TED radio Hour: Salman Khan: How Can Videos "Flip The Classroom?" Internet tutor Salman Khan talks about how and why he created the Khan Academy, a carefully structured series of educational videos. He shows the power of interactive exercises, and calls for teachers to consider flipping the traditional classroom script.
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How Can Videos "Flip The Classroom"?

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How Can Videos "Flip The Classroom"?

How Can Videos "Flip The Classroom"?

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SALMAN KHAN: So notice, X year is a variable. X year is...


What if you had a teacher you could pause; rewind (Rewinding Tape)


KHAN: Negative two to the third power which is negative two times.

STEWART: And replay whenever you really needed to.


KHAN: Which is negative eight.

STEWART: Salman Khan is that teacher. He's the founder of the Khan Academy. It's an online library of more than 3,000 instructional videos, teaching concepts of maths; science; and the humanities. Its website gets about 4.7 million visitors per month and the formula for a lesson is pretty simple.


KHAN: You hear my voice and you see what I am drawing in these kind of pastel, chalk like colors on this black background.

STEWART: Sal never set out to work in the education file, he actually used to be a Hedge Fund Analyst. And those first couple of instructional videos were really only meant for his cousins he was remotely tutoring. He told the story at TED in 2011.


KHAN: And as soon as I put those first YouTube videos up, something interesting happened, actually a bunch of interesting things happened. The first was the feedback from my cousins. They told me that they preferred me on YouTube than in person.

Once you get over the backhanded nature of that, there was actually something very profound there. They were saying that they preferred the automated version of their cousin, to their cousin. You have this situation where, now they can pause and repeat their cousin. If they have to review something that they should have learned a couple of weeks ago or maybe a couple of years ago. They don't have to be embarrassed and ask their cousin, they can just watch those videos. If they're bored they can go ahead, they can watch it at their own time, at their own pace.

The other thing that happened is, you know, I put them on YouTube and then people started stumbling on it and I started getting some comments and some letters and kind of feedback from random people around the world and this is actually from one of the original calculus videos. And someone wrote just on YouTube, it was a YouTube comment. "I actually got a natural high and a good mood for the entire day. Since I remember seeing all of this matrix text in class and here I'm all like, I know kung fu."


That's it. And we got a lot of feedback along those lines. You know, it clearly was helping people. But I didn't think it would be something that would somehow penetrate the classroom. But then I started getting letters from teachers and the teacher's would write saying, we've used your videos to flip the classroom. You've given the lectures. So now what we do and this could actually happen in every classroom in America tomorrow. What I do, is I assign the lectures for homework and what used to be homework, I know have the students doing in the classroom.

By removing the one size fits all lecture from the classroom and letting - and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home. And then when you go to the classroom, letting them do work, having the teacher walk around, having the peers actually be able to interact with each other. These teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.

STEWART: We're talking to Sal Khan about a way to use video to reinvent education. He's the founder of the Khan Academy and I think I know the answer to this, but I want to ask you. So many teachers have pressure to get kids to just memorize and - the material and pass a test by a certain date. They have to teach to the test. Does your model take into account these time constraints and what teachers have to face, the reality of teaching to the test?

KHAN: We're trying to. I think - And I think that gets actually to the core of the issue. That whole dynamic that you're describing is a byproduct of our education model, which I think very few people have really confronted properly. The education model is, we group kids into these age based cohorts and then we move them together. Even when kids clearly have substandard understanding of one concept or another, they got a B or a C or a D on some exam, they don't know how to multiply decimals or whatever. You say, oh too bad, your cohort is moving ahead, let's all move together.

And so what we fix is the calendar and how long students have to learn something and what's variable is how well they learn it. And as they go further and further through their mathematical or - it's actually true of any subject, they have all of these gaps. And as you have more and more of these gaps, in order for the teachers to get you through the next hurdle, they have to make it more memorization based.

And so what we say is, now let's just do the opposite. Since we now have the tools to let every student work at their own pace, we don't have to have this kind of assembly line model anymore, let students build their foundations, master concepts, for the most part before moving on, so they never hit that wall.

So what we're saying is, instead of holding fixed when and how students learn it and the variables, how well they learn it, we want to hold fixed that the students have a high level of mastery and the variable is, how long they have to learn it and when they learn it.

STEWART: I know Bill Gates is a good guy and he's trying to work towards making education better and I know he was a big fan of your videos and I remember him saying, you know, my kids watch these videos and for a moment I thought, hey Bill Gates, you can afford the best tutors in the world for your kids, this is not for you. There's an egalitarian aspect about this that levels the playing field for kids who can't afford a really expensive tutor or even a good tutor.

And here you are in your videos and you are their sort of fairy god tutor. I just wondered, did you ever think about the egalitarian aspect of what you were doing?

KHAN: You know, that was the point from day one of setting it up as a not for profit - You know obviously, once the video is made, the, the cost of delivering that video to an incremental student is pretty close to zero and if you could somehow empower a life for pretty much zero, I think one should. And so that's why our mission statement, you know, in 2007, it was somewhat delusional. I was really working out of a closet then but I said - I said, you know, a free world class education for anyone, anywhere.

So that's always been core. But I think, you know, the, the point you bring up. Bill Gates has actually been incredibly powerful, because I think in the past, when people have tried to reform education or do things that are egalitarian, they've created these solutions that are directed at the poor and they really weren't taken up by the middle class or the upper middle class or the affluent, in Bill Gates' case. And the signal that tells the poor is, okay this is a solution for you but not for the rich kids.

STEWART: Interesting, yes.

KHAN: And I think, anyone who has a rational brain says, well I'm suspicious of it. If you're saying it's so good, how come Bill Gates isn't using it? How come the kids on the other side of the railroad tracks aren't using it? So when Bill Gates said that he uses this free thing, even when he could have obviously afforded anything, it was a huge signal to parents and students everywhere that, wow, this is worth my time.


KHAN: There's no reason why you can't have that, that peer to peer tutoring beyond that one classroom. Imagine what happens if that student in Calcutta all of a sudden can tutor your son or your son can tutor that kid in Calcutta. And I think what you'll see emerging is this notion of a global one world classroom and that's essentially what we're trying to build. Thank you.

STEWART: Sal Khan of the Khan Academy. Thanks for being on the TED RADIO HOUR, good luck to you.

KHAN: Thanks a bunch.

STEWART: You can find out more about the Khan Academy and maybe brush up on some algebra while you're at it, go to TED.NPR.org.

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