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higher education, integration, pedagogy, student learning

Khan Academy Founder Proposes a New Type of College

Salman Khan’s thoughts on the future of education – one that advocates for greater emphasis on mentoring and less emphasis on grading – resonate deeply with me. I am remembering my first grad school encounter with Robert M. Pirsig’s 1974 novel, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values,” and thinking about his struggles with philosophical and ethcial issues re: educational conventions, and his ideas for the possibility of transformative teaching and learning practices and a new educational ethos. I love Khan’s ideas about incubator-type peer learning and everyone taking the time to actively learn, reflect, and share what this new model could provide. There seem to be some interesting ties from what Khan is proposing (mostly for the K-12 world) to higher education.

Two of Pirsig’s ideas strike me at this moment. He said that, “we’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.” He also said, “when analytic thought, the knife, is applied to experience, something is always killed in the process.” Giving students and professors time to work and thinking and learn and do in a supportive, active learning environment is crucial and in some significant ways, antithetical to the old notion of teaching to exams where students memorize and regurgitate information that is never reflected on, synthesized, or ultimately valued (let alone, remembered). Here’s the Chronicle article, and if you’ve you read the book – let me know what you think!

From today’s Chronicle

Khan Academy Founder Proposes a New Type of College
November 29, 2012, 2:20 pm – The Chronicle
By Alisha Azevedo

Salman Khan’s dream college looks very different from the typical four-year institution.

The founder of Khan Academy, a popular site that offers free online video lectures about a variety of subjects, lays out his thoughts on the future of education in his book, The One World School House: Education Reimagined, released last month. Though most of the work describes Mr. Khan’s experiences with Khan Academy and his suggestions for changing elementary- and secondary-school systems, he does devote a few chapters to higher education.

In a chapter titled “What College Could Be Like,” Mr. Khan conjures an image of a new campus in Silicon Valley where students would spend their days working on internships and projects with mentors, and would continue their education with self-paced learning similar to that of Khan Academy. The students would attend ungraded seminars at night on art and literature, and the faculty would consist of professionals the students would work with as well as traditional professors.

“Traditional universities proudly list the Nobel laureates they have on campus (most of whom have little to no interaction with students),” he writes. “Our university would list the great entrepreneurs, inventors, and executives serving as student advisers and mentors.”

Mr. Khan writes that he admires the work of Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, who set up a fellowship program for college students to drop out and pursue entrepreneurship with the help of financial backing and mentors. But he believes living on a college campus is more valuable than Mr. Thiel acknowledges. “Grow Thiel’s fellowship to several hundred students a year; allow them to be mentored in various settings, not just one where they are starting a venture; house the students in an inspiring residential campus; and give them a scaffold of academics, and we are talking about almost the same thing,” he writes.

In the book, Mr. Khan also advocates for a separation of universities’ teaching and credentialing roles, arguing that if students could take internationally recognized assessments to prove themselves, the playing field would be leveled between students pursuing different forms of higher education. Although students would not be graded in the imagined university he describes, they would compile a portfolio of their work and assessments from their mentors.

“Existing campuses could move in this direction by de-emphasizing or eliminating lecture-based courses, having their students more engaged in research and co-ops in the broader world, and having more faculty with broad backgrounds who show a deep desire to mentor students,” he writes.


About judithcoe

I am a retired music professor emerita, faculty development champion, SoTL practitioner mentor and trainer, technology geek, fulbright alum, cultural ambassador, digital explorer, artist, and observer with a passion for Irish land- and seascapes, music and literature, Blasket Island people and culture, and the sea.


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