I was watching a program on Khan Academy that aired on 60 Minutes last week. The segment highlighted both his posting of educational lessons and the rollout of his online assessment and tracking software. It occurred to me that Mr. Khan is a canary in a coalmine of sorts, an indicator of trends in overall education. There are a half-dozen large-scale rollouts of websites and services that are attempting to do what Khan is doing.
Other than Khan, I have been pointing teachers to LearnZillion. LearnZillion has educational videos and tracking software, but the key difference is that instead of relying on one man’s take on math or history, LearnZillion has a small and growing army of professional teachers producing their content—teachers who have spent time in a classroom, learning how different kids learn and retain information.
I am also a fan of the math-centered TenMarks.com. TenMarks walks students through math topics geared to the Common Core math standards for states like mine that are adopting them. It allows students to learn a topic and practice it. Teachers receive detailed information about their students and how they are learning.
And just when things couldn’t seem more crowded, TED, the organization that publishes TED Talks from important thinkers, announced that it is producing educational videos from experts in various fields. The idea of TED-Ed is that an expert on the Civil War will gave a talk about the Civil War that you can then play for your class. At some point there will also be assessments on these talks.
All of this seems to me like history repeating. When motion pictures first were developed, such thinkers as H.G Wells and Thomas Edison believed that the best lectures in the would be recorded and played for young learners and that traditional schooling would be done away with.
Personally, I still don’t see any of these options as a good replacement for one-on-one interaction with a good teacher. Thankfully most level heads agree that these new tools are meant to free up lecture time so that one-on-one help can occur. I recommend making your own lessons and recording them so that you have resources tailored to your own class’s needs. There will always be companies or websites that will offer you a ‘quick fix’—a different method or service that will magically solve all of a student’s problems. The real fixes are never that easy. But they are not impossible either. There are some great tools out there; but a tool, no matter how great, will never replace the person holding it, the person that knows how to use it properly. Get ready for a rush of these services to pop up in a new round of technology-fueled education reform. Hopefully the new competition will lead to improved products for our students.