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RISE OF THE KHAN (ACADEMY)

RISE OF THE KHAN (ACADEMY)

It’s a well-known story now:  A young engineer and hedge fund analyst begins helping his niece understand algebra during a family visit.  The lessons work so well that the young man continues to tutor the girl online using Yahoo’s Doodle notepad.  Then, other relatives and friends want help in mathematics as well so the analyst moves his tutorials to YouTube where he creates an account so he can meet the demand for his help and…

But, wait.  There’s a YouTube video that’s a collaborative effort of Reddit’s entrepreneur community and the Google Cloud Platform called “Sal Khan’s (Khan Academy) Formative Moment.”  It tells the story better than I can.  CLICK HERE to see the video….

HOW IT GREW

In the beginning, the teaching videos were hand-made by Khan for his cousins.  The earliest ones were about math and followed the interests and needs of the cousins.   The videos show step-by-step doodles and diagrams on an electronic blackboard.

As he put them together, Khan presented short, often funny, lectures explaining what he was doing and why.  Khan listened to the feedback from the cousins, working with them to make the things more effective as learning tools for his students.  He was surprised when the videos attracted the attention of literally thousands of viewers from around the world.

Later, after Khan had quit his day-job and stayed home, working with his close friend Josh Gefner to develop the content of his YouTube channel; after they put up the Khan Academy website (khanacademy.org) as a wrapper for the videos hosted on YouTube; after Khan spent a great deal of effort and time promoting the Academy and their mission; and after the Academy began receiving donations to support their work, it began to grow by leaps and bounds.

The Academy was able to expand its faculty and offer courses about history, healthcare, medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, cosmology, American civics, art history, economics, music, computer programming and computer science.  The lesson library continues to grow.

The organization also developed a network of content specialists who help put together the courses as well. Besides the broader range of subjects and lessons, updates have included collaborations with the Stanford Medical School, and even math and science explorations with NBA star LeBron James.

In August 2015 Khan Academy partnered with Disney & Pixar Animation Studios to launch Pixar in a Box on Khan Academy. The goal, they said, was to show how academic concepts students learn in school are used to solve creative challenges in the making of Pixar films.

HOW IT MORPHED

All of the videos available on the Khan Academy website are licensed under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) 3.0 license.  Khan really did mean it when he said he wanted to make opportunities for learning available for everybody.

Tools on the website like the Coach Resources section (aimed at parents, tutors and teachers) has helpful tutorials on using the site as well as monitoring software to help track the progress of students.  An adaptive web-based exercise system that generates problems for students based on their skill and performance was also developed.   Teachers and tutors could track a student’s progress without having to subject them to the stress of testing.

Software for doing the exercises with feedback and continued assessment was made available as an open source project under the MIT License.

The dashboard on the site improved over time.  Navigation got easier and lessons could be recommended based on student progress.  Students were able to pause the lessons and return to it at a later time.

A companion iPad app allowed video downloads for off-line viewing.  Meanwhile assorted non-profit groups distributed offline versions of the videos to rural areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Over the years, thousands of Khan Academy resources have been translated into other languages and is supported by partners and volunteers in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Turkish, Hindi, Indonesian, German, Czeck, Italian, Swahili, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Polish, Russian, Turkish, Xhosa, Greek, Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Malayalam, and Chinese.

The website has been translated to 23 languages and its videos to 65.  There are seven “official” websites now, each in a different language.

On September 15, 2014, a brick-and-mortar Khan Lab School opened in Mountain View, California.  The work continues.

HERE’S THE REAL

Khan and his Academy have won all kinds of prestigious awards nationally and internationally.  The Academy is entirely supported by donations from assorted foundations and is used as a tool by many educators and parents, mostly because it apparently works.  Kids and adults learn.  They like it.

Students can sign up using a Google or Facebook account.  An e-mail address will also work.

