Critique of Khan Academy Goes Viral

By Katie Ash — July 10, 2012 2 min read
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By now, you’ve probably heard of Sal Khan, the educator who began by creating videos to explain math to his cousins, which has grown into a library of over 3,000 assorted educational clips with more than 150 million views on YouTube. The resulting Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide students with free access to all those resources, has received grant funding from educational philanthropy giants like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

However, not everyone is thrilled with the concept. In June, two associate professors from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.,—Dave Coffey and John Golden—posted a video in the satirical style of Mystery Science Theater 3000 critiquing a Khan Academy video explaining how to multiply and divide negative and positive integers. The professors criticized Khan’s inconsistency with positive and negative signs in the video, and pointed out areas where he could improve his pedagogy, generally poking fun at the Khan Academy and its trove of videos.

The professors’ video went viral and is now up to over 20,000 views on YouTube. In response, the Khan Academy immediately pulled the math video in question and posted two separate videos explaining the concept, implementing many of the changes suggested by the professors in their satirical video. A few days later, the Khan Academy released yet another video dealing with the same subject and addressing more of the professors’ concerns. Update: I’ve been informed by Education Week opinion blogger Justin Reich that there are actually two videos explaining why a negative times a negative is a positive, bringing the total number of videos up to four.

But as Dave Coffey explained on his blog, it is the pedagogy of the lecture model and Khan’s emphasis on how to complete the mathematical procedures he’s explaining instead of the conceptual framework behind those procedures (the why of education) that is at the heart of the criticism.

To further address some of these concerns, educator Dan Meyer along with Education Week opinion blogger Justin Reich have launched a contest inviting others to create critiques of Khan Academy videos and post them to YouTube, with $750 in prize money. (An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly stated that Dave Coffey would be sponsoring the contest.) All videos are tagged with #MMT2K in honor of the first video, titled Mystery Teacher Theater 2000. Winners will be chosen by August 15. Two winners, the grand prize and people’s choice, will receive $250, while the second prize winner will take home $150, and the third prize winner will receive $100.

What do you think? Are Coffey and Golden splitting hairs in their critique of the Khan Academy videos? Or are they effectively keeping the organization in check? Are you planning on throwing your hat into the ring by creating a video yourself?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.