Khan’s School of the Future

From Hacked Education:

Khan Academy announced this morning that it has raised $5 million from the O’Sullivan Foundation (a foundation created by Irish engineer and investor Sean O’Sullivan). The money is earmarked for several initiatives: expanding the Khan Academy faculty, creating a content management system so that others can use the program’s learning analytics system, and building an actual brick-and-mortar school, beginning with a summer camp program.

“Teachers don’t scale,” I remember Sal Khan saying to me when I interviewed him last year. What can scale, he argues, is the infrastructure for content delivery. And that means you just need a handful of good lecturers’ record their lessons; the Internet will take care of the rest.

But online instruction clearly isn’t enough, and as “blended learning” becomes the latest buzzword — that is, a blend of offline and computer-mediated/online instruction — Khan Academy is now eyeing building its own school. The money from the O’Sullivan Foundation will go towards developing a “testbed for physical programs and K-12 curricula,” including an actual physical Khan Academy school.

What might Khan’s “school of the future” look like? 

In his video interview with GOOD Magazine, Khan said:

As far as the future of learning is concerned, the school is going to be one or two really big classrooms, and because everyone can work at their own pace, we are going to see the best be a higher bar and you’re going to see everyone having access to that and they can move up with the best.

One or two large classrooms where everyone works at their own pace? That sounds a lot like Rick Ogston’s Carpe Diem school:

Matt Lander reports the following from his visit to Carpe Diem:

Carpe Diem is a hybrid model school, rotating kids between self-paced instruction on the computer and classroom instruction. Their building is laid out with one large computer lab, with classroom space in the back. They had 240 students working on computers when I walked in, and you could have heard a pin drop.

Carpe Diem has successfully substituted technology for labor. With seven grade levels and 240 students they have only 1 math teacher and one aide who focuses on math. [emphasis mine]

Carpe Diem also  touts they get great results with less per pupil spending. How? Well, as implied above, they have fewer teachers and staff. Also, take a look at the Carpe Diem Parent/Student handbook and you can see why: they have NO nurse and NO food service. Other ways I bet they save on money, compared to a regular public school: there is very little equipment to buy (aside from computers and furniture) — no art supplies, no science labs, no physical education equipment, etc. It seems Carpe Diem also lack special programs: no special education, no athletics, and no performing arts. We also have the problem of using standardized test scores to measure success. I think what is more important is: How many are successful in college? How many stay on past freshman year?

Carpe Diem is really an online school that also has a few brick and mortar campuses. The curriculum they use for both their virtual and physical schools is called e2020. From e2020’s website:

e2020 then designs each lesson with student-centered objectives that maximize the use of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. Lessons are designed in order to provide the student with an optimal learning experience that is unique for each course.  Students progress through the lesson with a series of activities such as, direct instruction videos by certified teachers; vocabulary instruction: interactive lab simulations; journals and essay writing; 21st century skills; activities that include projects, design proposals, case studies, on-line content reading; and homework/practice before being formatively assessed with a quiz. Topic test and cumulative exam reviews are provided to reinforce mastery prior to students’ taking summative assessments.

So the kids work through the modules at their cubicles and can seek out extra help at “workshops.” You can test some of the modules if you register here. For the science modules I tested, there are periodic multiple choice assessments. The in-module labs are all simulations — no manipulation on any physical equipment. It seems kids can pass the state exams based on their module work, but I wager they will be severely ill equipped for college or the real world, especially in STEM fields.

My issues with this blended/hybrid model of school:

  • The conception of learning seems to be isolated, rather than group.
  • It appears to teach/assess mostly low-order practices.
  • I can’t see how physics and chemistry could be done well, and thus contribute to  developing the STEM workforce.
  • How can ONE teacher be versed in pedagogically appropriate ways of helping students across SEVEN grade levels?

Blended learning schools like Carpe Diem pale  in comparison to what schools like High Tech High are doing:

Where would you rather go to school?

14 responses to “Khan’s School of the Future

  1. I share 3 of your 4 concerns:
    It appears to teach/assess mostly low-order practices.
    I can’t see how physics and chemistry could be done well, and thus contribute to developing the STEM workforce.
    How can ONE teacher be versed in pedagogically appropriate ways of helping students across SEVEN grade levels?

