The Khan Academy origin story starts with former hedge fund manager Salman Khan creating videos to tutor his cousin in mathematics. He began to share these more widely with the children of friends and relatives until he was inspired to create a non-profit website to share them with the world and invite other instructors to share their teaching in the same way. Major sponsors include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ann & John Doerr, the O'Sullivan Foundation, Reed Hastings, Google and the Windsong Trust.
[ Salman Kahn on expanding the value of online instruction: Video from the Web 2.0 Summit in 2011. ]
As Khan Academy's online reputation has grown, one of its major initiatives has become seeking better ways of integrating online instruction with the classroom experience. The Idaho program is being funded by a $1.5 million grant from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, a Boise-based, private family foundation committed to "limitless learning for all Idahoans." The money will pay for training, technology, technical assistance and assessment.
The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Northwest Nazarene University will support implementation of the Khan Academy program and will conduct research focused on using the videos to improve math instruction. "We want to know that it's not just a fad but does improve student achievement," said center director Eric Kellerer. "In some of the smaller pilot studies Khan has done, they've seen dramatic results in 90 days. We're going to have a whole year to work with them." The program will start in the fall, although many Idaho teachers are already getting a start on it on their own, he said.
"If it takes off, I think it will spread two ways," Kellerer said. "One is virally, by word of mouth, because teachers tell each other when they find something that works. Also, if the research turns out to show this has improved academic importance, my job is to get the word out."
Although some of the schools will also be integrating Khan videos into science or computer programming instruction, math is a particularly important focus for Idaho because only 38% of students are performing at or above grade level, according to standardized tests, Kellerer said. Math instruction is also challenging for instructors, given that in a seventh-grade class there might be some students performing at a third-grade level and others at a tenth-grade level, Kellerer said. It's common for a third of the students to be keeping pace with the class, a third to be tuning out because they are so far behind, and a third to be bored because they are so far ahead, he said. Teachers do the best they can to serve all these students, but self-paced tutorials provide a way of helping struggling students catch up, while those who are excelling can work ahead, he said.
Although Khan Academy is already a powerful tool for the individual students who seek it out, integration with the classroom experience makes it "a little more intentional," Kellerer said. "When the teacher becomes a part of the experience, the teacher can watch behind the scenes to see the progress the student has been making." Khan's software allows students to share reports on their progress with teachers as well as parents and other learning coaches, he said.