Khan wrote a book about his vision of education, THE ONE WORLD SCHOOLHOUSE:  Education Reimagined,  in 2013.  In it he presents a case for returning to “mastery learning,” a concept that, he says, was abandoned in the last century.

the-one-world-school-house
The One World School House (via Amazon.com)

LOVE IT, HATE IT…WHATEVER

The Academy and Khan do have detractors.  Professional educators who don’t like the Academy harp on the fact that Khan does not have a background in pedagogy.  What’s “pedagogy”?  Apparently, it is the “art and science of teaching.” It’s the way teachers teach and nurture child development according to the theories behind modern education methods.  There are different flavors of pedagogy and a number of different schools of thought.

Khan and the instructors who put together videos for the Academy don’t work on trying to develop anything in their students.  They just want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how to solve a particular problem and to add to the factoids and thoughts already in the learners’ heads.

The Khan Academy seems to have some virulent haters as well as rabid fans.  The critics say there is nothing “new” about teaching through lectures.  Some haters have even gone so far as to call Khan “boring” and “incompetent.”

It is true that the Academy lesson videos are basically just simple lectures that show students how to do things.  They tend to present the practical, procedural side of things.

Sometimes there are inaccuracies and errors.  There are sometimes confusing bits in some of the videos, especially when the whys and wherefores of a system of doing things are discussed.  These inconsistencies are quickly corrected when they are found.

The videos themselves are plain.  There’s no music, no distracting cartoons, no fancy tricks, and no talking heads in them.  There’s just the lesson.

Students can concentrate and focus on what they are doing.  The best thing about these videos is that the students control the pace of the learning and they can go back over the parts that don’t make sense to them again and again.

Khan points out that he has always said that the Academy can be used as a tool for the classrooms and for education.  He, himself, has never advocated replacing more traditional paths with the Academy videos.  “I think they’re valuable,” he says, “but I’d never say they somehow constitute a complete education.”

The haters, however, especially take issue with Khan’s idea for “flipping the classroom.”  A part of his vision is for students to watch his lecture videos at home, try some of the problems and when the class meets, the students and their teachers can engage and try hands-on projects.  They can have more discussions among peers as well as more one-on-one interactions between the teacher and students.

Academy critics have been called bitter and threatened.  Khan’s “followers” are accused of being a part of a cult.

FINAL THOUGHT

My own thought on this is that Khan has succeeded in making a remarkable product.  Folks remark on it…and the buzz continues.

Here’s another Evan Carmichael offering in his YouTube video series of the “Top 10 Rules for Success.”  Internet entrepreneur and social media marketeer Evan Carmichael has an ongoing project to collect the top ten Rules of Success held by assorted successful people in every field of endeavor.  He’s put together videos featuring writers, artists, musicians, film makers as well as assorted business people.  You may want to check out Carmichael’s website, #BELIEVE (EvanCarmichael.com .)

These are Salman Khan’s top 10:

And here’s a poem:


WRITING DOWN THE BONES

Writing down the bones

Helps in ways that

Echo down through the years.

 

You do not forget so easily….

The daily grind does not wear away

That blade of pain

That lances through your complacency,

Presenting you with the steaming guts

Of another deader-dream.

 

You remember, and you honor

The ephemeral beauty of

The joys that grab your heart and

Buoy it up and up

Until it floats ‘mid nebulous clouds of stars

In the deepest dark,

Catching rides on chuckling comets and

Tickling the edges of black-hole mysteries.

And you savor again the enveloping warmth

Of the welcome home.

 

You do not, cannot muck it up

With think and double-think

When the raw is sitting on the page

Waiting for you to touch it yet again.

 

The lessons transmute and morph into

Axioms that divide into precepts and corollaries

And “whereas-es” and “wherefores” spiral out and out

As your mind expands…

Big enough to contain mountains,

Big enough to cradle the sky…

 

As Dragon uncoils from sleep,

As Phoenix burns in flight,

As Tiger stalks through the underbrush

And Turtle moves, deliberating,

While the winds of change blow through.

