So, as I mentioned earlier, I did a curriculum analysis of the Khan Academy’s math curriculum. Unlike most of the class, which was doing curriculum they were currently teaching in their schools and were made to do a 20 page paper, I was left with the option to create a website outlining my analysis.
The big bottom line here is that I had a rather interesting experience with the KA math bit. What I found most interesting was how the math engine really took off after the influx of money from Google and the Gates foundation. While I don’t think the math testing aspect of the curriculum is a bad thing at all, I found it very interesting that after tech giants start looking at this curriculum, it creates a test engine.
My sort of conspiracy theorist notion was that tech giants like better math scores, as those somehow correlate to a country’s ability to create students capable of getting into computer engineering fields, or something of the sort, that being the sort of mentality that has driven legislation like NCLB and this craze about comparing the US’s test scores to other countries. I figured that Google and Gates had discovered a way to circumvent the seemingly failing school system and provide an online method for kids to take control of their own education, and by adding a testing engine, preparing them to succeed at standardized tests.
Now, I do understand that standardized tests are the gatekeepers in academia, but in many cases I doubt their validity and reliability, but that is aside the point. What I did find interesting, after I finished the project, was seeing the Khan Academy Intern video.
Watching these interns giddily geek out about machine learning and other high end computer science terms to optimize student understanding, I began to get an even better understanding of what was going on. The Khan Academy was trying to hack education. Hack students to get higher test scores.
With that I gained a whole new appreciation for what was going on here. It was beyond anything that the rest of the educational research world was doing, and it completely blew my mind. From that point on, there was no doubt in my mind that the Khan Academy was doing amazing thing. Not that I had much doubt anyway.
Still, I’m interested in seeing how the grant from the O’Sullivan foundation changes it. There is discussion of crowdsourcing the videos, and frankly, I think that’s a good thing. There are numerous gaps in the Khan Academy that could be filled better by other experts, although it will be interesting to see if they can compete with the raw charisma and passion of Sal.
In any case, I’m all for hacking education to produce better test scores. My one point of objection is that there are other forms of assessment to ensure a full bodied understanding of math. As for science and the other fields, I don’t think it will be as easy to create a testing engine, but that’s where they might want to invest in some sort of youtube lab walkthroughs, perhaps where one video outlines the procedure, and the second video outlines what should have happened, and what hopefully was observed.
Anyway, that’s all I have on that. Today is SOPA protest day, and subsequently, there was a blizzard in my city, meaning I got the day off from work. So, I’m at home, surfing a fake-blocked web. Good times.
Khan Academy does a bit on SOPA.
I have to say, it’s good for the first half, but then it began to go at a rather quick rate, where he would start offering challenges, then showing how he did it, often without laying nearly enough groundwork. I feel that with something as crazy as programming, you need EXTENSIVE scaffolding. So, while it was a good introduction to Python, it definitely is not a curriculum on its own, especially without any form of embedded testing engine. I also feel he fails in that he focuses rather heavily on the algorithms rather than the actual mechanics of language itself- while I respect that it’s important for any coder to have a good understanding of why you are writing code, if you keep on producing bugs because you don’t understand where the colon goes, you won’t get anywhere.
I’ve also started looking at codeacademy. Now that I’m done with the KA stuff, that might be a good place to continue my studies.
So, I’m about a third done with my Python playlist. I’ve since set a specific reachable goal, and a learning schedule. I’m doing 3-4 playlists every day I have off, (which has been difficult as the weekends have been nothing but Holidays), and trying to get 1 playlist in otherwise. My goal is to create a basic Dungeons and Dragons character generator. Nothing too complicated, but enough to show that I have a rudimentary understanding of Python, something I’ve been wanting for some time.
Have barely touched the python books. No time. Haven’t talked with my brother about Python, been too busy celebrating holidays.
One of the things I like about learning Python via the KA environment is that you can actually experiment. Unlike with the normal science playlists, which are fairly passive, with the computer science one, assuming you downloaded pyscripter, you can pause the video, and begin messing around. Quite a few times, I would pause a video, and start adjusting code to see what would happen, then would continue to find that he was doing the exact same thing.
I’m learning a lot quicker here than I ever did in a traditional academic environment. (read: 500 students in an auditorium with a socially awkward programmer droning and writing incomprehensibly on a barely visible overhead.) I have already put together a rudimentary character stats generator, which allows the user to input numbers for dice rolls, then adds them and generates stats. I haven’t figured out random number generation, or how to take the top 3 out of 4 rolls, yet. But soon.
Anyway, so, from being a third through the KA CS curriculum, I can safely say that it isn’t complete garbage. I’m learning a bit, and while I might be still in the newbie phase, I think I’m beginning to understand it.
Also been reading a lot from lifehacker. That site is really wonderful, and has a lot of really good tech information, as well as life tips.
My next quarter is starting soon, so I’ll have a lot more information on info lit coming up, seeing as that’s my culminating project. I’m hoping to get it done in 3 months so I won’t have to take the next class, and I’ll be free to move out of Tacoma* sooner, but we’ll see.
*I live in Tacoma, WA. I do mental health work with messed up kids. I am pretty burned out by my job at the moment, and miss doing IT work, one of the few jobs that really left me feeling fulfilled. There is very little IT work in Tacoma, so I want to move to Redmond, where there is apparently a lot of IT work, and I have a number of friends and family who have connections. Plus, there’s good money there, and I’ve got a lot of debt.
