Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Fifth-graders, in Palo Alto, California, doing their math lesson, sit at their desks staring at the blackboard on the TV monitor. They're watching a cursor that writes out the numbers and listening to the voice that says," Get rid of the percent sign -- just move the decimal sign two places to the left."

Seven-thousand miles away, in Accra, Ghana, practically the other side of the world, a class is watching TV and studying logarithms.

They are looking at Salam Khan's videos. Students don't see Kahn they just hear his energetic, but patient voice.

Who is he? Why are so many schools, teachers, students, even BA and MA graduates visiting KHAN ACADEMY ONLINE? This donation-funded, non-profit Academy has 3,250 videos that are currently used by 16 California schools and 2,000 schools around the U.S. The lectures and tests are in 16 foreign languages.

How many people visit KHAN ACADEMY? The videos aren't Lady Gaga viral, but about 675,000 viewers watched Khan's 18-minute discourse on cell metabolism -- that's a lot of hits.

Checking him out -- getting links to articles about his height and latest girl friend -- I discovered his name is the same as a hot leading movie actor in India, but the founder of the Academy
is a fairly ordinary guy from Louisiana who fell in love with Math.

After high school, Khan went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and to Harvard Business school. MBA in hand, he worked as an analyst for a small hedge fund company, until his cousin asked him to help her with her algebra homework. Using Yahoo "Doodle" diagrams, he made her a video on YouTube.

"I was dismissive," Khan says. "YouTube is for cats playing pianos, not serious mathematicians." But his videos for his cousin started getting feedback, like "I've learned more in the past three hours on YouTube than I have in three years of math class."

Khan quit his job and made more videos -- more and more, on various subjects, in a converted closet in his home. Eventually Bill Gates contacted him, and gave him a $1 5 million grant. Then Google, Netflix, and others gave him grants.

Khan currently has 32 employees. His Academy, according to Wikipedia, is the largest "learning experiment" in the nation. Visiting KHAN ACADEMY -- wow -- there were videos for history, humanities, math, science, and physics, and hundreds of videos within each category -- a huge body of information.

It took me quite a while to figure out what to do -- to click "search," click "watch" -- find a small box at the bottom and click "browse all contents." Then -- holy smoke -- I saw in alphabetical order an extremely long list. I tried "modern dance," got nothing, and realized I needed to search "Humanities," which was a long list. I tried "History," then, "civil war" -- got another endless list; I tried "fractions," and picked the video titled "fractions into decimals."

I liked the video, but gee, if I've got a math question I get up from my chair, walk 15 steps and, in the other office, ask my husband, John Cullum. He knows how to handle basic math stuff. Most of what I've learned about math, history, and the humanities, has faded. My brain is already over loaded with tech routines.

The KHAN ACADEMY -- whew -- finding the right words to search for -- all those black screens -- that white cursor flying around like a crazed bird -- facts, facts, words, different colored numbers on black ...

T.S. Elliot comes to mind "... this is the way the world ends ..."

Oh dear, in between fancy, wild, ridiculous ads, will we be eating, romancing, recreating, and learning everything on YouTube?

Here's a link to KHAN ACADEMY. Before you visit it, take a look at this video.

Post a Comment