Salman Khan is changing the world via the Web, and he’s doing it for free.
The creator and CEO of the free, online Khan Academy, Khan spoke to attendees at the Convening Leaders Final General Session on Wednesday, January 15, about the evolution of his nonprofit educational site and how rethinking education has allowed him to positively change the lives and learning capacity of millions — possibly billions — of people around the world.
Khan, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering and computer science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard University, said that Khan Academy’s instructional videos and exercises are used in more than 150,000 classrooms and bring in upwards of 10 million unique users per month. “That equals out to roughly 5 million questions per day,” he said. “We cover everything from math and science to the humanities, but we are really deep into mathematics.”
Khan explained that, unlike the conventional model of education, his site allows students to learn at their own pace, using an “adaptive assessment environment.” A math student can start at the very lowest level and work his or her way into calculus, or, conversely, immerse himself or herself directly in whichever topic needs be reviewed. “As you master more basic concepts, we will move you on, which is how video games work, but not how a traditional school is set up,” he said. “[Schools] group students together and move them on at a set pace — lecture, homework, repeat for two to three weeks, exam.”
Once the exam comes, students shake out along a grading curve, then move on to what is usually harder-to-understand, more advanced subject matter based in part on the just-completed material. The problem with that model, Khan said, is that while gaps in students’ understanding have been exposed, they’re largely ignored.
“To realize how strange that idea is, think about what the results would be if we did other things like that — say, for example, homebuilding,” Khan said. “You tell the contractor he has three weeks to build the foundation and to just do what he can. By the time you’ve built the fourth floor, everything collapses.
“So when you look at education, it is easy to see that instead of holding fixed when and how a student learns something — judging the student for how well he learns the information — we need to change the model. Every student should be an A student, and the variable should be how and when they have to learn the information.”
Khan said that what’s even better is the online model allows him and his colleagues to gather curriculum-specific educational data that no one has ever seen before. Tools that perform well for Khan Academy serve as the basis for future projects, while tools that don’t can be refined or rebuilt. This evidence-based approach, Khan said, fuels the core idea behind the site — liberating educators from lecturing to open class time for truly human interaction.
“In the [Khan] Academy setting, the tool allows students to work at their own pace,” he said. “Students can help each other, and teachers can do focused interactions where they are needed. This is a tool that can be used to empower amazing teachers.”
Tina Brown: Developing New Events to Tell Important Stories
In the race to get the latest sensational story on a cable news network, website, or Twitter feed, important stories about women — alternately touching and gut-wrenching — can get lost. But renowned publisher and editor Tina Brown has found a way to shine a light on those stories through “theatrical journalism” events, starting with the New York City–based Women in the World Summit, which she founded while she was editor of The Daily Beast website.
“Women are fascinating and have such incredible stories and are so brave in overcoming difficulties in places like India and Egypt and West Africa,” said Brown, who has served as editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazine, and who recently left The Daily Beast, which she founded, to launch Tina Brown Live Media. “They are so exciting to talk to. It is tragic that nobody in America is hearing their stories.
“The media is not that interested in foreign affairs,” Brown said. “When you meet the women, you realize how important they are, so I decided to create a live event to actually spotlight these women, bring them together and allow them to tell their stories to an American audience, and make everyone know how tremendously interesting these places are.”
Brown’s events shine the spotlight on women who are trying to change a culture in India where rape is accepted, on a teenage girl who is excited about working in the male-dominated world of technology, and on a young orphan who overcame harsh conditions in Sierra Leone to become a professional ballet dancer in New York City.
At the first Women in the World Summit, in 2010, Brown got Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, among others, to share the stage with unknown women who had incredible stories. Since then, Brown has developed the Vital Voices program, where the stories of these real women were read by actresses, including Meryl Steep and Marcia Gaye Harden. Vital Voices has since been turned into a play that is presented at small theaters and on college campuses.
The key to drawing attention for these stories has been to get famous women onstage first. “Then, the real women came on stage to join us. It was exciting,” Brown said. “It kicked off two days of conversation with women from the Congo and India.”
Brown shared some tips for how she has succeeded with this new style of event:
- “Have a mission to make the event good. You need a clear mission. Connect it with a story, then you build in other elements.”
- “Use video in a creative way. You can do it inexpensively. It is always a way to engage if it is a storytelling piece.”
- “Audio is so important. Many a great event has been killed by bad acoustics, particularly in our events, where people do not speak perfect English.”
- “It is important to create intimacy. Don’t have barricades between the stage and the audience. Keep the set simple.”
- “Guest management. Many guests are treated callously by event planners.”
In the end, organizing an event requires a planner to be nimble, Brown said, adding: “We thrive on cancellations. You have to be ready when things come up and the whole thing goes south. What happens sometimes is that the fill-in person turns out to be the most exciting person at the event. That is how Women in the World got started. It is the woman you never heard of who has the whole room talking.”