Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Khan Academy and Internet Issues

You probably won't get this reference, being a cool person.
There is an interesting article in Wired about Khan Academy as well as the role of individual instruction in increasing student performance.  The article mentions a study done in 1984 by Benjamin Bloom that shows great results from it:
What Bloom found is that students given one-on-one attention reliably perform two standard deviations better than their peers who stay in a regular classroom. How much of an improvement is that? Enough that a student in the middle of the pack will vault into the 98th percentile.
 My own experience with students has confirmed that one-on-one instruction greatly improves student performance.  A knowledgeable amateur can do more in a one-on-one setting than a teacher can do in a group setting.  This creates a challenge for teachers with large classrooms.  How do you give students the one-on-one attention they need to become proficient in your subject when you have 35 students in each class?  The Khan video is one solution: use the tutorials to do the lecture so that all of class time can be patrolling and helping students run their drills, problem sets, assignments, or some sort of practice work (this would be most effective for something like math, for humanities subjects I'm not sure how this would work out).  

There are still a few problems here.  For one thing, many students simply will not do any work at home (especially if you assign a video to watch on a Friday for class on Monday) and there is the digital divide issue (The Benton Foundation runs a site that updates you on issues regarding access to technology and the public interest, you can get lots of info about the digital divide there).  So you will inevitably have a significant amount of students who are going to need the lecture repeated to them when they get to class.

One of my thoughts that I will hopefully blog about in the future is on the necessity of assigning any homework in the first place.  If you can cover both the lecture and the practice in class then why bother with making students do anything when they get home?  For this teachers can try the cooperative learning model.  While this is not exactly individual instruction it increases the students individual support team to include other students in the class and not just the teacher.  This method can have similar results to individual instruction because a struggling student can get individual attention from his team members.

The Science Education Research Center at Carleton College in Minnesota lists what they call key elements of cooperative learning.  The most interesting to me are the second and third ones:
  1. Individual Accountability: The essence of individual accountability in cooperative learning is "students learn together, but perform alone." This ensures that no one can "hitch-hike" on the work of others. A lesson's goals must be clear enough that students are able to measure whether (a) the group is successful in achieving them, and (b) individual members are successful in achieving them as well.
  2. Face-to-Face (Promotive) Interaction: Important cognitive activities and interpersonal dynamics only occur when students promote each other's learning. This includes oral explanations of how to solve problems, discussing the nature of the concepts being learned, and connecting present learning with past knowledge. It is through face-to-face, promotive interaction that members become personally committed to each other as well as to their mutual goals.
 These address concerns teachers may have over students being free riders on the efforts of their teammates and it notes that when students teach other students both the instructing student and the recipient of that instruction benefit.  Teachers can take a step back and allow other students to fill in their role in small group situations where one student who understands the material can help a student who does not in a one-on-one situation.  While this is happening the teacher can patrol the classroom providing instruction to the groups as needed.

This method can be combined with a lecture.  The students come to class and start with a quick warm-up exercise or preparatory set, then the teacher can introduce the new topic, give a lecture on it and use the rest of class time for practice.  The order of this can change as well.  Students can figure out how a mathematical operation works or find a historical cause as part of their group work and then hear a lecture that explains it more fully.  This method ought to give students the individual instruction that Khan saw a need for without putting a strong necessity on every student doing their homework and having access to the internet.

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