Educators all over the world are struggling to motivate students to take up technology-related majors and really to just learn in general. An Online Education start up known widely as Khan Academy, has a fantastic approach to this issue. “Computer Science is an intensely creative field,” says Shantanu Sinha, the President of Khan Academy. Sinha gave TechCrunch an exclusive look into their new education portal that will teach Computer Science fundamentals through interactive drawing. “We really wanted to focus on creating something that could inspire young children, and get them excited and motivated to explore CS further,” he continued.
This interactive design is a major step for the website that has been almost based on YouTube lectures. Online Education is always supposedly getting what people call “revolutionary” ideas, which usually just happened to be someone else’s idea with an added feature. Often, it’s almost just a recycled version of our current education system in a digital format too. That said, the Khan Academy Computer Science project is what I would deem beyond what anyone else has thought of. I am majorly impressed.
This new Computer Science portal will focus on the early adolescent years, where children usually narrow their interests and identity before getting ready to enter High School. The lessons that you will go through aren’t anymore complicated than the standard basic algebra along with how these mathematical concepts can create innovative video games and/or websites. “We wanted to create something that could get anyone with minimal knowledge of Computer Science really excited by the field–no matter what their age or situation,” says Sinha. The most advanced lesson is currently a replication of Pac-Man. Any advanced lessons will stop short of a college-level Computer Science class. The simplicity of the portal simply amazes me. Now people who Homeschool (which is getting more and more popular as the education system is taking a dive for the worse) will have an easy way to teach their Children what Computer Science is in a simplistic way. Who knows, it’s even possible that public schools could start adding this into their class rooms too!
Similar to CodeAcademy (again, aimed for the younger generation though), the design of the portal places a simplified interactive text editor that sits right beside the code’s output. The code’s output or “canvas” updates in real-time while students learn how different variables and numbers can completely change how the program works. Optional video guides helps students using this course through the lesson, step-by-step. One of the better parts of the video is that you can pause at any point so the student can tinker around with all the code as he/she becomes more curious about what’s going on. The video is definitely aimed towards the younger generation and is core and helpful process in teaching the student how to learn. Anyone can take the course, but again, you will probably find that it’s aimed towards adolescents.
The most key part of this new portal is that learning is contextual and idiosyncratic. It’s probably better said that if students are interested in a subject and have a way to help them understand, they’ll be excited to learn about the subject and therefore, will pick it up easily. Students will absorb new ideas or materials if they have the choice to learn at their own pace and see the consequences of every action they make in real time. Having a video aimed at the younger generation is also a key element as it usually brings the subject down to their level instead of trying to get them to understand what a 30 year old mind is thinking that is well advanced in Computer Science.
The system works wonderfully. Educators often call it “scaffolded problem-based learning.” Essentially students will be solving real-life problems while being encouraged to explore, but are also guided by a teacher along their way, who will be able to point out a number of different ways of accomplishing the problem. Scaffolded learning acknowledges that real-life problems will always have more than one way to solve the solution, that students will always learn best by doing instead of watching, and that curiously should drive exploration (as a personal thought, it’s kind of funny that we’re basically finding things out that were already discovered hundreds of years ago).
I really think this is a fantastic way for people to learn Computer Science. In fact, I can’t wait to see what else Mr. Sinha and Sal have up their sleeves. It’ll be interesting to watch how Khan Academy will progress forward from now on. I wonder if this new portal will have a influence on any future courses they will be putting up? If it does, I wouldn’t be surprised if Khan Academy could potentially be one of the first online accredited learning platforms as it becomes more and more popular. Obviously they’d have some work to do to become that and who even knows if they want that, but it would be a pretty cool thing to happen I think. Imagine how much more popular that website would be!
What do you think about this new portal for learning Computer Science? Will you be using it to teach your children and do you think that this is the future of how Computer Science should be taught? Let us know in the comments below, it could be a pretty interesting discussion, no matter the opinion!