Few developments in education have blasted through the status quo like Sal Khan’s “Khan Academy.” What started as a collection of instructional videos on YouTube to help his seventh-grade cousin with algebra is now a website featuring 3,400 videos on everything from logarithms to art history.
But it doesn’t stop there. The site now has practice math problems, which Khan explains is a critical development for students and teachers. “A significant piece of Khan Academy … is the interactive exercises that allow students to practice math and get feedback at their own pace, while giving teachers data on student progress,” Khan says.
Khan’s goal is to make the site useful for all different types of classrooms, from homeschools to traditional schools. Teachers can “use their precious classroom time more effectively and flexibly” by allowing students to watch videos either at home or during class and work on problems at their own pace. Then teachers can help students if they get stuck on difficult topics.
The Los Altos, Calif. school district has changed its entire instructional model to integrate Khan Academy tutorials. School administrator Jeff Baier said, “This particular tool gave students immediate feedback on their work and gave teachers immediate information about what students understood.” He says teachers were “able to know moment-by-moment what a student is understanding and what they are not understanding.”
As online resources like this become more available, lawmakers around the country should make sure students can use these sites to get extra help — or get ahead. Instead of trying to sift through every online class and decide which is adequate or require students to have a certain amount of “seat time” with every class, schools can test for subject mastery after a student has taken a course on the Web. If a student is ready to move on to the next level, it doesn’t matter where they took the course.
It’s time to leave behind requirements for how long students sit at their desks and let students earn credits from any class. Regardless of whether a child takes a class in a traditional classroom or online, so long as they can show that they have mastered the material, that’s what really matters.
Jonathan Butcher is education director for the Goldwater Institute.