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Interviews: Ask Lead Developer Ben Kamens About Khan Academy 69

Ben Kamens spent over 5 years at Fog Creek, eventually working his way up to VP of engineering. However, after watching one of Salman Khan's talks he started to volunteer his time at Khan Academy, and is now the lead developer. In-between providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere, he's graciously agreed to answer some of your questions. As usual, ask as many questions as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Interviews: Ask Lead Developer Ben Kamens About Khan Academy

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  • Higher Education (Score:5, Interesting)

    by null etc. ( 524767 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:10PM (#42863939)

    Joel Spolsky has famously stated that he prefers software engineers who come from highly accredited universities, preferably Ivy-league. His thought is that one has to distinguish oneself in order to be granted admission to such places. Do you think that Joel's opinion, and those of other elitist employers, will change with the introduction of free, quality online education?

  • lead dev (Score:2, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:17PM (#42864033)

    Lead dev, eh? I'm betting you sit in on lots of spec definition meetings. Maybe with The Man himself. Does he give informal presentations just like the real lectures or ? Feel free to lie if the answer would get you fired. Hmm maybe this question sucks.

    Ah F it that was dumb lets ask something more realistic. I always ask coder/tech types whats their coolest hack / coolest piece of code. Not something else someone else did, not some giant overall project or vague thing like "world peace" just your coolest isolated to one individual "thing" hack. Something they did personally not hired someone else to do, or something their boss did. Maybe in your LOB its an amazing caching technique, or an astounding way to compress video or whatever. Or some astounding workflow thingy. A short story just a paragraph no more. The kind of thing a /. audience would respond with "cool!" when they read it.

  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:37PM (#42864327) Homepage Journal
    Lecture has ruled the classroom for hundreds of years, usurping the dialogue. However we now know that lecture is not effective for all students, and probably more damming, is may not be effective at teach concepts that students are not previously familiar []

    As Khan Academy, at least in my exposure to it, is about listening to someone talk watching writing on a board, do you think that this is teaching good pedagogy? Do you think it reinforces the idea that visual learners are the smartest people, the people who deserve to be educated? Is there any plans to expand the current format ot include other learning styles. For instance, I am not one of those that thinks manipulative have to be used in math, but I do think a math classroom with no manipulative is not as reaching to as broed a learner base as it could be. Or having an interactive element where a formative assessment might be conducted during the video?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 11, 2013 @04:56PM (#42864603)

    I'm a middle school teacher experimenting with using KA with my classes. I think it is an amazing tool, especially for differentiation -- helping teachers to help their students who are behind have successes in math and, ideally, work towards getting caught back up to their peers. I think it can allow math teachers to do more interesting and fun (non-drill) types of work in the classroom, such as focusing more on students learning by doing open-ended, authentic, rich projects with each other.

    The key word there is that I *think* it must be helpful to the type of classroom described above. I want to know it is, and as part of our practice in Ontario, Canada, it is encouraged that teachers engage in personal inquiry projects to get more data on whether what we think is working actually is. It is difficult to get the data I need out of KA. We're having to do a lot of manual grabbing of student usage times and populating spreadsheets with that. Any plans to extend the external API to allow more sophisticated queries? Or, perhaps plans to provide a tool allowing more extensive data dumps which researchers can use?

    And if you don't have plans at the moment, does this post influence that? ;-) With a more thorough access to student data, I expect there will be researchers who will be more interested in investigating KA in their research and fleshing out the actual benefits (and also any issues that might be addressed).

    My students and I thank you!

    (mr.walker at walker-clan dot com)

Think of your family tonight. Try to crawl home after the computer crashes.