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John Resig joins the Khan Academy (ejohn.org)
585 points by jasonrr on May 3, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 73 comments

I'm happy for John, and this is great news for the Khan Academy. But I have to admit my reaction was mixed about his initial plans to focus on the iPad. On one hand, this is tantamount to saying you want to ensure that rich kids have better access to educational materials. Relative to the rest of society, children of parents who can afford an iPad are probably the least needy re educational tools. On the other hand, they're probably the ones who will make the most use of the tools.

You don't plan for today, you plan for five years down the line. Tablet computers are likely to become as ubiquitous as desktops or laptops, it's purely a matter of time.

Tablets are a much more useable form factor in classrooms, etc.

That line of reasoning makes sense. He specifically mentioned iPad - not tablets in general. When I think of the educational needs of tomorrow, I think of school districts like Los Angeles, where the drop out rate is ~33%. It's really hard for me to imagine a scenario where tablets are wide spread among students in the lower income areas of that district.

Hopefully the iPad is just a kickoff point. One of my philosophies is that at least some part of your job should give you joy, and out of that great things can happen. Maybe iPad development is just something he wants to do for the joy of it.

NB: I know that John's not a one man army, and I'm not trying to lay this all on his shoulders. I'm just thinking out loud on HN.

"Hopefully the iPad is just a kickoff point."

That's precisely it. Being who I am, I'm going to be building everything with Open Web technologies and most likely built on top of jQuery Mobile. The iPad is just serving as a good initial platform to target and test on before expanding massively.

I wouldn't be surprised if much of the work that happens on the tablet version of the site gets back-ported to the main site itself (as things like tablets and mobile devices tend to encourage minimalist UIs and a larger emphasis on what the user is attempting to achieve).

I did work for the One Laptop Per Child project in the past, I'm a strong advocate for getting useful resources out to as many people as possible - regardless of their means.

John beat me to the punch here. We're thinking about a much more general mobile strategy. My personal mission is to try to design an experience for content, student interaction, and exercises that is usable on smaller screens because, although the tablet market is booming (thanks in great part to the growth of the iPad) the smartphone market is much bigger and growing more quickly. They are also likely to become commoditized more quickly (if you want to argue that they aren't there already). In any case, replace the word "iPad" in his post with "mobile" and I think you are closer to what John, I, and the rest of the team are talking about.

Congrats on your new position! I love Kahn Academy.

Do you think there's any chance that Sal will open up contributions to other teachers? I believe that Kahn Academy could evolve into a MUCH better tool if Sal focused on establishing the curriculum (and which videos and exercises need to be developed), and allowed other people to submit videos from across the internet.

While it's cool that Sal is the sole instructor, he's not the world's best instructor, and I'm sure the overall product could be improved through contributions of others. And you could go from 2100 videos to 10,000 videos a LOT faster if you allowed others to contribute.

Just my 2 cents worth.

I agree that tablets are going to be ubiquitous in the future, but it may not be iPads that get into the most hands. I'd like to see John put his incredible javascript knowledge to work on a great cross platform web application rather than a native iOS app.

As I replied a few minutes ago - it absolutely will be a cross platform application using web technologies. It remains to be seen how it'll be bundled (likely using PhoneGap, I suspect) so at that point most of the major platforms are feasible.

"Tablets are a much more useable form factor in classrooms, etc."


I'd imagine: Easy to store, easy to interface with, can be passed around, relatively cheap, easier software installation than some OS, don't take much desk space.

Anyone else other ideas?

I don't understand this point of view. I question the assumption that iPads are primarily devices of the wealthy. We're talking about $500 for a lifetime of learning, not thousands of dollars. And the portability and durability of iPads makes them easily rentable and transferable.

We must leave the obsession with the iPad aside for a moment. The whole idea is to deliver educational content through a hand held device. The thing here is there are many parameters attached to it. First is the device, then the content delivery itself has a cost(Internet subscription et al) then the maintenance of devices etc. So the cost of the device is not the only thing. There are many incremental costs.

