Khan Academy’s Vision of the Future of Education

Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, has made it his goal to improve education around the world. In a recent TED talk, he said that he hoped, with the work he and his team were doing, they could make advances in the way kids learn and create a global one-world classroom.

His goals are admirable but the task is huge, so I was interested in learning just how Khan Academy works. The tutorial videos are only about ten minutes in length and allow students to enjoy learning at their own pace and in their own setting. In the Los Altos School District, two 5th grade classes, and two 7th grade pre-algebra readiness classes piloted the Khan Academy and it was found that a flipping of the classroom schedule resulted. This meant that teachers were asking the students to watch a video as homework and what used to be homework would now be done in class. So instead of the teacher standing in front of the class and going through a monologue, students are able to interact with one another about the work, meaning teachers can humanize the learning experience.


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Back to School: Are E-Readers and Tablets Helpful in the Classroom?

As children prepare for “Back to School” and markers, crayons, and backpacks overtake grocery stores, I am reminded of an article I read recently discussing the impact that tablets and e-readers have in the classroom. My time in grade school came long before the likes of the iPad or the Nook, so my imagination was the only tool I had to make a book magical. Now, kids using tablets and e-readers probably have many of the same books I read but with added features like music and the ability to interact with the story. I started to wonder if these devices are more beneficial to young students or if they are more of a distraction to the task at hand.


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Gaming as an Educational Tool

Tony Wan recently moderated a panel called Technology in Education: How Will it Change the Game? organized by the Churchill club. Wan would like to see the gap between general games and educational games close, and asks the panel questions to determine their thoughts.

Here’s what they said:

Noah Wardrip-Fruin (Associate Professor of Computer Science, UC Santa Cruz & Co-director, Expressive Intelligence Studio):

Noah has seen through his students that they are very motivated by making games.He feels it is important that people be able to step back and learn how to critique the systems that are being used. In an effort to expand gaming beyond the mathematical and scientific realms, Noah has just released a game called “Prom Week,” which teaches about bullying and being a good stranger.

When asked about the pitfalls and misconceptions related to gamification, he responded that the heart of games is play and not points, levels, and badges. Noah is interested in gamification to the extent that we re-think the core activity of gaming to focus on the aspect of play, which he calls “playification.”



Final team proposals

We’re pretty close to wrapping up the conference now, and the teams have presented some of their final thoughts about gamifying the areas they’ve been asked to look at. A few highlights:

  • The news team talked about what works in gamifying news – Google News badges and, which Kickstarter for news stories. What doesn’t work? Predictive news gambling and up-to-the minute news simulations. Several opportunities were identified for the future, including crowdsourcing investigative journalism, integrate deliberative democracy, and building more capability to do real time analytics of news stories (though many news organizations have much of this capability in place already).
  • The education team said that engagement and learning must go together in any successful educational program, not just a gamified one. As a broader approach, the team suggested not just a game, but a platform for adaptive educational experimentation that will allow teachers and administrators to run lots of experiments and quickly pick up the best ones that are going on.
  • The ethics group talked about how the idea of “informed consent” might change as more people voluntarily decide to play games that give valuable data to corporations and other large institutions.
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For our third lightning talk, Sharon Chang (Yoxi), Joey Lee (Teachers’ College), and Meaghan Searl (DailyFeats) talked about their experiences using gamification platforms to bring about social impact.

  • Yoxi‘s mission is to discover “rockstars of social innovation”. The meaning of “rockstars” in this case is specific: people who can be seen as role models, and build an extremely loyal following. To do this, Yoxi runs competitions, which are a blend of reality show format and light-touch game design involving voting and other game dynamics.
  • Meaghan Searl talked about her experience with gamification at DailyFeats, which helps reward positive lifestyle behaviors such as exercising or giving blood. Some users have had strong reactions, both positive and negative, to DailyFeats’ rewarding of behaviors that people believe they should be doing anyway.
  • Finally, Joey Lee discussed attempts to use gamification to help people learn better. He designed a game for a 7th grade science class in the Bronx; it motivates them to “build” a city using cards earned through positive behaviors and achievements. In addition to simply motivating specific behaviors, the game also encourages students to try on new identities (“I am a scientist”), and model discipline-specific behaviors and traits (“I can do science”). A similar game for grad school students has different dynamics and motivates a different set of behaviors.

Breakout sessions

Earlier today, we heard preliminary results from our breakout session teams, each of which was tasked with coming up with an application of gamification methods to particular problem areas. We look forward to hearing the full results tomorrow, but here are a few of the early ideas the the groups talked about:

  • In education, it’s possible to turn the classroom into an RPG-like environment, in which learning is rewarded with “leveling-up”, and rewards or status are earned. More significantly, can gamification be used as a way to encourage experimentation with different teaching and learning modes in the classroom?
  • Politics is already gamified for politicians. But what can we do to incentivize a voter to educate themselves on the issues, or simply to participate in political dialogue? Realtime voting feedback, and some kind of “onboarding” process, were discussed.
  • In healthcare, gamification could be important as a way to motivate patients when they may not see any immediate, or even medium-term, effects from a particular choice (e.g. taking a pill that wards off, or reduces the risk of, a disease – or exercising regularly). The question of “social scaffolding” was also brought up – how can we use someone’s friends and family to help them stick to a particular regimen?
We look forward to hearing (and posting about) the teams’ full reports tomorrow!
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