Posted in creativity, learning, schools, tablets, teaching, technology, Uncategorized, video

Buffering knowledge

My high school classroom experience featured pens, chalkboards (sometimes whiteboards in our more innovative classrooms) and textbooks. These often outdated and always crudely annotated textbooks offered a wealth of information, if you could secure one complete with a full selection of pages.

We made do, the books did what they were required to do and I secured a good education. As a bonus I gained high endurance levels and good calf development due to carrying a bag loaded with dense textbooks around for five years of my adolescence.

The idea of lessons based on media and the use of devices such as tablets was ludicrous. Tablets were for stomach upsets and videos were for the day before summer holidays – mainly Sister Act 2 or West Side Story.

An insightful video has caught the attention of TheSchoolBus editors this week featuring a former hedge fund analyst named Salman Khan. Speaking on the ever-interesting platform TED Talks, Salman explains how he moved away from managing vast amounts of money to investing heavily in the education of students across America.

Salman’s innovative not-for-profit website, the Khan Academy, features informative videos created to aid teachers and students by explaining complex concepts to pupils at their own pace. The privacy of a pupil’s bedroom allows them to be less fearful of asking questions and re-watching videos. The chance of looking ‘dumb’ is eliminated and so students can watch videos as many times as they need to before they ‘get it’.

Questions are provided to gauge understanding and students will move on to the next concept only when ready. Answering ten questions correctly on the current topic shows the pupil is ready to learn more advanced concepts. A framework based on increasing difficulty ensures that students learn in the correct order and gain a ‘whole understanding’.

Salman discusses ‘Swiss cheese’ sized holes that remain in pupils’ understanding at the end of classroom lessons. These holes can often be left unfilled and as they accumulate vast gaps are left in the pupil’s overall knowledge of the subject. These gaps, if not addressed, are then built upon as the pupil progresses further into the curriculum unprepared for the advanced topics they will face:

“You get an 80% in riding a bicycle …. next semester? Unicycles!” -Salman Khan

He calls for teachers to look at the use of videos to allow pupils to learn at home. Classroom time can include time for what was traditionally ‘homework’, with the teacher available to help and answer all queries. The Khan Academy website also tracks the videos pupils use and shows their activity on the site.Teachers can use the statistics to find ‘sticking points’ for pupils and tackle them head on.

This kind of targeted learning on an individual basis offers teachers a chance to fill the ‘Swiss cheese’ gaps in every pupils’ understanding. It is far from perfect. It does not cover all subjects and, unfortunately for us here in the UK, is USA centric. However, fractions are fractions and World War One is World War One.

The use of videos is something every teacher has to decide for themselves. The ease of which concepts can be conveyed seems to be an incredible asset for teachers and some may even be inspired to make their own. Your pupils may find the videos insightful and entertaining, and I have no doubt they can enhance, if not form the basis of, any child’s education. However, despite the apparent advantages it is important for educators to bear in mind, moving from textbooks to mac books does run the risk of leaving children with weaker legs and poor endurance levels.


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