Through the Education Lens

The Bill Gates - Salman Khan "Big Brother" Education Strategy

CJ Westerberg, July 7, 2011 3:46 PM

" . . .So That Teachers Can Diagnose What's Wrong with the Student."

Yeah, yeah, it's all "there."
Any kid's dashboard will be up "there" - "anyone can access it."

- Salman Khan
A Frankenstein Moment
TED Video Below

 by C.J. Westerberg

I'm cutting to the chase.  Anyone who has ever seen this TED video - watch it again.

This time, start at the 10:00 minute mark, or even the 12:30 mark.  You will get a different perspective.  This talk has been seemingly everywhere of late, and while never feeling the need to watch it since The Daily Riff was familiar with Khan Academy (positively covering it last year when it was gaining notoriety), I finally succumbed and watched it in its entirety.

Glad I did. 

Being a fan of many TED videos, I found this one to be the most info-mercial-like in format and tone.  Especially in the last few minutes when Bill Gates joins Khan, providing obvious pre-programmed questions answered with overly-scripted buzz-word answers by Khan ("kinda crazy, rock star programmers"), along with TEDsters wildly clapping like seals. I thought, did you hear what they were really saying?

Being a vocal advocate for tech in education in its many forms, I still will not blindly clap at anything just because it has an "e" in front of it (e-learning, etc.), and especially NOT when it is something that crosses the line in the privacy department.  I don't want any school "keeping tabs" on MY child this way . . . such as Kahn's admission:

"So now the teacher knows exactly what the student's been up to . . ."

"how long they've (students) been spending every day,
what videos they've been watching,
when did they pause the video,
when did they stop watching . . ."

This is progress in education?   Parents, this sounds more like surveillance to me.  And teachers, are we thrilled about an assessment approach that includes information such as knowing how many times a student may re-wind a Khan video?  Really?

Last time I checked, data visualizations should bring additional insight by showing trends and patterns, streamlining an overload of random data that we encounter in our modern world.  But, do teachers really need to know when a student went to "pause" for a bathroom break?

Worse yet, Khan asserts (18:25 mark) that now this is "not just an in-school thing" and  "we can follow these kids  . . . on Christmas breaks . . . summers . . . and track them
at home . . .  the school district can track these kids . . . at home. . . " 

Oh, there's more: 

"data that is expected in any other field  -- finance, marketing, manufacturing  . . ."   
"This data can "diagnose what's wrong with the student."

We should remember Khan was a former hedge-funder.   Yes, I trust Kahn knows his Math.
Do we really think knowing how many times a student watches his grammar videos will make
me understand this student better?  Or, more importantly, will it inspire Johnny to write?  Will
 it tell me whether Johnny can write a coherent essay, blog post, or script?  Or, dare we ask, an inspiring or convincing one?  Or, whether Jane even cares, or what may motivate her? 

Here's more:

   Let's  "arm the teachers with as much information as possible"

"We don't want teachers having to ask 'awkward questions' like asking students whether they understand the material or not."

Arm the teachers?  Yes, let's arm the parents and the students, too, while you're at it. Didn't know this was war.  Plus, do you really think teachers need more information -
not better information?

We also don't want teachers asking "awkward questions?"  Why don't we just avoid talking
altogether?  Khan continues to say how Kahn is now "humanizing" schooling so kids can work at their own pace through his program (we all get this already about on-line advantages), and "developed this to be teacher-driven" . . . so class size won't matter . . . because teachers won't have to lecture in class anymore.  But, then, why at the 17:58 mark, he notes that the California school has students watching Khan videos in class?

Khan also aligns classroom flipping with Khan Academy.  I'm not sure notable names associated with the flipped classroom, such as college professor, Karl Fisch;  public high school teacher, Jonathan Bergmann; and private school Math teacher, Stacey Roshan, view Kahn as their spokesperson, since their version of the flipped classroom are their own videos of their own teaching, to be viewed by students at home.

When Kahn gets into his a-student-is-either-gifted-OR-a-student-is-slow tangent, he is sending signals to all who are listening that Khan Academy kids will be saved all from all those horrible labels in school, even though all student results will be posted on a dashboard. We also didn't realize that students were either gifted or slow, with little in-between.  Kahn gives kids badges with a leader board, not using gold stars, for "motivation and feedback."
Between the generous clapping and standing ovations, Khan even brought in the heartstrings moment of his performance, when relating about how Calcutta street kids could learn through the Academy. Gates steps in, immediately afterward, on cue at the 16:45 mark.  

Now, according to Khan and Gates, everyone can look up a student's dashboard to help him out - tutors, mentors, family members.  I'm surprised he didn't add global leaders, or maybe even Bill Gates himself to the list of mentors waiting in the wings to help a child with fractions.  