Most of this is definitely out of the reach of the people who actually need it. $500 is a lot of money for people in my country. Most may be earning only 1/5th of that in the whole month. Average salary of a teacher in India a around $150 a month. Which is around $5 a day average.

How do you expect mass technology adaption with these sort of expenses?

So what do you suggest? The person I responded to was specifically concerned about the iPad, I presume vs other devices that might also be able to deliver the Khan Academy content. Are we now to criticize anything not affordable to $150/month wage earners?

First is the device, then the content delivery itself has a cost(Internet subscription et al)

Yeah, the connectivity is the biggy. Especially with video. Even in "first world" countries there are many places with poor/expensive connectivity that's frequently not suited for regular video use. In Africa, it's basically the norm. Imagine - a teacher costing less than the bandwidth to download some videos.. ;-)

Why when I was a kid, rich kids got Apple IIc's and us poor kids got a Commodore 64 and 1540 drive for around $300.

Anyway, $499, which isn't that much, is today's price. iPads will drop in price and you'll get them used. At some point along will come great Android tablets for $299 (and probably iPads). Gotta start somewhere. Tablets are the next big thing. Soon they'll be a billion of them.

$499 is a lot in a developing country.. I'm not against this approach, I'm just adding a different perspective.

You're assuming that it was his plan and his decision to focus on the iPad. Kahn will be his employer, so I imagine they have a hand in deciding what is important enough for him to work on. It doesn't seem likely that he just up and decided that he'd build them an iPad app and made the decision without needing any approval.

Roughly right. I told them that I really wanted to build a cross platform, mobile, version of their application (amongst other things, naturally). They mentioned that they were already looking to build an iPad application - that seems like a fine place to start development and testing.

It's going to be a challenge to figure out the right UI idioms for the project, less so getting it working on a bunch of platforms giving the technology stack (open web technologies). Right now that's my biggest concern. Once we figure out how the interactions should work then the table/mobile world is our oyster.

The iPad is the only established tablet, and surely anything they do on their can go onto the Playbook, Android tablets, etc. when the platforms and Khan are ready. I'm sure we'll be seeing tablets in the Netbook price range soon. As far as digital devices go, it's hard to get much cheaper than that.

It is awesome that Khan Academy has attracted so much top talent. Has the potential to make a real difference in world education and thus in human potential. Goes to show how much effect a relatively small investment can make when joined with amazing, driven, talented people.

I agree except for "Has the potential". It is making an improvement right now. It is hard to describe how it feels to watch my 9 year old pop off months worth of school tedium in one morning, moving up through long division into simple algebra equations. Or my 14 fill in gaps that had been confusing her for years. Comments like "oh, I get it now" or "that's not hard at all" are common.

It's also incredible that it made me understand trigonometry at 30, after mexican education failed to got me interested in math.

Awesome to hear! Can you give us any information on how their grades have developed? Of course, kindling fun and excitement for education and science is already a great, if not the most important, achievement. But I'm curious about the effect, that was discussed here before [1]. Derek Muller claims [2], that these videos give a false illusion of understanding. If I get him right: If your kids don't feel a bit confused and overwhelmed afterwards, they might have reinforced their prejudice about how think are and work.

Anyway, its great to see good people choosing a career in education!

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2348476 [2] https://fnoschese.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/khan-academy-and-...

The videos are just one part of the academy. There is a tree you progress through by passing off problems. Ten correct in a row marks you as proficient and you go to the next level. Every so often there is a review section with random problems from any earlier level. The entire system of instruction, practice, and review gives more than an illusion of understanding.

My nine year old's grades have always been really good. The fun for him is just being able to go as fast as he wants. My 14 year old has moved from struggling for c's to breezing along with b's. She just really doesn't care about math but at least she doesn't hate it anymore.

Thanks! I wasn't aware of that system. Can't wait till my nephew can watch Khan Academy ..

