News Nov 26th 2015

Is It Time for College 2.0.


There is little doubt that the Internet has had a significant impact on people's lives, and not always for the better. Children, in particular, are so into the virtual world that it is a chore just to get them away from their laptops and smart phones to engage in activities that children of just a decade ago indulged in as a matter of course. They don't have conversations; they chat. They don't have play dates; they have online gaming. No Wi-Fi in camping? No way!

Teenagers and adults are just as guilty of this disconnect from the real world. You will hardly see one person who is not texting, talking, or browsing, even while driving. To be unplugged is to be part of a fascinating reality TV show that has nothing to do with "real" life.

World wide web and the way we learn

Market research has also revealed that the Internet has affected the way people learn. Attention spans are shorter, and knowledge retention is down to nil. It is no longer necessary to concentrate on anything or memorize facts. Why take notes or remember anything when you can access the information anytime you want? The fear is that people are losing the basic cognitive skills such as remember birthdays. However, there is a very bright side to the Internet. People have never been so connected or informed before. The words "community" and "engagement" has taken on whole new meanings, and control has been transferred to many people instead of just a handful of movers and shakers. The Internet has allowed people to choose, influence, and challenge the status quo. That is precisely what Khan Academy founder, self-appointed YouTube educator, and finance analyst consultant Salman Khan set out to do.

Changing the cognitive landscape: From long lectures to educational videos

Khan Academy is not a high-tech institution. It is a collection of more than 1,400 educational videos made in Khan's bedroom closet, which aims to educate viewers in math, science, engineering, history, and many more. The videos are about 10 minutes long, short enough to accommodate limited attention spans, and informal enough to sound more like a conversation than a lecture. It works because it caters to a new generation of learners that find it a refreshing change from long, boring lectures delivered by professional academics that know the subject thoroughly, but have little knowledge about engaging the students.

Khan is not a career educator, and he does not charge anything for his videos, which have been viewed and downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. His goal is simple: teach, as you want to be taught. He is the sole member of the faculty, and learns unfamiliar subjects on the go. He makes mistakes, but even those have instructional value. Viewers say that the videos provide a valuable supplement to their regular studies, which is safe enough for such a quirky approach.

Paradigm shift: Moving from the theoretical to the pragmatic

However, Khan has bigger ideas. He believes that his unconventional methods will work as the main source of instruction. While his original target audience is students in primary and secondary school, he believes that the same principles can apply in what some have dubbed "College 2.0."

In his book The One World School House: Education Reimagined, he describes a college education setting in Silicon Valley where students learn at their own pace with video lectures ala Khan Academy, and obtains practical instruction from professionals and traditional academics in projects and internships.

He envisions a healthy mix of virtual and real-life interactions where students are ungraded but encouraged to develop a portfolio of work and assessments from mentors that would demonstrate their abilities much better than grades on a transcript of records.

It is an ambitious project, and one that can seriously backfire. Yet, it also makes a whole lot of sense. Student engagement and academic performance on all levels are matters of increasing concern, and traditional institutions are like boats without a paddle. The time is ripe for change, and Khan Academy may just be the oar needed to steer the educational system out of troubled waters.

What does the future hold?

Innovation sounds good, but there is no guarantee that it will always work.

Khan has proven that students respond to his teaching methods, but the question is, can it actually work on a bigger scale? How far can he and others like him take it? Does the idea of a reengineered college education have enough momentum to carry it through to journey's end, or will it flounder in midstream and get sucked down the whirlpool of catastrophic failure?

Only time will tell.



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