Friday, March 11, 2016

The Khan Academy -- on the Internet or a LAN near you

The Khan Academy began when hedge fund analyst Sal Khan started posting short, conversational videos on YouTube to help his cousin with her math class. The videos went viral. Today there are 23 courses in math, 7 in science, 4 in economics and finance, 25 in the arts and humanities, 3 in computing and preparation for 8 tests like the SAT along with content from 25 high-profile partners.

The Khan Academy is a non-profit organization that promises to provide a world-class education that is "free for everyone forever," and their open source software is available on GitHub. Over 39 million "learners" have used the material and it is being translated into 40 languages.

As shown below, the courses are comprised of fine-grained modules focused on a single concept and each module includes a test of mastery. The modules are arranged hierarchically, and a student has not completed the course until he or she has mastered a module -- they encourage experimentation and failure, but expect mastery. (Getting a C in a typical college course means the student understood only about half of the material and will do poorly in classes for which the course is a prerequisite -- an effect that compounds throughout college and into the workplace).

Portion of the beginning arithmetic course knowledge graph

In addition to the teaching content, the Khan Academy software presents a "dashboard" that enables a teacher, parent or other "coach" to monitor the progress of a student or class. The red bar shown in the dashboard view below indicates that a student is stuck on a given concept. The teacher can then help him or her or, better yet, have a student who has already mastered the concept tutor the one who is stuck. (Research shows that the tutor will benefit as well as the tutee -- "to teach is to learn twice").

Dashboard with fine-grained progress reports

The dashboard enables a coach to adapt to the strengths and weaknesses of each student and spot learning gaps. They understand that students may be blocked by one simple concept, and sprint ahead once it is mastered. (I recall sitting in freshman calculus class, and being totally lost for half the term, until I figured out what the teacher meant when he said "is a function of" and the class snapped into focus).

Confusion on a single concept "blocked" this student.

The third major component facilitates community discussion among the students taking a given class, allowing for questions, answers, comments and tips & thanks.

Tracking student participation in the course community

But, what if you don't have Internet access?

Learning Equality grew out of a project to port the Khan Academy software to a local area network at the University of California at San Diego. Their version, KA-Lite, can be customized for an individual learner, classroom or school running on a Linux, Mac or Windows PC as small as a $35 Raspberry Pi.

KA-Lite is three years old and has been used in 160 nations by over 2 million learners from above the Arctic Circle to the tip of Chile and translations are under way into 17 languages. The following shows organizations that are deploying it and installations.

There is an interactive version of this map online.
To learn more, visit their Web site and contribute to their Indiegogo campaign.

See this companion post on MIT's Open Courseware, which is also available off line.

For the history, pedagogical philosophy, accomplishments and future of the Khan Academy along with a video collage showing examples of their content, see this 20-minute talk by Sal Khan:

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

MIT Open Courseware -- on the Internet or a mirror site near you

The grandaddy of online education is 15 years old.

MIT's Open Courseware project (OCW) has been offering free, open courseware under a Creative Commons licence for 15 years. About 2/3 of tenure track faculty at MIT have put material from over 2,300 courses online and they are viewed by over 1.5 million unique visitors per month (monthly statistics here).

There are courses from 31 departments and it is not all engineering and science -- the schools of Management, Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences and Architecture and Planning all have OCW courses.

The format varies from course to course, each offering at least one and perhaps all of the following: video/audio lectures, student work, lecture notes, assessments, online textbooks or interactive simulations.

OCW users are pleased -- 80% rate OCW's impact as extremely positive or positive, 96% of educators say the site has/will help improve courses and 96% of visitors would recommend the site. (My guess is that these figures are dependent upon which course the person had taken since the quality and quantity of material varies from course to course).

The most appealing facet of OCW for me is their Mirror Site Program, which provides copies of their Web site to non-profit educational organizations that have significant challenges to Internet accessibility, inadequate Internet infrastructure, or prohibitive Internet costs.

A mirror site requires a computer with a terabyte of storage that should be accessible by students and faculty from lab or over a local area network or intranet. The courseware is regularly updated, so someone has to be available for a download every week or so and to coordinate with OCW. They recommend an Internet connection of at least 1 mbit/second for updates. The initial install (about 600 gigabytes) is typically from a portable hard drive supplied by MIT.

They currently have 368 registered mirror sites around the world (about 80% in sub-Saharan Africa) and, while most of the material is English, selected courses have been translated into at least ten languages. For example, there are 94 in Spanish.

Most courses are in English, but some have been translated.

Translation is less important for university-level courses than for primary or secondary school since university students can often read and speak English; however, MIT would be happy for others to contribute translations.

Don't forget that the OCW system and course content are under a Creative Commons license, and they encourage people to replicate the material. For example, several copies could be made available in labs run by different departments within a university and at many universities within a nation.

If you are fortunate enough to have Internet connectivity, you can browse the site and course material online. If not, consider setting up a mirror site -- contact Yvonne Ng at MIT. If you do, keep me in the loop and let me know if I can help.

See this companion post on the Khan Academy educational site, which is also available off line.