    The one I don’t share is “The conception of learning seems to be isolated, rather than group.” As the parent of a child who rarely fits in well with a group his own age, particularly not for academic subjects, which he generally grasps much quicker than others, I see the individual learning as the one strong point of an otherwise weak instructional system.

    The lack of theater and art is certainly a problem (theater and music are two subjects at a high school level where group work really is essential).

    But I think that STEM students are probably less disadvantaged than humanities students, since humanities classes at college are really built on discussions, while STEM classes are mostly lecture and lab. The lecture format is very similar to the online lecture these students will be used to, and it is the essential lab component that is mainly missing.

    I would not send my son to a school that just sat him in front of a computer watching video lectures all day. While he is capable of learning stuff that from a computer screen if motivated (he’s learned a lot from Wikipedia and from on-line forums in topics of interest to him), he does not learn well from recorded lectures. I’d do better by giving him a book to read on the subject.

  2. I wonder how much of the positive results are a placebo? That is, simply by having students in a new building and knowing they are in a non-conventional school, do they work harder?

  3. I’m stuck on the issue of students who don’t work well with others in groups, and who often learn better individually.

    It seems to me that almost everyone, when they leave school, has to be able to collaborate with others, at least to some degree. How many times in life are there when you can’t get by successfully without collaborating with others?

    Unfortunately, I also recognize that quite often we have people who are solitary learners simply because of the bullying and ostracization they get from their peers, so I know that the solutions to this issue aren’t simple. I just feel like you can’t get better at collaborating and socializing with your peers without practice.

    As for online learning, I see that a course here or there is probably fine, depending on what the material is. If we could design courses where students could actually go to a local university and do their lab work, and then submit their reports and do the discussion of the lab online, I think that might work.

    As for the notion that kids can successfully learn all of high school in an online way, I think that’s a bad idea. I did my Master’s degree entirely online, but I’m a self-directed learner. What I’ve read on online learning suggests that the disengagement (or drop out) rate for online learning is exceptionally high, something in the range of 50% to 60%.

  4. Also, an aside Frank. Can you enable the author field somehow for your blog? I’d like people that I send to your posts via Twitter to be clear that I didn’t write the articles that you produce…

  5. I agree that the dropout rate for online learning is high—it can be hard to retain motivation without social feedback.

    I think that the best mix of education is exactly that: a mix. We ended up home-school my teenage son this year, because the public school he was going to was not working for him. He now has an online calculus class, a Spanish class at the local community college, a physics class another home-schooled high school student and me, English and history with his mother, robotics with another high schooler and an 8th grader (one in public school the other home schooled), a teen theater production, and a science fair project mentored by a grad student at the university.

    Some of the work can only be done in groups (Spanish conversation, theater performance), some is best done collaboratively (the robotics design and construction), and some is best done alone with guidance (the calculus).

    I worry about any educator promoting a single approach for all learning. If everything is online, a lot is lost. If everything is done in groups, other things are lost.

  6. Alright, so I seem the rigor here, that’s plain as day with the high stakes testing and the demand to perform before jumping into the next stage of the learning process, and being provided extra workshops, but where is the relevance and relationships?

    Education is MORE than just schooling, it’s introducing youth to socialization skills, problem solving skills, essential questioning, and behavior and conflict management.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of providing an environment that can be flexible enough that students can move at their own pace, and learn in ways that feel most comfortable to them; I know many students who would prefer to learn by watching YouTube videos and scrolling through online forum discussion threads, but education is about exposing students to skills, situations, and environments that are OUTSIDE of their comfort range, promoting growth and understanding beyond their own limited viewpoints.

  7. So, what’s new? Blended learning, like any other kind of learning, can be executed well or poorly.

  8. I taught Physics at a highly commended virtual school for two years. I’m now back in the classroom. I earned a Master’s degree in Education Media Design and Technology and wrote my thesis on the deficiency of simulation/animation based labs and what would be required to approach a classroom equivalent in a computer-based/virtual lab. The technology does not exist yet (nor will it be available at costs school districts can afford in the foreseeable future) to provide students with the collaborative, project-based experience available in a real classroom lab setting.