I’ve finished my project on the Khan Academy. It took me no less than three days of heavy brain doping, which consists of imbibing an entirely legal cocktail of neurostimulants and herbal supplements to enhance my mental performance which and working for a stretch which, by the end of, I am quite irate and exhausted. Subsequently, I take often to drinking beer to make that hazy, disconnected sensation of mental exhaustion seem like a simple buzz. It masks it sufficiently, and allows me to enjoy the remainder of my evening, although it is probably criminal on my liver.
Assuming my professor approves, and I feel comfortable releasing it, I shall link to it here, or at least copy-paste the interesting things I found. Most remarkably was the impact of cloud computing genius Sean O’Sullivan on the Khan Academy- somewhere in the neighborhood of five million dollars. But instead pouring it into a math engine, which seemed to be the focus after the infusion of cash from Tech giants Google and Bill Gates, the O’Sullivan foundation seemed more interested in ‘crowd-sourcing’ the Khan Academy- that is, getting more lectures on the site.
Now, I am all for more lectures being put on the Khan Academy, but I think that the main draw of the Khan Academy has already been created, and it is now venturing into new, uncharted, and possibly dangerous waters.
What makes the Khan Academy good is its video library- that is, Sal Khan geeking out about stuff. It’s easy to understand, fun to watch, and memorable, unlike many other lectures. He has a perfect system as it is, and his dynamic and magnetic personality is the magic that makes the video library work. What these other funders are doing, by ‘buying out’ the Khan Academy are, in my opinion, stealing his achievement and trying to impose their own ideas of what might work. If the Khan Academy becomes a video-wikipedia, with videos from hundreds of academics on any subject you could dream of, the Khan Academy might pose a serious threat to many institutions. However, on the flip side, you have the fact that youtube is seriously filled with videos on any subject. Anyone with any degree of information literacy (read: patience) can find them. And on the sad side, most of them are quite boring, or overly complicated. (MIT open courseware, for example, while fascinating and educational, quickly outpaced me.) This is the fault of these lectures not being done by Sal Khan, the man who the entire KA population see as the teacher. Other teachers coming into the Khan Academy might be viewed as suspect, like a substitute teacher, or ignored completely.
Perhaps I am putting Sal’s charisma on too much of a pedestal. In fact, I probably am. And at it’s core, I think the idea of crowd-sourcing the Khan Academy is actually a good idea. I just hope the lecturers they find are all very dynamic and fun, as to make the lectures memorable.
I really don’t see why it would take five million to do this, though. Khan Academy has enough star power to attract experts from top colleges and labs to do quick 15 minute lectures. Or, you know, people could just watch TED talks. Even so, it’s exciting to see the Khan Academy gain so much money, but one thing that I have been really trying to determine is, who stands to benefit? To what end does giving the Khan Academy so much money serve?
It is hard to ignore that all the major investors of the KA have been tech giants. Now, it might seem natural that tech giants absolutely love the idea of online education that works. But I think there is a deeper interest here, and that is using the internet to hijack education to a specific end, which is increased math skill.
Now, I know this is going out on a deep end, and maybe I’m insane, but I think that math is one of the great gatekeepers in society, especially as far as the high tech fields go. Increase math skill, and you increase students’ ability to get into computer science. The U.S. is apparently lagging behind in math skill, based on test data (which in my opinion is completely worthless), and I think many see this as a sort of Sputnik moment.* However, due to advocates of various educational paradigms arguing, the tech people are trying to gain an upper hand using online education, which ignores many of the other aspects of education, especially many of the social, developmental, and economic barriers that stand in the way of students getting a worthwhile education.
Which leads me to my next question- Who is the best equipped to take control of their own education, to teach themselves relevant mathematics and computer science? Despite NCLB and an exclusive focus on test scores, students are not going into computer science. Pointless bureaucracy and misguided educational movements from every direction have put schools in a place where decent education is impossible, and teachers hands are tied. There is no coherence in curriculum. So, I think the tech people, or at least me, as a techie, see the internet as a second option, a second chance to get a meaningful education in a world where education has become meaningless, its only purpose being a test. The success of the Khan Academy is testament to individuals wanting to educate themselves in the sciences, and I believe there are a great number of other educational resources self directed individuals are seeking out- those who wish to obtain a political education are reading blogs and doing hacktivism, for example. Occupy Wall Street is living proof of political education online. ** As the internet continues to become more and more intermeshed with our lives, I think the power the economic and political forces place on education will wane, replaced by pageview democracy. People will determine their own education, or at least that is the hope.
Going back to the Khan Academy, the KA is one of the best schools in America, based on pageview democracy. However, as people seek to add things onto it, the usefulness of these additions to the site will only be judged in value by how popular they are. If people actively use them, then they will be a success. But it is very hard to determine what will be popular and what will fail, and I think that is the magic of the net, and will make following the KA over the next few years very, very interesting.
*In the 60s, when the USSR launched Sputnik, the US Government realized that the population’s math and science ability was pathetic, which spurred a massive movement back to the hard sciences to bring the US back to speed. Sure enough, it worked, and we made it to the moon. The quote a professor used to describe this event was, “Oh god! We need rocket scientists, and we needed them yesterday!”
**Many would argue that these young people think they know everything, and that this ‘political education’ that they have received by reading articles, facebook posts, blogs, and wikipedia is a joke, but I disagree. They think they know everything based on having obtained a taste of the knowledge available, but I do not think them arrogant. I think they are in their late teens and early 20s. Of course they know everything. That’s a typical view from anyone in that age group, and at least they have a basis for learning more as they grow and realize how much they don’t know.