Salman Khan is, to coin a phrase, a man with a mission. And what is that mission?
I see a world where anyone with access to a computer and the internet will be able to go to the Khan Academy and get a world-class education. It will be the world’s free virtual school.
Khan left a well-paid job as a hedge fund analyst to focus all his time and efforts on his virtual academy, an idea that grew out of the mathematics help he gave to a young cousin a few years ago. To date, he has posted more than 1200 videos on his YouTube channel, although you have to go to his website — www.khanacademy.org — to appreciate the full glory of what he has created so far.
From an initial focus on mathematics — still the subject of a large majority of his videos — he has since ventured into a number of other knowledge domains, and his ambition seems to be to cover an ever-broader range of curriculum areas: science, history, economics, etc. The responses he receives from grateful learners around the world is testament to the perceived quality and value of his output, especially in mathematics. If that quality can be successfully transferred to the other knowledge domains, then he might well go some way towards achieving his vision. How much he can achieve without bringing in real knowledge and expertise from the many other domains he will need to cover is a big question, of course.
Khan has put incredible time, effort and commitment into his venture, and his dispersed and growing audience seems genuinely appreciative of his virtual academy.
Postscript — The video below — a news piece on Khan from PBS — coincidentally features a Cisco colleague, Neil Radia (at 4:30). Neil and a bunch of fellow volunteers have been working on a project for World Possible to use Technology to improve education and development in emerging countries around the world. They approached Salman Khan to ask if they could make use of his academy, and he was more than happy to allow that to happen. The Khan Academy is now a fully fledged partner to the project.
I think as learning professionals we should be alarmed when someone walks in and spouts so much unsubstantiated drivel as if it were fact. I’ll go even further: I think as learning professionals in this time, in the middle of the seismic shifts that are going on, it is our responsibility to point out the recklessness of these sorts of claims.
Gina took exception to a keynote given by one Leonard Brody, entitled 365 Days From Now: Preparing for the Change Ahead. She proceeds to take apart some of the more foolhardy statements by Brody (who, strangely, does not appear to have a website or blog), such as:
You can’t predict the future using the past
Kids today are genetically smarter, and have more mental capacity than previous generations
However, Gina goes on to mention the notion of the information imposter, and asks the question:
What if defense of truth and logic is one of our new responsibilities as elearning and social learning professionals?
Or even as teachers?
So, what is an information imposter? Gina, a graduate student, quotes some of her own lecture notes from a talk given by Dr Elfreda Chatman:
Information impostors are persons within a small group that give the illusion of having knowledge. They jam the information social system with their own psuedo-information, shutting down the information seeking process. In effect, they claim to have given all the information that is necessary, telling members of the small world that they do not need to seek for any more information.
Gina offers this definition and some additional thoughts in another post. The ideas expressed by her intrigue me and I thank her for posing the questions she does.
I’m now wondering, of course, if I know any information imposters.…and more worryingly, if I have ever been one!
Wanna Work Together is a short and simple video introduction to the concept of Creative Commons — this version comes with subtitles for 31 languages, from Afar to Vietnamese, with Arabic, Chinese and lots more in between. The version above is set for Brazilian Portuguese.
On the other hand, the Scottish Labour Party, of which I am a member, should be ashamed of itself for playing politics with CfE. Ken Macintosh, their education spokesperson says:
Children starting in secondary schools this autumn need greater clarity as to what the new curriculum will mean to them in practice, but parental concerns are being ignored. These are not new questions. We have been putting them to the SNP administration for the last three years, and it is time we saw some decision making and leadership. If SNP ministers continue to mishandle the Curriculum for Excellence we face the worst possible outcome for Scottish children.
Charlie Brooker gets it right in his usual droll fashion: the greatest current threat to our social well-being is not to be found in any narcotic, whether legal or not, or even probably-soon-to-be-illegal in the case of methadrone.
It’s perhaps the biggest threat to the nation’s mental wellbeing, yet it’s freely available on every street – for pennies. The dealers claim it expands the mind and bolsters the intellect: users experience an initial rush of emotion (often euphoria or rage), followed by what they believe is a state of enhanced awareness. Tragically this “awareness” is a delusion. As they grow increasingly detached from reality, heavy users often exhibit impaired decision-making abilities, becoming paranoid, agitated and quick to anger. In extreme cases they’ve even been known to form mobs and attack people.
So, what is this dreadful toxin? It is the newspaper:
In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often “cut” the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out. The hapless user has little or no concept of the toxicity of the end product: they digest the contents in good faith, only to pay the price later when they find themselves raging incoherently in pubs, or – increasingly – on internet messageboards.
With a very small number of honourable exceptions, Britain’s civil society is undoubtedly diminished and blighted by the prejudiced odium that passes for newspaper journalism today. Just a glance at the vile outpourings from most of the current crop of newspapers gives the daily lie to Andrew Keen’s nonsensical war against ‘the cult of the amateur’. Authority, truth and honour are rare indeed in this particular ‘profession’.
I saw the proof of this just a few days ago. It was with a bored mind and a heavy heart that I picked up a free copy of the Daily Mail in Heathrow last week, on the day after Darling’s budget speech. I found page after page of mendacious, malicious and heavily slanted copy that made the average Fox News story look like a kiddie’s bedtime tale. It is a form of journalism that takes us far beyond mere partiality to a place where truth is a bludgeoned and broken creature cowering in the corner.
It’s impossible to see the future of education from a single perspective. Many voices, many ideas, and many perspectives are required. While the future can’t be predicted, it can be somewhat anticipated by extrapolating current trends and innovations.
It is always fascinating to read critical analyses of popular films when the writer actually dislikes popular culture, which begs the question, why write about something you hate? James Bowman writes for the journal, The New Atlantis and his pieces are generally anti-technology and anti-pop culture. His recent article on Avatar follows the usual arguments of critics disconnected from the culture they seem bent on critiquing. Bowman describes Avatar as a flight of fantasy, dangerous because as with all fantasy films of this genre, it is both escapist and dangerously full of illusions not only about society but also about the future. Interestingly, he claims that the film doesn’t follow the Western tradition of mimesis, that is, it makes no claim to imitate reality and because of this, has no merit as art.
Ron Burnett writes about the recent James Cameron movie: less of a review and more of an appreciation of the influences on Cameron and the questions he is attempting to answer in making the film. Pointed, thoughtful and beautifully written, as ever.