    As for virtual learning, my observations lead me to believe there are positive and negative comparisons to classroom learning. First the positives. Virtual Learning in the home removes all of the social and behavioral distractions of a classroom and maximizes the student’s learning time. Lessons can be designed to provide students a wide range of options for them to pursue areas of interest while mastering the core curriculum — if they choose. My experience though, was that few chose to do more than the minimum required to get their desired grade. Second, since a large portion of the “grading” was computerized, teachers theoretically have more time to assess students on higher level deliverables such as projects, essays, media presentations, etc. which challenged student’s higher ordered thinking and exercised “multiple intelligences”. In reality though, such opportunities are limited by the student load virtual teachers must carry in order for the virtual schools to be profitable.

    The negatives to virtual or online school are inherent to the medium. First, the assessments for the most part are geared toward computer grading which limits the depth of the assessment. Then, cheating is rampant. Students get answers from other students. They use online resources while taking exams. They have tutors (and/or parents) sitting by as they take the tests. And, they are allowed to retake exams to improve grades. Finally, there is limited interaction with other students nor group work. Given the flexibility students have as to when and where they access the virtual school, collaboration is limited to asynchronous IF students are available that are at similar lessons in the curriculum.

    As for Khan Academy, I have used some of the lectures in my classroom for Physics, just as I use other external material including media and simulations. I find the Khan lectures well done but not very engaging. But, I have found them valuable as a second “voice” on a subject and my students have confirmed that they found going over the material a second time effective in elevating their understanding of the material.

    Blended learning to me is not computer-training in a classroom setting supplemented by a classroom experience with a teacher. Blended learning is taking advantage of all available resources and blending them together into a more complete learning experience for the students. For example, I use the computer to supplement some of my lower level science class material by incorporating games and activities created from Quia and other tools because the students are engaged and games make learning interesting for some students. But, not all of the students like the games. So, for those I need to look for other ways to engage and interest them. The nirvana is when we have the tools and resources in the classroom to create a learning environment where we can leverage the dynamics and strengths of learning as a class with the ability of individual learning to allow students to find their best way of learning and explore their unique interests within the bounds of the curriculum.


  9. Comparing High Tech High School and the Carpe Diem School is unfair. High Tech High School is a selective school (average SAT = 2145) composed mostly of Caucasians and Asians


    They have the funding to hire PhDs and buy whatever they need to support really creative project-based learning.

    Carpe Diem, however, serves mostly Hispanic and poorer White students. They may not yet have the funding or human capital to do what HTH does (which is the gold standard in ed). The two schools results can’t be compared, because Carpe Diem serves isn’t selective.


  10. I am no expert, but it looks as though Carpe Diem School and High Tech High School (in San Diego, California) CAN be compared. Both of them get about $6000 per student each year. (And Carpe Diem got an additional $42,000 in Federal Title I funds in 2009, when it had 227 students, 17% poverty. I haven’t looked for more recent finances.)

    a) for Carpe Diem School: the Arizona Dept of Education website and “Online K-12 Schooling in the U.S.: Uncertain Private Ventures in Need of Public Regulation, ” by Gene Glass and Kevin Welner. Published in Oct. 2011; download at
    b) for High Tech High School: phone conversation with the CEO, Ben Daley, on Sept. 14, 2011. Ben Daley is a former high school physics teacher.

    (By the way, the weblink that “Mark” posted for High Tech High is in Monmouth, NJ.)

  11. Having taught at the High Tech High schools that are referenced here I can say first of all Mark that although a few of the schools do have more affluent students, this is because of the geographical location of the school. The charter and mission enrolls students who represent Southern California’s demographics fairly.

    At the school I taught at, we worked with a very under served population in the south bay of San Diego with a large Hispanic population who are first generation college bound.

    Many visitors see the students and think that we “cherry pick” or selectively choose our students but this is incorrect, there is a random lottery that ensures certain guidelines are met regarding the equity mentioned above. Funny how when people see something working, they assume that it is because we cheat.

