SRI Khan Academy study provides important implementation examples

As discussed previously (post one and post two), the SRI study of Khan Academy implementation in schools did not result in a simple answer to the question “does it work?” But the report does provide valuable insights into how several school sites were implemented, and some of their lessons learned during the two year study. In doing so it raises four key points:

  • The implementations are very different from one another,
  • The use of data generated by the Khan platform is as important as the videos and practice problems,
  • The addition of Khan Academy is often part of a larger instructional approach, and the success of Khan cannot be separated from the success of the overall methods, and
  • Most of the schools are experimenting, and changed their approaches during the time when the study was taking place.

Key elements of the study sites include:

Site #2:

An innovative 9th and 10th grade math program in…two small charter high schools that opened in fall 2011. The schools are co-located in a neighborhood where 45% of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. These trailblazing schools emphasize a self-paced learning model, in which students take on significantly more personal responsibility for directing and managing their own learning than is typical at a traditional school. Technology plays a significant role in facilitating this approach… This site was by far the most distinctive of the nine sites participating in the study because of its emphasis on preparing students for college using a self-paced, self-directed learning model. The site’s mission focused on helping students learn how to set learning goals, hold themselves responsible for meeting those goals, and evaluate their own progress continuously along the way. More broadly, these schools encourage students to learn how to advocate for themselves as learners. Its math program was designed to support students’ simultaneous development of content knowledge, academic skills, and critical non-cognitive skills.

During the first year of the study, when use of Khan Academy was mandated for all students, the schools had the highest use levels among study sites, with students spending about 22% of their instructional time on Khan Academy activities, compared to less than 10% at all of the other sites. In the second year, this site’s students used Khan Academy for fewer hours than the first year, because the schools changed their math instruction model to an entirely self-paced, self-directed approach, and Khan Academy use was now entirely at the discretion of students. While students used it for shorter periods of time during the second year of the study, they used it in more independent and innovative ways. This approach was more tightly aligned with the site’s mission, and may be helpful to schools investigating how to use technology to personalize learning and make it more student-directed.

Site #8:

Khan Academy was used on a daily basis by two educators: one teaching an algebra readiness class for ninth graders and a learning lab class, and the other teaching a mixed 9th and 10th grade Algebra 1 class, a mixed 9th and 10th grade geometry class, and a 10th grade Algebra 2 class…The school primarily used Khan Academy to support teacher-directed, whole-class instruction. During the daily math class, all students focused on the same practice problem sets at the same time. Rather than using traditional worksheets, however, they worked online using Khan Academy exercises. This approach may be helpful to schools exploring how to use technology to give students more opportunities to practice their math skills in a way that is integrated into the existing curriculum and also reinforces their teacher-led lessons. The two teachers at this site primarily employed Khan Academy as a resource to help students devote more structured, productive time to practice activities designed to help them fill in gaps in their math knowledge and skills and reinforce skills covered by the teacher in their daily lesson.

Site #9

This middle school used a “rotation” model for its 6th graders, largely because it did not own enough computers for each student to have one. There were only about a dozen netbooks—inexpensive laptop computers designed for Internet access and wireless communication—available for a classroom of about 25 to 30 students. The school devoted a 2-hour daily block of time for 6th grade math instruction, which typically began with a 20-minute whole-class warm-up period consisting of announcements and “mental” math exercises (problem solving without calculator or pen-and-paper). The class then divided into three groups of 8 to 9 students for the rotation stations. Each group spent about 30 minutes at each of the three stations, one of which was Khan Academy. At a second station, students worked in a small group with a teacher who gave a mini-lesson, and at the third students practiced independently on math worksheets or took an assessment. One day of class each week was reserved for whole-group instruction, activities, or testing.

The question is often raised in simple form: does using Khan Academy work? The variety in the above implementation descriptions demonstrates why the question cannot be answered simply. Even if one implementation was shown to work (and none were), that finding would not apply to other implementations.