 

It’s a hard road, this writing down the bones,

And the tracks of the tears running down your face

Mark the paths down which it takes you.

by Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Salman Khan at TEDx talk (cropped from original by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

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WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE LEFTOVERS?

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE LEFTOVERS?

Art = Process, Art = Exploration, and Art = Discovery.  Playing with your materials, learning a new technique for making a something, honing your craftsmanship and your ability to go further and further into your medium….that’s the glory part.  That’s the part that makes your heart fly.

One day in the middle of doing all this neat stuff you look up and, gee-wow…you’ve gotten way good at the thing you’ve been called to do.  You’ve also got stacks and stacks of, well, stuff.  You now own skill-sets like you wouldn’t believe, but you’re tripping over all the detritus you’ve accumulated and it is interfering with your ability to move any more.

THE DOWNSIDE OF FLYING WITH ANGELS

Novelist Umber Eco has his Franciscan sleuth William of Baskerville expound, “The order that our mind imagines is like a net, or like a ladder, built to attain something.  But afterwards you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless.”

Art is like that, I am thinking.  You work on building some sort of construct that will express or explain some phenomena you’ve encountered.  Out of thin air, you make a something.

And once you’ve done it – whether you’ve been successful or not at coming close to whatever truth you think you’ve seen — it sits there.  It turns into a thing that has to be named and catalogued, displayed or stored, dusted or shined up or ….whatever.

It isn’t the thing you make that is all-fired important, really.  The process and the journey you make getting to that thing is actually what your heart is aiming for.  The making of the thing is the Real in all this….

But then, the thing just sits there.  Stuff piles up in doorways and stacks and piles of stuff cover up windows and take up floor space.  Shortly thereafter your creative impulse gets a bad case of constipation and the flow stops.

To be exclusively concerned with art leads to bulging warehouses full of half-remembered insights.  Hmmm.  The eternal conundrum for every artist I’ve ever known – myself included.

wooden-boxes-of
Wooden Boxes Of….by darkday via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

GUT-THOUGHTS ON ALL THIS

My na’au, my gut, is a bit of a nag.  It whines and whimpers and spends a lot of time making up catastrophic  futures. I get annoyed with it.  I have to keep reminding myself:  Your gut’s job is to be hungry.  Its job is to feed you and keep you safe and warm and good stuff like that.

If you can sell the thing you made and get some sort of (decent) renumeration, my gut tells me, you won’t have to make a steady diet of ramen noodles or live in some cardboard box in an alley or something.  My gut points out that it’s really hard to do artwork when you’re living in a cardboard box or under a bush.  It do go on….

My gut is in charge of survival scheming.  My gut wants me to do marketing and turn the Beauty I make into something that other people will spend good money to get.  My gut likes eating.  Good money means better grinds.  ‘Nuff said.

Every creative gets to do this dance.  Maybe it’s part of the deal.  Who knows?  Obviously, there needs to be some negotiating when heart and gut are at odds.  Otherwise all the push-me, pull-you action will drive you crazy.

THE FORK IN THE ROAD

fork-in-the-road-at-decision-tree
The Fork in the Road at Decision Tree by Wonderlane via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Art that is new or different arises out of NOT being concerned with marketing.   Probably there is no way that an artist can make new or different art while keeping an eye on marketing possibilities.  Finding your own voice requires flying off into strange dimensions and risking getting lost.  The edge of Making is uncomfortable.

On the other hand, traditional marketing is basically about making other people comfortable.   It is a truth:  The traditional marketing mindset is not likely to lead to new or different art.  It mostly leads to same-old with maybe one or two not-so-major alterations so that the whatever-it-is can be touted as “new and improved.”

The theory behind the traditional marketing mindset is that people are more likely to buy something with which they are comfortable.   Strangeness is not comfortable for most people.

One of the acknowledged best of the marketers today is Seth Godin.  Here’s a YouTube video, “Seth Godin:  The Art of Marketing,” put together by TheArtOf.com that touches on his thoughts about marketing.