I don't know if I'm misinterpreting Derek Muller, but I didn't get the impression that people had to be confused/overwhelmed to learn. I think it's only necessary when there's incorrect prior knowledge.

If interested, here's my take/rant about it:

I believe that prior knowledge and misconceptions can change how people deal and interpret new information. This can help or it can hurt the learning process.

It can help because it often makes new knowledge more likely to "stick." For example, a soccer fan is more likely to remember soccer scores [1]. I know there's other research that indicate more prior knowledge leads to quicker learning, but I don't remember them off the top of my head.

It can hurt in much of the same ways Derek Muller describes. When hearing new information it can easily be misinterpreted to match current knowledge. For example, anecdotally, those only familiar with the words "negative" (bad) and "reinforcement" (adding/reaffirming) are more likely to misinterpret "negative reinforcement" to mean "punishing behavior by adding something bad" instead of "rewarding behavior by taking something bad away." I believe there were similar findings/studies within statistics. Another common one is F=mv as shown in Muller's videos. I'm sure there are plenty more examples.

I believe Derek Muller's problem with Khan's videos is that they might not challenge incorrect previous knowledge. I agree with Muller and personally feel that Khan Academy will likely encounter some of these same problems when students watch the videos.

But, I also believe that the other half of Khan Academy (exercises) provide feedback that videos alone otherwise do not have. I believe that the requirement for mastery through the exercises can and will challenge at least some of these misconceptions. Particularly if the questions are good questions.

I also believe that Khan Academy is going to find themselves in a position where they can potentially have a lot of interesting data. I'd love to be able to see whether they can use this data to find some of these common misconceptions and then improve videos and/or questions. In the very least, I believe that their exercises will serve as a good metric to see where misconceptions are being poorly addressed.

We also have to keep in mind that, at least in the pilot in Los Altos school district, these videos are not the only source where students are learning. They still have time with teachers where these misconceptions can be addressed. In addition to that, they'll have the opportunity to review the videos to contrast, reflect on what lead to the misunderstanding, and hopefully reaffirm the new knowledge.

tldr - I believe Khan Academy's exercises and class/teacher time might help deal with the issue of misconceptions.


[1] Morris, 1981 - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2044-8295.1981....

how do you get them in front of it? I am reluctant to "make" my 9 yo or 6 yo do it, but it competes with flash games and whatever else they find online.

In a related question, do you use OpenDNS or any other access controls?

With my nine year old I said he needed to pass off one level before he could play his regular video games. He just took it from there. There is a concept of points for doing certain things. I didn't think much of it but he keeps track and somehow he cares (something like karma here I suppose).

My 14 year old had a very different reaction. She just uses it to fill over gaps in what she is doing at school. I have a degree in math but no matter how gentle I try to be I think she feels embarrased to come to me for help. Maybe I get too excited and try to explain too much. Either way she is keeping up much better now.

My six year old watches for a few minutes and then breaks into song and dance. I'll just let him be for a while.

present it as an alternative to her textbooks, during designated study time.

> I should note that I’ve made a personal decision to scale back some other aspects of my professional life. I’m no longer accepting any new speaking engagements...

It is very hard to leave/scale-back unfinished business or commitments but it is a very important step before starting something new and big. I know many creative people who have tons of projects and commitments that they can't bring themselves to leave and as a result, they never have enough time to concentrate fully on their next big things. I highly commend John for making the tough decision of leaving Mozilla and lots of personal projects so that he could do something big.

I wish I could up-vote you to the top.

Just feel like without this comment, your comment might not stand out to many.

Bill Gates calls this the future of education. I think he is correct. I am doing a project involving corporate training and this method has vast implications for my work. I also have three school age children, and they will be "attending" Khan tonight. This is the very first post I've read on HN and I'm overwhelmed by its significance. Thanks!

That's great. When you say "this method", could you explain what you mean? How does it have vast implications for your work?

In addition, I agree that it will make a great impact in the future. However isn't labeling it as "THE future" is going a little too far for now anyway? I would like to see a study on the type of person this type of study works for. If I'm not mistaken, it's not everyone?

