Thursday, July 26, 2012

Videos and Learning - It's The Questions, Not the Answers

There have been some recent articles about Khan Academy that have me thinking about videos and student learning. Karim Kai Ani, the founder of Mathalicious (@mathalicious) and the Math52 kickstarter program wrote a piece entitled "Khan Academy: The Hype and the Reality". Christopher Danielson and Michael Paul GHoldenberg wrote a similar piece entitled "How Well Does Khan Academy Teach?".  Both articles focused on the hype around Khan Academy, and how the quality, pedagogy, and accuracy of these videos has been overlooked. Instead, this resource has been elevated to kind of ridiculous heights because we are looking for, as Ani puts it, "the silver bullet" to solve our educational problems.  Both very well written pieces with excellent points, so I suggest you read them.

My question is why are we thinking that videos for learning, particularly in mathematics, have to be how-to type, or answers to questions such as "how do I solve a linear equation" (the Khan Academy type). Basically, the videos answer a 'how do I ...." or a "what is..." question.  Rather, we should focus on videos that lead to questions. It is through questions that students generate and seek to find answers and in turn, where they truly learn.  Not when they are given the answers to questions that they don't really care about.

Much easier to show what I mean, so I have a quick comparison between an "Answer" video versus a "Question" video.

"Answer Video" - A Prime Number is.... (Khan Academy video)

"Question Video" - What are prime numbers and so many more questions! (Vi Hart video)

Now - both videos talk about prime numbers (Vi Hart's obviously goes off into other things). But what I want to point out is that the first one is focused on answering the question by showing "these are prime numbers and here's how to find them." The second video (let's just focus on the prime number part) does talk about finding primes briefly, but really it creates a situation where prime numbers become fascinating, leading students to ask the question "what is a prime number and how the heck do I find them?" And leads to even more questions, like perhaps what does that largest prime number actually look like? Can I make prime spirals?

Questioning videos lead to more and more questions and desire to find out and explore - emergent learning if you will. Answering videos - not so much. Instead, it's "I got my answer, so I am now done." These type videos boil math down to a bunch of memorized steps, which is unfortunately what students have come to expect from math.

Teaching should be engaging and help students ask questions that lead to exploring, discovering, learning and yes, more questions. If you are going to utilize videos in your classroom or in a blended or flipped environment, use the power of the technology and find (or create) videos that create questions, not just provide answers.  It's through questioning that we learn.

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