(All marketer wannabes can CLICK HERE for the full interview.)

As a confused creative, you might find it more palatable than most marketing riffs.  As Godin points out, marketing is no longer just about selling average products to average people.  The Internet, he says, has changed all that.

Some art purists would say — in tones of high-brow disdain — that all marketing is “pandering” to what other people like, what other people know, what they find familiar (and what is similar to whatever some star in their firmament owns or possesses).   The purists accuse the ones who are successful at marketing of being pimps, of “selling out,” and so forth and so on.

Mostly, I notice, the creatives who are good at marketing are really pleased when the things they’ve made have found good homes with other people who have made rooms in their lives for them.  The best sign on a shop window, after all, has to be the one that says “SOLD OUT.”

sold-out
Sold Out by Joshua Ganderson via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
“Product” has to be concerned with marketing or it ain’t product. The end-result of the process that is Art-for-art’s-sake and not product becomes like those pictures Mommy tapes to the refrigerator and like those misshapen clay ashtrays she proudly displays on the coffee table.  Meh….

The thing the purist in you has to remember is this:  Other people are not obliged to pay attention to anything that disconcerts them or that requires effort for them to understand.   They’ve got enough on their plates already and for the most part it is not a part of their jones to make themselves uncomfortable.  Because of this, they may not be ready to exchange their hard-earned bucks for your unsettling visions.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Developing your own voice, it seems to me, is a good thing.  Using it to scream and rant in other people’s ears is not.

Basically what marketing for you as an artist boils down to is learning to hold another person’s hand and taking them little by little into your new-to-them, different world and introducing them to the wonderments you see a little bit at a time.

It becomes another dance.  In it you explore their world as much as you encourage them to explore yours.  In it, you speak heart-to-heart and try to give them a piece of your vision that they will be able to incorporate and integrate into their own world.

Then, when you’ve done all that, you can ask them for their support.  You ask for their permission to keep doing what you do.  If they like it, if they like you, then you will be able to keep on doing your dance (without all of the boxed detritus lying around).  And isn’t that all you really want anyhow?

This YouTube video, “Neil Gaiman’s 10 Rules for Success,” was posted by Internet entrepreneur and social media marketeer Evan Carmichael.  It’s part of an ongoing project of his to collect the top ten Rules of Success held by assorted successful people in every field of endeavor.  He’s put together videos featuring writers, artists, musicians, film makers as well as assorted business people.

 

You may want to check out Carmichael’s website, #BELIEVE ( EvanCarmichael.com .)  The guy’s new book is YOUR ONE WORD:  The Powerful Secret to Creating a Business and Life That Matter.

Here’s a poem:


SELLING OUT

Writers are always selling somebody out.

Poets only sell out themselves…

Or (more often) we chop pieces off ourselves

And try to give away those pieces to

An apathetic crowd.

 

Writers pull out deerstalker caps and magnifying glasses,

Spend their lives dissecting other people’s movies,

Turning knife-sharp eyes to the task,

Looking for the evidence of the lies

Other people tell themselves and the gullible world.

Writers pull out other people’s entrails,

Poke around looking for signs that tell out loud

the sordid pasts and soggy wet dreams

That died along the way.

Writers look for portends in those entrails,

Omens that will clarify what the future holds.

‘Course the subject of the study is dead by then.

(There’s not much future for a gut-amputee.)

 

Poets, on the other hand,

Are writers who inflict

Such Holmesian techniques  upon themselves.

Apparently poets are immortals…

Or maybe they’re just Promethean.

Maybe they regenerate guts

The way starfish grow back arms.

Poet-guts keep growing back,

Ready for yet another ripping out,

Another mucking about.

Poets hunch over with the scalpel and forceps

In their own gloved hands,

Subjecting their own innards to

The scrutiny of their own x-ray eyes.

 

Washing-up is optional.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Collection of Leftovers by Anne Lindblom via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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