日期:2011-09-22 10:57


Electronic education


Flipping the classroom


Sep 17th 2011 | LOS ALTOS | from the print edition

Hopes that the internet can improve teaching may at last be bearing fruit


THE 12-year-olds filing into Courtney Cadwell’s classroom at Egan Junior High in Los Altos, a leafy suburb of Silicon Valley, each take a white MacBook from a trolley, log on to a website called KhanAcademy.org and begin doing maths exercises. They will not get a lecture from Ms Cadwell, because they have already viewed, at home, various lectures as video clips on KhanAcademy (given by Salman Khan, its founder). And Ms, logged in as a “coach”, can see exactly who has watched which. This means that class time is now free for something else: one-on-one instruction by Ms Cadwell, or what used to be known as tutoring.

Egan初中坐落于硅谷郊外郁郁葱葱的洛斯拉图斯,那里12岁的孩子们选了Courtney Cadwell老师的课程,他们每个人都从手推车里拿一部白色笔记本电脑,然后登陆到KhanAcademy.org网站去做数学题。Cadwell老师用不着再给他们上课,因为学生们已经在家看过了Khan教育网站上的各种授课视频(该网站得名于其创始人Salman Khan)。Cadwell老师以“指导老师”的身份登陆便可以对每位同学的学习进度了如指掌。这样一来,课堂时间就可以留作他用,Cadwell老师可以给学生们作一对一的指导,也就是相当于平常说的家教。

So Ms Cadwell, in her own web browser, pulls up a dashboard where KhanAcademy’s software presents, through the internet, the data the children are producing at that instant. She can view information for the entire class or any individual pupil. Just then she sees two fields, representing modules, turning from green to red, one for Andrea, the other for Asia. Ms Cadwell sees that Andrea is struggling with exponents, Asia with fractions. “Instead of having to guess where my students have gaps, I can see it, at that moment, and I walk over to that one student,” says Ms Cadwell, as she arrives at Asia’s chair.


While the other pupils continue to work at their own pace and at different problems, Ms Cadwell now spends a few minutes just with Andrea and Asia. Soon Andrea has an epiphany and starts firing correct answers, getting, in KhanAcademy’s jargon, a “badge”, then going “transonic”. A few minutes later, Asia also gets a “streak”. She lets out a shriek. Ms Cadwell, with a big smile, is off to another pupil. “The growth in these kids is just staggering,” she says. “This is the future. I don’t see how it couldn’t be.”


This reversal of the traditional teaching methods—with lecturing done outside class time and tutoring (or “homework”) during it—is what Mr Khan calls “the flip”. A synonym for flip, of course, is revolution, and this experiment in Los Altos just might lead to one. For although only a handful of classes in this public-school district tried the method in the last school year, many other schools, private and public, are now expressing interest, and the methodology is spreading.

这颠覆了传统的教学方法,这种模式利用课下时间听课,用上课时间作辅导或是做作业。Khan先生谓之曰“反转互换(flip)”,它的近义词就叫做“革命”(revolution, 兼有翻转和革命的意思),而洛斯拉图斯的这次教学试验有可能带来一场革命。虽然上一个学年在这个公立学校校区内试用了这种方法的班级还在少数,但很多其他学校,不论公立私立都表示出了兴趣,这一方式正在向外传播。

Indeed, philanthropists such as Bill Gates have such high hopes for the new method that they have given money to KhanAcademy, a tiny non-profit organisation based in Mountain View, next to Los Altos. This means that the more than 2,400 video lectures, on anything from arithmetic and finance to chemistry and history, will remain free for anybody.


If KhanAcademy were merely about those online lectures, of course, it would be in good but large company. Increasingly, teachers, professors and other experts make their talks available online: on iTunes, YouTube or university websites. Some, such as Michael Sandel at Harvard with his philosophy lectures, have become minor celebrities. More and more sites exist purely to spread learning—some free, such as AcademicEarth.org; others not, such as TheGreatCourses.com.

当然,若是Khan学院只仅仅提供网络课程,那它就有一大帮的同行了。越来越多的老师教授和其他专家都在iTunes、YouTube或是大学网站上上传了他们的讲说。一些人已经小有名气,比如哈佛大学的Michael Sandel教授。那些专为传道授业的网站也与日俱增,有的是免费的,比如AcademicEarth.org网站,有的则是收费的,比如TheGreatCourses.com网站。

Watching lectures online, or on a smartphone or iPad on the go, has advantages, as Mr Khan has discovered from the huge number of comments he gets on his site. Children (or adults, for that matter) need no longer feel ashamed when they have to review part or all of a lecture several times. So they can advance at their own pace.


