtd-g.htm [alfiekohn.org]
http://johntaylorgatto.com/underground/prologue.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]
http://www.thewaronkids.com/ [thewaronkids.com]
http://www.holtgws.com/growingwithoutsc.html [holtgws.com]
http://www.ecovaproject.org/education.htm [ecovaproject.org]
http://archives.greenmoneyjournal.com/article.mpl?newsletterid=21&articleid=195 [greenmoneyjournal.com]
http://www.patfarenga.com/ [patfarenga.com]

I could go on for dozens or even hundreds more links...

As Gatto wrote about the big problem with this "system" we call "public schooling" (contrast with "public libraries") is that:
http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/chapters/16a.htm [johntaylorgatto.com]
"Before you can reach a point of effectiveness in defending your own children or your principles against the assault of blind social machinery, you have to stop conspiring against yourself by attempting to negotiate with a set of abstract principles and rules which, by its nature, cannot respond. Under all its disguises, that is what institutional schooling is, an abstraction which has escaped its handlers. Nobody can reform it. First you have to realize that human values are the stuff of madness to a system; in systems-logic the schools we have are already the schools the system needs; the only way they could be much improved is to have kids eat, sleep, live, and die there."

The only useful side project I ever did (1)

Marxist Hacker 42 (638312) | about a year and a half ago | (#43006095)

Became outdated when my state employment agency moved from touch tone phone reporting to web reporting.

It used to be, in the late 1990s and early 2000s in Oregon, that weekly reporting for the unemployed was done on a complicated touch tone interface. Worse yet, the recession of 2001-2003 made it almost impossible to get through on the phone line on a Sunday morning- the system was completely overwhelmed.

Being an unemployed computer programmer at the time, I wrote a simple little VB6 program that used standard Hayes modem commands to dial the phone, detect busy, redial, then pause appropriately and continue with the script that put in the standard answers.

I really should have made it shareware. I didn't. That was my stupidity. Over 10,000 downloads and 5 years later, Oregon started web reporting as standard.

17 years in the industry and I'm so burned out I no longer do side projects with the efficiency I once did. Heck, I can't even find the energy to clean out my computer room enough to find my X10 interface now that I've got a spare laptop to put the server on again.

Can everyone build something useful? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43007341)

I'm curious if everyone can build something useful. Is it possible? As a developer, I struggle mightily to come up with something new or original. Anything I can think of has already been done, usually many times over. Open source seems to spend most of its time reinventing the wheel. (Perl, Python, Ruby, Lua, etc - how many scripting languages do we need? SVN, git, etc - how many sccs implementations do we need? Tomcat, glassfish, etc - how many J2EE implementations do we need? How many MVC frameworks do we need? ORM tools?) If the best and brightest reinvent the wheel to come up with something new, how does Joe Coder come up with something useful? Sure, anyone can write an app, but ... what? Anything I have ever thought of has been done many times over. If you look at the EFF page on what's needed in open source, most projects are reinventing the wheel, usually asking for something that took teams of developers (being paid!) many years to write. The only interesting stuff left is very, very hard and would take man-years to complete. (One item I remember was asking for speech recognition to do transcriptions of audio recordings...!) I'd love to contribute ... something, but I have no idea what one person could do in his spare time. I don't think writing documentation or fixing obscure bugs is the sort of "wow factor" that would help my resume. I think when people ask about open source, they want something impressive. Am I wrong?

what about non git hub / developer IT work? (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year and a half ago | (#43007547)

what about non git hub / developer IT work?

CS is very off the mark for that type of work and something like Khan should be able to work into a trades / apprenticeship system.

The old collgle system is like having a car mechanic take a lot of theory based engineering classes with no auto shop classes so when you try to get a job as a mechanic you know alot about the theory of how it works but little on how to work on one hands on.

Doublespeak (0)

fermion (181285) | about a year and a half ago | (#43008137)

The fundamental belief of Khan Academy is that students should engage with content they need on-demand, at their own pace. We agree that any curriculum that forces all students in a class to follow the same, preordained "watch this video, do this exercise, watch this other video" path isn't using technology in a meaningful way. So we design our product and work with teachers to help students feel ownership of the learning process. Our classrooms see varying implementations, but the best of them try hard to help students move at their own pace. Some students might never need to listen to Sal say a word. They can master content by experimenting on their own. Absolutely. Fine. By. Us. Others may benefit from rewinding one of Sal's videos over and over and over until a concept clicks. But not every student masters content at the same speed. It takes a fearless teacher to embrace this controlled chaos in a classroom. I've seen it happen. I have the highest respect in the world for those teachers able to do it. They're simultaneously ready to help mentor a student who's stuck working on fractions and another who may've advanced all the way to trigonometry. They let one student run free on her own while giving another strong encouragement to try the next challenge. Watching these teachers in action is a sight to behold. Khan Academy exists to give students the freedom to engage with the content they need while giving teachers immediate feedback about who's working on what and where they need help. We think we can help teachers by making this acquisition of core skills a more personalized, efficient process.