    As for the Khan videos, we (some of us) used them and love them. A project based learning approach involves projects that can last for a week up to an entire semester. There’s no way to go into that kind of focus and specificity without covering the broader skills the students will need when they move on. There are a variety of ways to do that: occasional textbooks excerpts, Khan Academy/Flipped Classroom, ALEKS Differentiated Math, and so on. With it, our students can get concepts they need without spending valuable class time on “drill and kill” methods.

    We have teachers who use the modelling approach as well. They use them for students who need a summary, were absent for a day, or need review.

    To say that the Khan Academy should be a model for what online school should be is laughable. Khan himself envisions a school where his videos free up class time to do incredible projects and deep learning. I am sure that it is being poorly implemented in some places. The question is, where is it being implemented well to allow wonderful things to happen.

    The above High Tech High video is a good example. Here is my own example of what is possible from a festival exhibition when I worked at High Tech High in Chula Vista

    Keep in mind with the above,vour students were working on projects for weeks if not months and while we did everything from lecture based teaching to flipped classroom techniques. I would challenge any of you to find a student who did not learn something.

    Another example is my colleague and friend Patrick Yurick who runs the school’s Graphic Novel Project. They recently presented their work at the International Comic Con in San Diego.

    While Patrick does not have Khan academy to rely on, his class consists of video tutorials that he has made on his own, students come to him with no prior experience with Photoshop and Inkscape/Illustrator and in order to have students experience art in a short semester, these videos quickly get students up to speed to where they can start creating their own work. If Patrick was required to disseminate the knowledge or walk around to everyone that had a question he would never have the time to focus on students as he does nor would they ever get a chance to create as often as they do. Patrick’s students create every second they are in his classroom and the tutorials enable that.

    This is where I think people have gone wrong. Math/Science is beautiful but when we enshrine it in this constructivist temple, then anything but taking the time to rediscover things from first principles is a sin. Math is a tool to do really really cool things.

    We can become master craftsmen, honing our skill and deepening our practice but if we don’t understand what we are doing then we are just spinning our wheels. While the current education setup is not conducive to deep learning (short class periods, never staying with a subject more than a year or so) we can use machine learning and quality video learning to facilitate the dissemination and learning so we can be mentors in the classroom rather than talking textbooks.

    I am sure something I’m saying will be taken out of context, but let me assure you this is not quick and easy, my students will tell you how hard they work and how awesome it is that they did so. Their parents are always astounded that their child was capable of doing such things.

    While we can work to improve the Khan Academy and others like it, we cannot keep setting up a false dichotomy that one leads to learning while the other path leads to destruction and ignorance. Modeling is fantastic, I use it all the time in my classroom but it is not the only way students will learn and students who only get one pedagogy will be at a disadvantage as well.

    Technology has and always will be poorly implemented and misused. If you would like to have a bigger discussion about project based learning and how these technologies make it possible to do incredible things, please let me know as I am always available for a chat online or off.

  12. Fifty million dollars, that’s peanuts compared to the investment that Google has made in my ‘Blended Classroom’. They provided me with a free video host at a cost of around 1.65 B dollars, and threw in free blogging, free online docs, some spreadsheets (that includes an online testing facility with data analysis). There’s this free social network that can be locked down for your classes called Google+ and I think they even provided a search engine. If you need a platform for your bended classroom those lovely people at Edmodo will do one for the price of, that’s right, nothing! Ignore Khan make your own stuff, you don’t have to be the discovery channel, the kids will love your rough and ready videos because ‘it’s my teacher’ and no Khan academy will match that. The tools are available now, they work and they’re free. What Khan cannot purchase are the years of experience that teachers have accumulated and refined and this is not restricted to the cold delivery of content but an investment in human contact and relations. Collaborate with colleagues, spread the work load and you’ll blow Khan’s academy away. Fifty million dollars, don’t make me laugh get a real sponsor

  13. Pingback: Khan Academy: Criticism as an Email to my Colleagues | LEARNINGANDPHYSICS

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