Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Which Way to a Better Education...and Future? Part 1

If you haven't already read it, check out the Aug. 3, 2013 Wall Street Journal.  In that edition, you will find an excellent article about the "The $4 Million Teacher".  In short, Kim Ki-Hoon has become famous as an educator in much the same way that Salman Kahn has:  by using the internet to deliver educational offerings. The last paragraph of the piece is very telling, to me...
"No country has all the answers. But in an information-driven global economy, a few truths are becoming universal: Children need to know how to think critically in math, reading and science; they must be driven; and they must learn how to adapt, since they will be doing it all their lives. These demands require that schools change, too—or the free market may do it for them."
While I agree that there needs to be wholesale adjustments (even changes) in education...what we teach, how it's taught, where it's taught, and the expectations of education...I am not sure that the free market is currently making those changes as the article suggests.  To me, it looks like the free market is taking advantage of a confused, scared market segment to make money.  That's not a bad thing, but it certainly is NOT a solution.

We all know the story of Kahn Academy.  Their product is offered free and their work is supported by grants and donations.  The product itself is screencasts of short tutorial sessions.  By being short, available any time, reviewable, and freely available, students are more likely to connect to the material by simple repetition and varied perspectives.*

In the case of Kim Ki-Hoon, he is making a mass market tutorial service.  Back in my PhD days, I tutored physical chemistry and general chemistry.  If you wanted 1:1 tutoring, it was $15/hr.  I adjusted the price per hour if you changed the ratio:  2:1 for $12/hr; 3:1 for $10/hr; 4:1 for $7.50/hr.  Obviously, it is advantageous to everyone if groups of 4 were tutored together.  I would make more money for less contact hours and the students paid less for the hours they needed (also, they helped each other and benefited by talking with peers).  Kim Ki-Hoon has done this on a massive scale, where his tutor services are not face-to-face but internet based and only cost $4/hr.  He is obviously a very good and hard working instructor, as he has had great success in student scores and in income.

I am certain that students who utilize the offerings above do see improved grades or test scores, as both services report.  Of course, because the students who use Kahn Academy, etc are actually studying for their courses!!  If we researched the difference in test scores between students who study and those who don't study, which would be higher?  So, it is inevitable that driven students (those who seek out and utilize online assistance) are more likely to succeed on exams.  To be fair, I would expect the comparison of a student who studied in the traditional way compared to a student who used the online offerings to favor the student using the online method.  Why?  Because these students are experiencing the material from a different voice the second time through (not the same notes, book, teacher over and over), which increases the chance that the material will hit home.

To summarize, the online tutorial services are an excellent resource to the failing educational system (in the US and, it appears, in Korea).  However, the methods utilized are neither educationally special nor progressive...they are merely portable, reviewable short lectures that are available when the student is ready to learn.  If anything, that's what we need to take from the success:  students utilize time differently than in the past and the schools need to adapt to that change in behavior by making .

I leave you with one question concerning these successful internet education offerings.  While students show improvements in their scores on tests, is there any benefit to long term learning, critical thinking and understanding?  I ask this because I don't believe our standardized tests look into these aspects and the jury is still out concerning the matter.  If our goal as instructors (not the government statisticians and administrators who report to them) is to create learned thinkers, then we need to know if such online tutorials are more than just creating skilled test takers.
*Disclaimer.  I am fan of video tutorials and make them myself.  Since 2005, I have used Camtasia Studio and Snag It to create videos in my classes to (1) cover material we don't have time to in class, (2) give a second derivation or explanation of a concept, (3) provide a worked out example problem or (4) flip the classroom and use in-class time to practice what was learned.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Z. At some point could you share with us what structural changes you see as essential to the Public Education K-12 US system so as to effect change you see necessary. There seem to be hundreds if not thousands of school districts each with its own view of education. How willing are teachers to be agents of change.


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