Sure, this sounds so altruistic, especially for kids who have little access to a good education.  That is what technology can do.  Yet, Bill Gates says that this is the future of education.
It's one option.  Because as we know, one size does not fit all. 
That includes on-line videos by Khan.

"Yeah, yeah, it's all 'there.'
Any kid's dashboard will be up 'there' - 'anyone' can access it."

Sorry, Salman Khan, I don't want my child's dashboard up "there" for "anyone" to see . . .
No thanks.

Originally published The Daily Riff April 2011


Can Young Students Learn from On-Line Classes?  NY Times Debate

The Daily Riff posts:

Teachers "Doing the Flip" To Help Learning

Bill & Melinda's Field Trips Plus Big Picture Learning/College Unbound

How to Learn by Diana Laufenberg

What Would Ted Sizer Say About Technology

Is Your Child Learning How to Learn?

High School Stinks

Is This the Best High School in America? 

Are We Preparing Students For Our Age or Theirs?

Why We Need Mentors In School and Work Now More Than Ever



  • CJ Westerberg

    Thanks for the comments and links, Frank. I will be interested in checking them out - as will many of readers.

  • frank Noschese

    Instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, the Modeling Instruction

    paradigm emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and

    mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are

    engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world.

    You can watch one Modeling class in action here:

    In comparison to traditional instruction, under expert modeling

    instruction high school students average more than two standard

    deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual

    understanding of physics:

    More discussion about the ineffectiveness of lectures here:

  • Frank Noschese

    I’m a HS physics teacher. Info I would find useful: (1) knowing how

    many times a student attempted the same problem; (2) knowing the

    answer history, i.e, what the student's wrong answers were; (3)

    knowing the type of mistake a student made when choosing a wrong

    answer, e.g., did he forget to square the distance, did she apply

    kinetic energy conservation instead of momentum conservation, did he

    disregard the fact that the forces where in opposite directions, did

    she confuse force of friction with coefficient of friction, did he

    assume constant velocity when in fact it was accelerating, etc. That

    is INFINITELY MORE useful that knowing how many times he rewound the

    movie, how many times she paused it, or how long they spent on a

    module. Those times could be affected by (1) distractions from family;

    (2) self-imposed distractions like facebook and texting.

    On a related KA tangent: I’m still on the fence about flipped

    classrooms in the form of “watch lecture at home first, practice in

    class second.” It reinforces the notion that school is about digesting

    someone else’s knowledge, rather than constructing your own. The

    videos could be a useful resource following knowledge building in the

    class, but I haven’t found any KA videos that work for me.

    While Khan argues that his videos now eliminate “one-size-fits-all”

    education, his videos are exactly that. I’ve actually tried finding KA

    videos for my students to use as references for studying, or to use as

    a tutorial when there’s a substitute teacher. However, I teach physics

    from the Modeling Instruction paradigm, and so I haven’t found one

    good one. They either tackle problems that are too hard (college

    level) or they don’t use a lot of the multiple representations that

    are so fundamental to my teaching (kinematic graphs, interaction

    diagrams, energy pie graphs, momentum bar charts, color-coded circuit

    diagrams showing pressure and flow, etc.) that the videos are useless

    to me because his videos do not align with proper Physics Education

    Research pedagogy.

  • CJ Westerberg

    Pete, appreciate your comments.

    I agree with your first sentence but have to depart from there.

    Answer to all the others: it depends. (Not what everyone wants to hear).

    One child may like Khan. Another may not. That's the power of technology. It's giving us options.

    We can't measure students on how they like Khan. Then we're making it no better than students fitting the school. The one-room schoolhouse was more flexible. Kids had the opportunity to find the person in that schoolhouse (or vice versa) that could best help them learn, in addition to that busy teacher.

    And, we can never discount the value of human connection. Substitute some, sure. (Especially if the situation is replaceable and better). Because "we can" doesn't make it better, or "we should."

    Cliche but works for me here.

    I also don't think Khan is necessarily student-centered or teacher-centered in its pure form. It's how one uses it.

  • CJ Westerberg

    Jason Rosoff -

    Don't give up. I'm actually rooting for you.

    Been an advocate of KA since the positive post last year, mentioning it several times as a fabulous resource - - -

    I made it very clear the point of the riff was a critique of what was said

    in the video. When you have a TED video, visited by Bill Gates, no less,

    embraced with rousing applause, you know that WHAT was said will be taken by many as the smart thing. There were obvious points that I had pause for concern, and don't want viewers to think certain initiatives are

    so great (gave my reasons).

    Somebody had to do it.

    I will spend more time with your information to give it the full context as you requested (I personally have been on and like the vids, but not all do, as you know). Will do another post or comment soon-

    Appreciate the feedback - know launching is "kinda crazy." But having Gates in your corner isn't exactly roughing it, although his involvement has certainly raised the bar in terms of expectations and scrutiny.

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