Bill Gates likes Salman Khan a lot, so much so that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is streaming cash to his Khan Academy, an internet silo of over 2,100 free, downloadable video tutorials on Calculus, Physics, Organic Chemistry, et al. Mr. Khan’s Academy only has a “faculty of one,” but my own students enjoy Mr. Khan’s glib teaching style, and they consult his clips on quadratic equations, conic sections, and those hated word problems involving railroad trains. So is the Khan video approach a “disruptive technology” which undermines the existing deathbed educational model by doing it faster, better, and cheaper? Mr. Gates thinks so. “It’s a revolution,” he enthuses. “Everyone should check it out.” (www.khanacademy.org) Wearing his education reformer hat, Mr. Gates declares himself “superhappy.”
Mr. Khan, then, by all reports, is an entertaining, trustworthy, and helpful tutor of math and science. However, when he essays history, it’s a different story and one that exposes something disquieting about a hidden potential of Internet learning, especially if, as some predict, The Khan Academy is the future of education.
Curious about Mr. Khan’s take on something non-science, I pulled up his video “U.S. History Overview 3–World War II to Vietnam”
The screen looks like a squashed, two-dimensional schoolroom; you see a combined blackboard and bulletin board with colorful squiggly dates on a scroll down timeline, random photos (Hitler, Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin, mushroom cloud), and tiny maps. Mr. Khan remains offscreen but writes or circles things onscreen with his pointer and provides his signature breathless voiceover.
Much more on the Khan Academy, here.