Idaho Initiative to Integrate Khan Academy Video Content

By Katie Ash — March 12, 2013 5 min read
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More than 10,000 students in nearly four dozen schools across Idaho will log into newly created Khan Academy accounts during the 2013-14 school year as part of an initiative that aims to infuse technology into instruction and supplement teachers’ curricula.

In the first such statewide effort in the country to integrate content from the online Khan Academy into school curricula, the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, a private philanthropy in Boise, Idaho, will hand out nearly $1.5 million in grants to 47 schools for technology, professional development, and research to determine the impact of Khan Academy resources on teaching and learning.

“We really believe Idaho can be a leader in championing rural education solutions,” said Jamie MacMillan, the executive director of the foundation, which announced the grants on Feb. 28. “This is a tremendous opportunity to start to address some of the equity gaps that can be a reality in a lot of our states.”

The Khan Academy, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit organization launched in 2008, is the brainchild of Salman Khan, a former hedge-fund manager and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate who began making online videos to help his young relatives with their homework. Those early tutoring videos spawned a library of more than 4,000 videos on a variety of academic subjects.

The academy has also expanded beyond videos to include practice problems for students, a back-end summary of classroom performance for teachers, and a knowledge map that connects subjects in a progression designed to guide students’ advance through the resources.

Rolling out the Initiative

• The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation has set aside $1.5 million for the use of the free Khan Academy videos and other resources in Idaho schools. The money is for the purchase of new technologies, professional development, and research to evaluate the initiative’s impact.

• Educators from interested schools applied for grants from the foundation to take part in the pilot program. Applicants were asked to outline their plans for spending the money.

• More than 75 schools applied to be participants, and grants were awarded to 47 regular public, charter, and private schools throughout the state.

• Northwest Nazarene University’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning was established with funding from the Albertson foundation to provide professional development to educators from the grant-winning schools and conduct research to determine the imp[act of the pilot program.

• Northwest Nazarene University will conduct professional-development sessions in April and July before schools roll out digital devices to students for the 2013-14 school year.

SOURCE: Education Week

Training and Access

All the resources are available for use on the organization’s website for free, but training teachers and providing the technology students need to access the resources requires funding—which is where the Albertson Foundation plans to help.

The foundation hosted a two-day conference in Boise in October with 200 educators from all over the state that explored how best to use the Khan Academy material in classrooms. After the conference, the Khan Academy saw its usage in Idaho jump by 70 percent.

“There was a lot of interest in blended learning and Khan Academy, but there’s a bit of apprehension from schools, communities, and educators on how to do it well,” said Ms. MacMillan, from the foundation. She hopes the partnership with Nampa, Idaho-based Northwest Nazarene University, which will spearhead the professional development and research part of the initiative, will address some of those concerns.

Hailed as a game changer by many educators, the Khan Academy also has its detractors. The videos, and Mr. Khan’s teaching methods, came under scrutiny last summer after a video created by two professors criticizing his pedagogy went viral.

The teaching method most associated with the use of educational videos on sites such as the Khan Academy, called the “flipped classroom"—in which students learn content by watching the videos at home, freeing up class time for hands-on activities—has garnered criticism from some educators. They say that flipping is simply a high-tech version of an antiquated instructional technique: lecturing.

Maureen Suhendra, part of the school implementation team for the Khan Academy, said that equating the academy to the flipped classroom was a common misconception.

“When I talk to teachers, I don’t mention the flipped classroom because it’s essentially perpetuating this one-pace-for-all-students technique,” she said. Beyond the videos themselves, the practice activities and data reports play a critical role in classroom implementation, said Ms. Suhendra.

“What we like to see are really interactive exploratory places where teachers are using data to personalize education, and where students are really taking ownership over their own learning and becoming very self-aware of where they are and where they want to go,” she said.

Personalized Learning

Adam Hanan is a math teacher at the 400-student Kellogg High School, located in a rural part of Idaho sandwiched between Washington and Montana, who applied for the grant money.

Khan Academy could help teachers prepare for changes in curriculum because of the common core, he said.

Mr. Hanan already has experience incorporating the videos into his classes.

“You can’t always bring in another [physical] person to re-explain [concepts] in a different way,” he said. “The videos and the practice on Khan Academy work really well to do that.”

The school plans to use the grant money, just under $50,000, to buy three or four classroom sets of yet-to-be-determined devices that students will check out at the beginning of class and check back in when the class is over, said Mr. Hanan. Right now, the 1,300-student Kellogg Joint School District No. 391 is deciding whether to purchase iPads, laptops, or another type of tablet, he said.

He hopes the pilot program will allow math teachers in his school to individualize instruction for students and pinpoint areas where they may be struggling.

Hillcrest High School, in the 10,500-student Bonneville Joint School District No. 93 outside Idaho Falls, also received a grant to participate in the pilot. The school will receive $32,600 to implement the program.

Annie Reichelt, a life-sciences teacher in the 1,350-student school, was part of a four-person team that applied for the grant.

“We realize that there’s not enough time for the teacher to be able to really effectively go around to all 32 of our kids and figure out where they’re at,” she said. “This is a way that technology can support each teacher so the kids can self-pace a little bit better.”

Identifying Best Practices

The Khan Academy videos and other resources will be integrated into English, science, and health classes at Hillcrest High to bolster math performance through cross-curricular connections, Ms. Reichelt said. While the school has not yet decided which devices to buy, students will use the devices and the Khan Academy resources daily in participating classes, she said.

Eric Kellerer, the director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Northwest Nazarene University in Boise, Idaho, will lead the efforts to examine the impact of the pilot program, particularly in math classes, as well as provide professional development to teachers participating in it. The center is also funded by the Albertson Foundation.

“All of the schools will be doing pre-, mid-, and post-testing throughout this process,” Mr. Kellerer said. He will evaluate data from the Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Evaluation Association’s adaptive Measures of Academic Progress assessment, Idaho’s state assessments, and qualitative research gathered from student and teacher interviews to determine best practices and potential pitfalls.

Each district or school is in charge of its own implementation, which means that there will be a multitude of different techniques to study, Mr. Kellerer said. And since only a small proportion of Idaho students will be taking part in the pilot, there will be ample opportunities to compare their performance with that of students who are not participating in order to measure the impact of the effort.

Coverage of entrepreneurship and innovation in education and school design is supported in part by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2013 edition of Education Week as Idaho Pilots Effort to Integrate Khan Academy Videos


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