Blended Learning, Domestic, Education Quality, Flipped Classrooms, K-12, Math, Required, Startups, Videos - Written by on Monday, July 2, 2012 9:08 - 1 Comment

Video: Fight! Fight! Math Teachers Offer Bitter Critique Of Khan Academy Lectures

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Elvin W. via Compfight

A potentially constructive - but so far bitter - fight just started  by math, physics and other teachers who are incensed by Sal Khan’s lack of precision in his video lectures. Some of them are starting to offer their sarcastic critiques in their own web videos. In response, Khan is avoiding a fight and is accepting their critiques with gratitude. His fans are providing the jeers back toward the critics. Will the so-called “real” teachers provide useful feedback for Khan? Or just look ridiculous? Initially, we thought the critiques sounded like a nice idea. But, after watching one of them, we have our doubts. Here’s our view of the problem:


A) Some math teachers see (x) Khan Academy and (y) Sal Khan’s massive popularity as a threat to their livelihood and an afront to their ego and pedagogical methods?


B) Easy ability to create videos on YouTube, the same platform on which (y) Sal Khan unleashes a prodigious stream of tutorial videos


C) Vitriol-fueled competitions now forming on YouTube by math teachers who aim to discredit, critique and ridicule (y) arguably the most popular math teacher on the planet … i.e. Sal Khan. The teachers say they are just trying to help Khan Academy improve and to learn from “real” math teachers. We find that concept smart and useful as a way to improve Khan Academy.  But we also find their sour grapes smell overwhelmingly ripe in their videos so far.

Will the campaign work? Perhaps it pushes Khan Academy toward more excellence and better pedagogy. Great. But we also think these teachers should make their own videos and submit them to Ted-ED. That seems even more constructive (demonstrating how THEY would make videos that can help students) rather than tut-tut-tutting about Khan.

Here’s some of the critique videos and a roundup of the project…

In the following video “Mystery Teacher Theater 2000″ below by John Golden and Dave Coffey: “Two teachers sit down to learn about math teaching from a man who is Bill Gates’ favorite teacher.” They spend 11 minutes kibitzing about Sal’s teaching failures in his video lecture about multiplying and dividing positive and negative integers. They split hairs with Khan’s methods such as how he puts a positive sign in from of some positive numbers but not others. They also say he fails to cite his sources. Slate notes that such errors show that Khan is brilliant and talented but also not most skilled in “pedagogy, the science of teaching information effectively.”

These teachers say: “Our primary purpose with this video was to get a conversation started. We realized that the satire would put some people off but many teachers have tried to engage Khan Academy in a reasonable discussion and present their case to the media about issues with this approach with little to show for it. Now that the conversation has started and Sal himself has said he is listening and looks forward to more critiques, the time has come to raise the level of the discussion. That is why several bloggers have suggested 101 Critiques and lessons. We are looking for at least 101 bloggers to offer a video critique of a Khan Academy video and then share an alternative lesson on that concept. The goal is for all the participants to post the critiques and lessons on August 14th (the day before the deadline for the MTT2K prize). Perhaps the sheer volume of resources will convince the media to acknowledge that while Sal Khan’s approach has it’s place, he could still learn something from teachers.”

But many of the comments on this video dis the two math teachers and defend Khan:  For example: 

“This sort of negative sarcasm is why school teachers do such a poor job and why the world needs practical guys like Kahn. These guys could never make the difference that I have seen Kahn Academy make.”

The Huffington Post reports:

Within five days of the video going up on YouTube, Khan removed his original tutorial, and replaced it with two new, better lectures just two days later. According to Slate, he also sent a comment to Justin Reich — who linked to the parody video on his education tech blog — saying he appreciates the feedback.

The MTT2K (short for “Mystery Teacher Theater 2000”) Prize will gift $750 in prize money to the individuals who submit the best video critiques of Khan Academy lectures by August 15, 2012. Individuals from Khan Academy have been invited to participate in the judging as well.

Via The Huffington Post

Southeastern Louisiana University Physics Professor Rhett Allain writes on

First, I think there is much room for improvement in Khan’s videos. As I have pointed out before, most of the Khan videos seem to take the approach of “this is how you get the answer to this problem” rather than to aim for deeper understanding. I suspect this is part of the reason that the Khan videos are so popular with students. They are stuck on a homework problem and in their mind the goal is to get the answer. Surely you have seen students take all sorts of crazy approaches to solving homework problems. Approaches that avoid addressing the real meaning.

This solution to problem solving would be like Mr. Miyagi (you know, for The Karate Kid) telling Daniel to paint the fence with up and down strokes. What if Daniel googled “how to paint a fence” and decided to rent a spray paint machine. That way the fence could be painted quicker – right? Wrong. Mr. Miyagi would be disappointed and Daniel would get destroyed at the karate tournament by Cobra Kai. The point isn’t the painting of the fence, the point is learning to block attacks. If you have no idea what I am talking about, go watch the original Karate Kid.

There is another good reason to critique videos (not just the Khan Academy videos). What better way to assess someone’s true understanding than to have that person evaluate a Khan Academy video? You really have to know your stuff to see any problems in these. I could make the final exam in physics an evaluation of these videos. It would be awesome. Or maybe you could make this a group activity. Find a KA video and critique it. Next, make your own version. That would be win-win. The true learning comes not from watching a KA video, but by being actively engaged in something. Maybe this was Khan’s plan all along. Maybe he puts errors in the videos so that they can be used for the real learning.

Allain offers his video critique of a Khan Video on how to determine how fast a ball would be moving if dropped off a cliff.

Allain then writes:

The other point I want to make is this: you sort of need to be an expert to teach something. There is this idea that if you just get the presentation tools down, you can teach anything. Instead, I think in order to teach kinematics a teacher should have more advanced mechanics classes. I know this might disagree with some of the teacher education programs out there – but look at all of Khan’s videos. If you get an expert to look at video in the same field, I suspect errors will be found. I don’t think I could make great videos in the subject of history (although it would be fun to try).


BetaBeat reports:

Nerds gone wild, you guys.

Video-learning nonprofit Khan Academy is basically the hottest thing in edtech, complete with TED talk and Gates Foundation grant. But you know who thinks it’s a load of crap? These two Grand Valley State University math teachers. In fact, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education, they’re so annoyed that they’ve taken to the YouTubes with a Mystery Science Theater 3000-style parody.

Via BetaBeat 

Meanwhile, also of interest to Khan Watchers, Walt Mossberg of D:AllThingsDigital interviews Khan recently by video:

One of the more important of the interviews at the 10th D: All Things Digital conference was the pairing of Khan Academy’s Salman Khan and Stanford University’s President John Hennessy to talk about the state of online education.

And we have a lot to learn, as it turns out, to make digital education really start to have an impact globally.


1 Comment

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Jim Kadel
Jan 11, 2013 14:59

Why not embrace or critique the *method* rather than a single teacher’s videos.
After all to make this method work in general would mean an individual teacher or group of teachers would have to prepare “videos/ppt etc” for study that fit their particular syllabus(textbook) for a given course.

It is the METHOD of transferring knowledge not a particular study video/s that is the important change.

The REAL CRITIQUE that I await hearing about is that of the problems associated with this METHOD.
In short the PROS and CONS of this “invert classroom-homework” method vs the traditional method.

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