But lectures, whether online or in the flesh, play only a limited role in education. Research shows that the human brain accepts new concepts largely through constant recall while interacting socially. This suggests that good teaching must “de-emphasise lecture and emphasise active problem-solving,” says Carl Wieman, a winner of the Nobel prize in physics and an adviser to Barack Obama.

然而,无论是在网上还是在课堂中,这些课程都只能起到有限的教育效果。研究表明,人脑主要是通过在互动中不断回忆来接受新鲜概念。这也就是说高质量的教学必须像Carl Wieman说的那样,要“弱化老师授课,着重鼓励同学主动解决问题”, Carl Wieman是物理学诺贝尔奖得主,也是奥巴马总统的顾问。

To KhanAcademy’s fans, the flip that Mr Khan advocates helps to do just that. As a tool, KhanAcademy individualises teaching and makes it interactive and fun. Maths “is social now,” says Kami Thordarson, as the 10-year-olds in the 5th-grade class she teaches at Santa Rita Elementary School huddle round their laptops to solve arithmetic problems as though they were trading baseball cards or marbles.

对于Khan学院的粉丝们来说,Khan先生所倡导的转变就是要增加互动。Khan学院将教学变得个性化、互动化和娱乐化。数学教学“充满了合作与互动”, Kami Thordarson说道,在她教授的Santa Rita小学五年级的课堂上,一群10岁的小学生挤在电脑旁,他们做数学题的方式就好像在交换宝石或是棒球卡。

The system has its detractors. First, it may not be much use beyond “numerate” subjects such as maths and the sciences; KhanAcademy does have a few history offerings, but they are less convincing than the huge number of maths and science ones. Second, even in these subjects KhanAcademy implicitly reinforces the “sit-and-get” philosophy of teaching, thinks Frank Noschese, a high-school physics teacher in New York. That is, it still “teaches to the test”, without necessarily engaging pupils more deeply. Worse, says Mr Noschese, KhanAcademy’s deliberate “gamification” of learning—all those cute and addictive “meteorite badges”—may have the “disastrous consequence” of making pupils mechanically repeat lower-level exercises to win awards, rather than formulating questions and applying concepts.

这种模式也招致了一些批评。首先,在除了数学和科学这样“屈指可数”的学科之外,这种做法鲜有用武之地。比如比起大量的数学课和科学课来说,Khan学院网站虽然确实有一些历史课程,但数量较少,难以证明这样的方法对这个学科依然奏效。再者,纽约的高中物理老师Frank Noschese认为,即使对数学这样的学科来说,Khan学院暗中强调了“填鸭教育”的教学思维,也就是说,它还是属于“应试教育”,并没有让学生们参与到学科的更深层次。更有甚者,Noschese先生还说,Khan学院有意的使学习“游戏化”,这会产生灾难性的后果,比方说所有那些既有趣又让人上瘾的“彗星徽章”会诱使孩子们为了赢得奖励来不断机械重复低水平的练习。

The teachers now using KhanAcademy counter that it is meant to be merely one, not the only, teaching tool, and that by freeing up class time it also makes possible other projects that do exactly what Mr Noschese promotes. In the fifth-grade class at Santa Rita, the children have made a tile floor (requiring fancy maths to estimate sizes, shapes and numbers). When this correspondent visited, they practised on KhanAcademy but then played SKUNK, a game involving probability.

使用Khan学院网站的教师则表示反对,他们认为这只是其中一种教学手段,而非唯一的选择,而且由此节省下来的课上时间恰恰可以投入到Noschese先生提倡的其他活动中去。利用这段时间,Santa Rita学校五年级的学生们完成了地板制作,这项活动要求同学们发挥想象巧用数学来计算板砖的大小、形状及数量。在记者采访时,孩子们正在做Khan学院的网上练习,随后他们玩起了“臭鼬”游戏,这个游戏包含了概率的原理。

America’s standardised tests are now “easy, a floor, not of interest”, says Ms Thordarson. She feels that the tool thus allows her to teach better and go deeper. But “You have to be more creative and more flexible, which is challenging,” she says. It’s not for teachers who “want to turn a page in a book”, adds Kelly Rafferty, the co-teacher. They thereby answer one common misconception about KhanAcademy: that it makes live teachers less relevant. Mr Khan, the teachers and Mr Gates all insist that the opposite is the case. It can liberate a good teacher to become even better. Of course, it can also make it easy for a bad teacher to cop out.

