August 14, 2012By Lance Baily

Khan Academy Revolutionizes Computer Science Education

Techcrunch has put up an article about Khan Academy’s latest development in online education. What is the Khan Academy?

Khan Academy is an educational non-profit focused on providing high-quality education for everyone. They produce a collection of free online micro lectures on a variety of different subjects, including mathematics, history, computer science, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and economics. Khan Academy also incorporates game mechanics into their system by awarding students with badges for reaching certain skill levels.”

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The TechCrunch article highlights KA’s new online computer science education system which is free for the entire world.  The article explicates:

“The new Computer Science site focuses on the critical early adolescent years, where children broaden (or narrow) their interests and identity before high school. The lessons don’t get much more complicated than basic algebra, and how these intuitive mathematical concepts can create powerful artistic, video game, and website experiences. “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. One of the most advanced lessons, for instance, is a replication of Pac-Man (i.e. a circle eating other smaller circles) and stops short of a university-level Computer Science course.

The heart of the design places a simplified, interactive text editor that sits adjacent to the code’s drawing output, which updates in real time as students explore how different variables and numbers change the size, shapes, and colors of their new creation. An optional video guides students through the lesson, step-by-step, and, most importantly, can be paused at any point so that they can tinker with the drawing as curiosity and confusion arise during the process.

This part is key: learning is contextual and idiosyncratic; students better absorb new material if they can learn at their own pace and see the result of different options in realtime.

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The pedagogy fits squarely into what educators called “scaffolded problem-based learning”; students solve real-life problems and are encouraged to explore, but are guided by a teacher along the way, who can point out novel ways of accomplishing the task.”

While not directly related to medical simulation, this article reminds us that online learning opportunities will continue to become more and more relevant in simulation labs as the internet’s role in education continues to expand.

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