Sunday, March 13, 2011

Black and White and Educational Reform

Someone famous said something about those who are certain.  I'd say who it was, but I don't like to appear too certain about anything.

Well, actually, I can't remember who said that.  I'm hoping someone will comment on it. 

But still, forgetfulness aside, I don't think there are too many things that are 100% black or white.  Context is pretty important.  Aristotle's concepts of virtues were based on his assumption that the right virtues are in between two extreme instincts.  It makes sense to avoid taking a position at either of the extremes, because the power of context makes what is right live on a sliding scale.

Now, what the heck does that have to do with anything?  Well earlier tonight I was reading more about Salman Khan and his Khan Academy.  I believe in Khan's vision to provide resources to students online, but I disagree those who see his approach (including Bill Gates) as a way of completely transforming education. 

I've read today many reactions to Salman Khan's recent talk at the TED conference, on both sides of the fence.  It seems to me people are taking very strong sides on the issue of Khan's thoughts about education.  Depending on some who have written about it, Khan's ideas about education are the next best thing to sliced bread.  To others, his approach is completely off-base.  Read more about his ideas for developing individual mastery, including watching a video about his exercise software, here.  Exercise software?  I'm not sure how that makes education relevant and engaging for kids.  That approach to learning might be kind of distasteful for some students, wouldn't it?  But likely it might also be a good approach for others, depending on the subject and/or their interests?

There are no extremes. 

Khan's resources, and other similar tools, have a significant role to play in transforming how we structure the learning our students have access to. Kids need access to content any time and anywhere, and content like this could be HUGE when planning reverse instruction for our classes.

Resources like that won't replace teachers, however.  Or rather, facilitators as their roles change.  Differentiation instruction is the ultimate support for avoiding the extremes.  Learners (of any age) are so different, we need to use a variety of strategies to support them all.

Why can't we be grey on this issue?  I see huge value for some students who can make use of Khan's resources as a primary source.  I see other students using it for review.  I see other students who will learn best getting dirty and messy and hands-on in class with a teacher near by for support.  There is no one size fits all approach to learning (and therefore to teaching) and I don't think we can budge on that. 

Check out the Khan Academy.  It is interesting...give it some thought.  Let me know what role you see for resources like this in education...


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