[emphasis added]

So lets start with first paragraph. One thing that has become very clear is that students engage with content in differing manners. While by the time a students reach college a students should be able to engage with content through lecture, at earlier grades such expectations are premature. Furthermore it is real clear to most people that lecture does not really give ownership of the process to anyone other than the person lecturing. Also, structure is something that most kids like, even if they rebel against it. Because fractions were mentioned, I will take this down to the elementary school level, where I have seen students excel mostly because the teacher set up a predictable environment where students were able to truly engage with content. It may seem out of fashion, but these students thived on deadlines, just like some student thrive on lecture, because all it involves is copying and mimicking.

Then we get to the idea that some students don't learn simply because the haven't seen the same thing enough. Think back to when you were in school. Did you learn just because the same teacher repeated the same thing over and over again? I didn't. Not even in college. I needed a friend to explain it to me, or I needed to build something, or code it, or sit and think. Just passively watching never did that much.

Then we get to blaming the teacher. Your student aren't learning because you are a scared incompetent person. No, again, students need structure. Teachers build a classroom for the students, not for some external person who theorizes that something might work. Yes students can use these video to understand the content that will engage in school, but no the average student cannot prioritize by themselves in such a way that sufficient time is spent learning all the topics that are necessary on the final exam. Just look at the number of students who fail out of college.

My real issue here is that it seems like everyone is trying to figure out how to educate those that are easy to educate, while so little is being done to think how to educate those that are not going to learn well from lecture, who may need to build something, or the like. The way this response is constructed, it is telling students that they are not able to work in chaos, if they are not able to learn from listening to the lectures, if they listen time and time again, and they do not learn, then they are simply not able to be educated. This is very wrong.

Re:Doublespeak (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43009549)

I really get the impression that you selected a few phrases that you could intentionally misinterpret and then wrote a paragraph about each one, reading into it whatever you want (least of all the actual words between the phrases).

You state that most kids like structure, but from reading your post it seems that YOU like structure, and want to impose it on ALL students because YOU think it's correct. Your paragraph on "blaming the teacher" doesn't even have a point. You answer unasked questions ("No, again, students need structure"), you ask strawman questions ("Did you learn just because the same teacher repeated the same thing over and over again?") and you draw inferences from thin air ("...it is telling students that they are not able to work in chaos, if they are not able to learn from listening to the lectures, if they listen time and time again, and they do not learn, then they are simply not able to be educated").

This. Is. Wrong.

Vi Hart (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43009661)

I'm happy to see him mention Vi Hart. She's just terrific.

Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year and a half ago | (#43010631)

Terrific answers for why Khan Academy is so great! Here is a related essay I wrote in 2007: http://patapata.sourceforge.net/WhyEducationalTechnologyHasFailedSchools.html [sourceforge.net]
"Ultimately, educational technology's greatest value is in supporting "learning on demand" based on interest or need which is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to "learning just in case" based on someone else's demand. Compulsory schools don't usually traffic in "learning on demand", for the most part leaving that kind of activity to libraries or museums or the home or business or the "real world". In order for compulsory schools to make use of the best of educational technology and what is has to offer, schools themselves must change. ...
So, there is more to the story of technology than it failing in schools. Modern information and manufacturing technology itself is giving compulsory schools a failing grade. Compulsory schools do not pass in the information age. They are no longer needed. What remains is just to watch this all play out, and hopefully guide the collapse of compulsory schooling so that the fewest people get hurt in the process. ..."

Loved that Javascript workaround explained in one answer for the year-long cache problem.

Salman Khan (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43011883)

I just watched a new interview with Salman Khan. I have to say, that is one sharp kid.

My question is: In real life, is Salman Khan hella a dick?

Perspective (2)

TeknoHog (164938) | about a year and a half ago | (#43015877)

what is it that Khan Academy developers look for in perspective interns?

The ability to spell 'prospective'.

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