With all the hype about massive and adaptive and big data, it’s hard to remember sometimes that real flesh and blood humans do know some things about teaching and learning. In fact, we know a lot about it in some areas. We’re just not very good at disseminating and deploying it effectively across our educational systems. Massive and adaptive and big data could help solve those problems to the degree that the people behind them would pay close attention to what humans already know. But more often than not, they are not paying attention. Or they have picked up on some little sliver, such as the role of repetition in long-term memory formation, and built a whole product around it. In general, educational experts are brought in as occasional consultants and best, and ignored altogether at worst.
That is why I find this critique of Sal Khan’s videos by Christopher Danielson, a math and math education teacher at a community college, so refreshing and important. This is not snarky, “Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000” stuff. Nor is it a hysterical rant on why computers could NEVER replace teachers. Rather, it is a careful, research-backed analysis of what’s wrong with one aspect of Sal Khan’s math videos, with the explicit goal of helping Khan to improve the value of his work. This is incredibly good stuff. And as a bonus, Danielson demonstrates just how easy it is to use a social network like Twitter to get help from a community of educators.
We really need to figure out how to get better at inviting this kind of dialogue. We shouldn’t just rely on the Christopher Danielsons of the world to beat on the doors of the great tech temples until somebody can be bothered to answer.