A Khan Academy Experience

A review of an online educational resource from the Khan Academy.

I started this task on my smartphone, searching within the Khan Academy Biology videos on YouTube. I chose to look at “Fun with Punnett Squares”, because my background is in Genetics so I was interested in the topic and ready for a fun-filled video. I was hoping it would be engaging, because at 25 minutes it seemed quite long.

The embedded video below provides an experience similar to that on a smartphone.


Unfortunately I had a few issues with the video, as follows.

1. General navigation in the Khan Academy
This was the opening screen:


and the lecturer began, “In the last video I drew this grid…”

This was quite a confusing image to start out with, and immediately raised the question: should I watch the previous video before starting on this one? With no structured navigation, I didn’t know how to find “the last video”, so I just carried on and hoped that things would become clear.

2. Quality – Factual errors / Lack of clarity
Next, the lecturer started talking about the derivation of “Punnett square” and said that it was named after punnets in a farmers’ market, which is incorrect; it is named after the person who developed the concept, Reginald Punnett.

Overall, I found the production poor. The lecturer did not follow a script and so some of the voiceover was a little confusing. It is difficult to be clear and accurate when discussing genetics, constantly referring to “Big B, little b”, etc, so a script would be especially helpful for this topic. It may make the lecture less engaging and spontaneous, but it would ensure that everything was described clearly and correctly.

3. Internal navigation in the video
I wanted to skip forward in the video to look at dihybrid crosses, but there were no navigation clues, such as headings, so I either had to scroll forward until I found the topic by chance or watch all the way through.

Watching the same video on the YouTube site on a PC provided some better functionality which helped with this navigation issue. (You can experience this by clicking on the YouTube icon at the bottom right of the embedded video above; this will open the video in YouTube in a new tab or window.)

Firstly there is the ability to watch the video at a faster speed, to whizz through the video when searching for a particular part. Secondly, a transcript is available, so you can scan through the text to find the part of interest and click on the text to go straight to that part of the video.

In addition, there are comments on the YouTube site which point out some of the inaccuracies in the video, for example restoring Mr Punnett to his rightful place as the inventor of the square.

Watching the video on the YouTube site on a PC provides an enhanced experience compared with watching in the embedded viewer or on a smartphone, and overcomes some of the drawbacks of the production.

Subsequently I found same video on the Khan Academy website – http://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/heredity-and-genetics/v/punnett-square-fun

This enhances the experience still further; for example, it sets the video in context with others in the series, so it is possible to watch them in sequence.

As on YouTube, the webpage includes the ability to vary the speed of the video and view the interactive transcript, but it also includes comments, questions and answers, and the ability to report errors. On the Khan website, the video has been annotated to include details of the Punnett error (at around 0:53 in the video).

When directing students to an external resource, is it better to embed the resource within your own content (e.g. in a VLE) or to link out? There may be increased functionality on the original website, but also there may be distractions, especially on YouTube.

And how do we deal with the quality issue? I would have expected this material to be error free. Is it up to lecturers to check all material that they link to and provide corrections where necessary?





3 thoughts on “A Khan Academy Experience

  1. Hi Moira
    Found it interesting to read about your Khan academy experience. Apparently those video lessons are not well suited for learning using a mobile device such as a smartphone.The video length of 25 minutes seems too long for me, however I have seen shorter Video lessons at Khan academy.

    When integrating external video resources into a course, I try to embed them directly into pages of the LMS (moodle) together with other information. Often, my problem is that the space of the content area is too small for the video, which is a layout issue I cant change. So student prefer watching the video directly on youtube, in this case the videos are software tutorials, and the videos should be viewable at the larger size to see the details. As you say it can be distracting, but student could also find further information there.

    Relating to the quality issue, well I think it is the lecturers job to evaluate the external resource before using it as teaching material. This can be a very time-consuming task, I know. Why not extend the learning activity around the external resource and let the student make suggestion or correction on the resource?

    • Thank you very much for your comment, cinzia.

      I agree that shorter videos are better, especially if they can be provided alongside some structure/navigation, as you are doing in your moodle course. And it is easy for students to go from the embedded video to YouTube, so they can make the choice of where to view.

      Like you, if I embed or link to something then I want to have checked the quality. But what about, for example, other videos in the Khan Academy website? If I have checked one and linked to it, it doesn’t mean that all the others in the sequence are also suitable/correct. This is an important learning point for students.

      • I looked only at one single resource to include for an activity. That is true, students may look at other resources they found there and automatically may assume it is a trusted website because its provided by the teacher. I understand the problem. Think we should explain that they have to critically look at the information and maybe give some guidance at begin. It also depends on the target group and level of knowledge they have about the topic.

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