Childhood in the digital age
Childhood in the digital age

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Childhood in the digital age

4.1 What could the future look like?

When you think about education, you probably think of a teacher standing at the front of a classroom imparting knowledge to pupils. However, there is a strong feeling among experts that technology is leading to change.

The following audio recording asks how well some of the more radical ideas about technology in the classroom are received, such as those practised at the Khan Academy. The Khan Academy [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]  is an online teaching service whose mission is to provide a free world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Ten million users every month log on to its online videos.

In the interview, Salman Khan, the Academy’s founder, talks about the promise of these online resources. He suggests that the current model of education is outdated and that technology is now available to provide totally personalised learning.

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Figure 1
Download this audio clip.Audio player: ou_futurelearn_21st_c_childhood_aud_1047.mp3
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In just a few years the Khan Academy has effectively become the largest school in the world. Ten million people use it every month. Most log on at home independently but about a million have been signed up by their teachers. It’s a model known as ‘flipping’ the classroom. The student watches a Sal Khan video at home and then class time is free for the kind of work that used to be set for homework but now the teacher can help each child with exactly what they are finding difficult or set more challenges for the ones who are racing ahead.
Think about a teacher in a traditional classroom. It’s very hard for them to know who’s getting it, who’s not getting it, who’s lost, who’s bored. So when a student shows up at Khan Academy right now we give them a pre-test. The idea is that every time a student interacts with the system the system is improving its knowledge of what the student may or may not know. So based on that we start recommending things for the student to do ‘Hey why don’t you do this exercise, watch this video’ …
Basically you are teaching that child what they need to know not what the class needs to know.
Yeh, that’s right. What traditionally happens is that person, you know, they are getting A-, B+ in middle school. Then when they get into Algebra they started to become B-, C+ students. Then when they are in higher they have so many gaps that they just think that Calculus is impossibly difficult. But we are seeing that if you let them all go at their own pace (and we are seeing this in public schools, private schools, rich neighbourhoods, poor neighbourhoods) that those same kids that you thought were weak, if you let them tackle their foundations without being embarrassed (they might be in six grade but they have to cover some third grade material) you let them do that at their own time and pace. In a matter of weeks, sometime months, they can become the best student in the class.   
It’s a wonderfully seductive vision Each child having an education tailoured so precisely to their needs that they don’t have gaps in their knowledge. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove is among the many politicians to have been here to see Sal Khan and what he is up to.
I wanted to see how it works in practice, when you have a class of 30 children. Sal Khan sent me off to the suburban sprawl of Milpitas to see a class of nine-year-olds at the William Burnett Elementary school.

[Childrens’ voices in the background].

The avatar – it’s kind of like this small, pink thing, it looks like it’s fluffy.
Helen is lying on her tummy on the classroom floor. Her laptop is open and along with her classmates she’s proudly showing off her avatar (her virtual identity).
I think like if I can see it in real life and I can hold it I wonder if it can bounce or not.
Should your pencils be in your hand?
Yeh, right – go anywhere on the floor.
The class starts and the teacher, Alison Elizondo immediately has her pupils logging onto Khan Academy.
I was blown away. I was what you would consider a traditional teacher. It changed the way that I am teaching. I’m excited about it. They’re excited about it. You will see.

[Clapping and childrens’ voices]

I’m just logging in here and I’m going to go to my coach screen.
So explain to us what we’ve got here. We’ve got a list of all your class …
Correct. And I’m going to go down to my friend, Christopher. 
Poor Christopher sitting here having all his results analysed and we can … What can you tell about Christopher?
So what this is telling me is that during this week he’s mastered this skill …
That’s multiplying two digits by two digits …
… Like 32 times 17
… and we’ve actually got the number of attempts he’s made at it.
And he’s spent 22 minutes doing it.
Correct. What is so powerful with this it will give me the exact problem that he missed – why he got it wrong. If he practiced it for homework yesterday and I can intervene within 24/48 hours I’m going to clear up something that maybe went on for years.
Alison reckons that the best teacher in the world could not know as much about their students as the Khan Academy dashboard can tell her.
There is something a bit big brotherish about it. It knows everything a child does. How long they worked, where and how they went wrong, and what videos or clues they looked at to help.
The kids in her class don’t seem to mind in the slightest. They seem genuinely fired up by earning more energy points and badges so they can upgrade their avatars. Convincing the parents has been a harder task. Alison told me some wanted to know why on earth their children were watching videos online in the evenings instead of doing homework.
It is the computer that’s driving the teaching and the teacher’s role is now recast as a mentor.
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Activity 4.1

Having listened to the audio, note your thoughts in response to the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts about the potential of the Khan Academy dashboard, and how this could change education in the future?
  • What risks might be involved with adopting what might be considered a ‘Big Brother’ approach to monitoring the progress children make in their learning?

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