按Thordarson老师的话说,如今美国的标准考试“简单,低级又无聊”。她感到这样的教学工具可以提高教学质量并深化学生们的理解。但是她说:“这就要求你要创新,要更灵活,而这就是挑战。”与她一块任教的Kelly Rafferty老师认为这不并适合“照本宣科”的老师。由此看来,她们反驳了一个关于Khan学院的普遍误解:该网站让现实的老师变得无足轻重。Khan先生、其他老师和比尔盖茨都认为实际上恰恰相反,这种教育手段能使一个好老师摆脱束缚因而更加优秀,当然,同样也能让较差的老师投机取巧。

The value of teachers


The arrival of a powerful new tool thus does not replace the other necessary element in education reform, the raising of teacher quality. Good teaching is the single biggest variable in educating pupils, bigger than class size, family background or school funding, says Eric Hanushek, an education expert at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. And crucial to having better teachers is evaluating them properly, hiring, firing and promoting on merit.

在教育改革中,这种强大的新型教学工具不会喧宾夺主影响师资力量的提高。斯坦福大学胡佛学院的教育专家Eric Hanushek表示,比起课堂规模、学生的家庭背景和校方的资金水平来说,唯独教学质量在小学教育中最容易改善。想要招募到优秀老师,关键是要有合理的评价机制,在老师的聘用解雇或是升迁问题上要注意举贤用能。

The teachers’ unions, however, are fighting all attempts to move away from systems in which pay and tenure are linked only to seniority and credentials. In some places, such as Washington, DC, the reformers have won a few skirmishes; in others, such as Los Angeles, the unions are digging in for a long war. The core question is how, even whether, teachers can be evaluated fairly on the basis of exam results or classroom observation (given that some pupils are from educated families, others from poor areas, and so on). The unions are doing their best to ensure that evaluations have no consequences in staffing.


Technology can play a part here, because, in essence, evaluation is an information problem. Today’s standardised tests are deservedly unpopular with teachers and parents because, first, the “standards” tend to be low (and easily lowered further); second, teaching to the test is a form of dumbing down; and third, the tests take place only once or twice a year.


By contrast, spend a few minutes playing with the KhanAcademy dashboard of a class in Los Altos, and you see a vision of the future. You can follow the progress of each child—where she started, how she progressed, where she got stuck and “unstuck” (as Ms Thordarson likes to put it). You can also view the progress of the entire class. And you could aggregate the information of all the classes taught by one teacher, of an entire school or even district, with data covering a whole year.

相反,花点时间用Khan软件看看Los Altos学校一个班级的学习情况,你就会发现这种教学工具大有可为。你可以跟踪每个学生的学习进度——她从哪开始,如何进步,在哪遇到了困难又如何“解开”了难题(Thordarson老师总是这么说),还可以看到整个班级的进步。由于全年都有数据覆盖,对于同一个老师的授课信息,整个学校甚至是整个市区的教育信息你都能了如指掌。

Dennis van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest labour union in America with 3.2m members, goes ballistic at this suggestion. “Don’t demean the profession” by implying that you can rate teachers with numbers, he says. Besides, this sort of thing would introduce destructive competition into a culture that should be collaborative, he adds (without explaining why data-driven evaluations have not destroyed collaboration in other industries).

国家教育协会(简称NEA,全美最大的劳工协会,有320万成员)的主席Dennis van Roeke十分反对这种提议。他表示,不要总说老师是按照分数进行评价的,这是在“贬低这项职业”。另外,他补充到,这种教学工具会带来灾难性的竞争,而我们需要却是互帮互助的文化氛围。(但他并没有解释为什么数据化的评价体系不会破坏其他行业的合作。)

The NEA and its supporters will eventually lose this fight, says Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think-tank that unions love to hate. “It will be considered fair game to collect the data” and to use them to get better teachers in America’s classrooms, she says. It may or may not be KhanAcademy’s software that produces this information. Nonetheless, the academy, “by offering a different model, is forcing the issue that people have speculated about”, says Mr Hanushek at Stanford. “These technological ideas offer the possibility of breaking a logjam.”

全国教师水平委员会引起了国家教协的极大反感,该委员会主席Kate Walsh表示国家教协及其支持者注定会失败。她说,“收集教育数据这种评价方法是公平的”,而且我们要用这种方法找出更优秀的老师来在课堂上授课。不管是不是Khan学院的软件提供了这些信息,毕竟是这个学院“通过提供不同的模式来让大家关注到一个曾经考虑过的问题”。“这些技术给打破僵局提供了新思路。”

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  • replacevt. 取代,更换,将物品放回原处
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