Yes We Khan!

I’m not talking about the Wrath of Khan, or Kubla Khan.  I’m talking about Khan Academy.  Some of you are familiar with Khan Academy.  They are well-known for their math tutorials.  And they are one of the advocates of the “flipped” classroom movement.  But Khan Academy is not just about Math anymore.

In the last few years Khan Academy has sought to also educate students on Art, History, Science, and more.  Although Salman Khan has been criticized for his work, I have to say that I do not take offense at his attempts to make video tutorials summarizing key moments in history.

How I Have Used Khan Academy:

My 6th graders love the Art History lectures about ancient civilizations.  One of the skills that history students must have is their ability to analyze sources.  Sometimes those sources are artifacts rather than written works.  So in our study of ancient history, I like to have my students analyze artifacts to try to gain more knowledge of the culture that developed it.  For example, I have students watch the video on the Standard of Ur as homework.  The students, you would think, would find this kind of discussion of art history quite boring.  But because the art history experts, Dr. Steven Zucker & Dr. Beth Harris, keep it short, the students stay with it, even the non-native speakers.

The 6th graders like that they start the video knowing information about the artifact already, and then they feel pride that they can concur with the experts that yes, the artifact does indeed reveal a lot to us about Sumerian, Egyptian, or Roman culture and class structure.  They run into class the next day telling me all the cool things they learned.

My 8th graders have enjoyed the lectures on the French Revolution.  We have a small text that summarizes the key details but it separates the events in a way that it is difficult for them to see the big picture. The students work in class with various types of sources from the time period, but when they need a quick review to put all the puzzle pieces in place, the short lectures are great wrap-ups to what they are currently discussing in class.  Other teachers might use these videos as the anticipatory sets for units they are beginning, but I like using them for revision.

And now, just yesterday, I discovered that the amount of history lectures have grown.  There is an entire series of Modern World history;  students can listen to the various lectures from the origins of World War I through the effects of the Cold War.  What is great about this series is that it also gives the student a quiz at the end of each grouping.  The quiz is multiple choice and allows the student to answer the questions multiple times until they get the right answer.  And they get super cool badges as they begin to watch and learn more about a topic.

Regardless of how a teacher might use these lectures, as “flipped” work or as revision, the short 6-16 minute videos are a big help to students.

The Critique of Khan Academy:

Some have criticized that Salman Khan’s lectures are biased.   Some have criticized that he is not a historian.  But this doesn’t really bother me.   A PhD might not have the ability to communicate ideas clearly in 6 minutes.  As far as bias goes, I find most history texts, documentaries, and books biased.  Anyone who seeks to give just the facts ultimately will allow their own bias to come through.  As we try our best to let our students draw their own conclusions, it is difficult sometimes for teachers not to draw those conclusions for our students.

It’s Just ONE Source:

Seeing sources as both valuable and limited is also a good skill for our students to master.  Teaching students to see that these lectures are just one interpretation of an event is a good thing.  Students need to work with the course text, look at primary sources from the time period, watch reputable documentaries, and read other historians’ works.  We must be teaching kids of all ages to see the necessity of comparing sources, especially now in this digital age of Wikipedia and

So…the next time you or your students need a short refresher on the Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand or a quick synopsis of the Spanish Civil War, take a look at Khan Academy.  Remember it is not THE source of information for kids or adults, it is just one source of information.  And if kids are looking for study and revision tools, what could be better than a quick on-line quiz to check their understanding?

So what do you think?  Do you have an opinion on Khan Academy?  Have you successfully used other online mini-lectures with students?


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