On Tuesday, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said during a conference in Israel that the World Wide Web is underutilized among the world’s population. “The World Wide Web has yet to live up to its name,” he said. “Technology does not produce miracles, but connectivity, even in modest amounts, changes lives.”
Schmidt meant this to apply to education in particular. He pointed out the potential the Internet has for education, citing The Khan Academy, a website that’s grown increasingly popular since its emergence in 2010. The Khan Academy is a website that contains a vast collection of over 3,000 instructional videos. These videos — generally about 10 minutes in length — provide simple tutorials primarily on math and science concepts, ranging from simple algebra to calculus, basic biology to organic chemistry.
The Khan Academy’s free videos are intended to reach a huge audience. As its website claims: “It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.”
The Khan Academy has its critics: some teachers criticize the website for its emphasis on rote memorization. They fear that having students sit in front of a computer screen listening to some Wizard of Oz-like voice de-emphasizes the importance of interaction with other teachers and students.
Yet despite the criticism, many teachers have already begun to utilize The Khan Academy in their classrooms. Khan’s straightforward, easy-to-follow lectures have allowed many teachers to free up class time: they’ll assign an instructional video for homework, and the student will watch it at home and complete exercises the teacher can monitor on the website. In effect, Khan’s videos have allowed teachers to flip the classroom: students receive instruction at home, which frees up class time for teachers to work one-on-one with students or use valuable class time for labs or other creative, hands-on activities.
Another positive aspect of The Khan Academy is its affordability. The company is not-for-profit, and because the videos are completely free of charge, anyone can access them. In an age where tutors charge rates up to $100 an hour, a website that provides easy-to-follow instructions for students at home could be an asset for low-income students and families that can’t afford private tutoring.
Eric Schmidt may be on to something — if students and educators start with using tools already at their fingertips, the quality of education will only continue to improve.