I think "this method" is letting people absorb the main lecture/explanation at their own pace, freeing up teachers to focus on one on one assistance, identifying people who are struggling, focusing classes on mastery instead of minimum level competence (C students pass, but obviously have knowledge gaps), etc.

Cool. I'm curious how you'll implement it? Recently I took an Agile course at work where they had a similar method -- there was a 3 hour video that everyone was supposed to watch before the course. I'd say about 10% of people watched it.

It's not my method and I don't have any plans to implement it, I'm just parroting stuff I've heard about Khan Academy in use.

I think in your case the problem was multifaceted. First, it was a 3 hour video on Agile. Excessively long, probably boring, probably unnecessary (in my own experience, the agile methods are mostly to get managers to see the light, not the programmers). Second, there was probably little penalty for not watching it either. I've been through Scrum training, it was boring and "successful completion" mostly meant sitting in a room and not doing my actual job for a few days. Failing the course would have required more effort than completing it.

For schools, obviously they'll still be grading your work and ensuring mastery of the subject where not watching the lectures would probably reflect on homework and test scores pretty quickly as you advanced, they're also much shorter than 3 hours, where your attention is less likely to wander.

I definitely agree the problem was multifaceted. I also believe the problem runs very deep at the same time.

Even if the courses were 10 minutes each like Khan, I doubt the view rate would be increased by much in this case.

Also, it is true that there are no immediate and visible penalties for not watching it, though at the same time, being penalized through completely artificial means (chasing artificial targets, aka what happens in school) isn't healthy for anyone and I believe contributes to one of the major problems we're having.

Thirdly, I never was ensured mastery (or even pushed towards it) in any class I ever took. I was ensured a good grade if I jumped through the right hoops just how the teacher wanted it.

I spoke to John Resig the other day after he fixed /r/f7u12's stylesheet (he really earned his mod place!), and now I hate him with all my heart for being more successful and more of a nice guy than I am. I bet he's also more handsome.

EDIT: And he's a year younger! Damn you, jeresig!

(completely unrelated buy why is historio.us down, did you shut it down? I don't see any mention of outages on Twitter)

Oops, sorry, apparently the maintenance I'm doing killed some component due to low memory. I'll reboot as soon as I'm done and it'll all be back to normal!

This is perfect. The alignment of terrifically smart, talented and passionate people to come together for a worthy cause. Congrats and wish you the best.

With the recent startup boom, its sad to see some great talent spend time building little features or apps; just wish they could use their amazing talents to solve some really large problems..

I wish the Khan Academy and everybody who is working for this awesome idea and good cause all the best. It is these people that make me feel so proud of mankind.

Getting the chance to work on such a project makes money and career fade far into the background. All the Good this project is doing for the world makes it worth it. And all without the need to charge for the service or display ads.

Congrats John on this excellent choice for a chance to make a change.

If I'm not mistaken Khan Academy is still hiring: http://www.khanacademy.org/jobs/dev and http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2412000

I'm sure there are many great minds in here who would love to join John and the rest of the KA team

You're definitely not mistaken. Use either link -- applications welcome.

Wow! We're thrilled that this happened. Today is another great day for education. The greatest day was probably when Salman Khan quit his job and went home to upload his videos full time. We use Khan academy almost every day, for our children and ourselves.

Congratulations to the Kahn Academy, and congratulations to John.

I am really looking forward to you building software full time. It is going to be great for jQuery!

This is seriously the best thing that can happen for JQuery Mobile, assuming he does release some apps. If anyone can push the technology as far as it can go, it's John.

Congratulations John and Khan Academy! Khan Academy, as I've said before, I think is one of the most important pieces of technology I've seen. I think maybe one day on par, in terms of impact, with the web itself. Great news.

Noble Cause. But I am curious to know will Khan Academy give a basic salary or he working for free? in which case, I salute you


When Bill Gates uses your product to teach his kids, asking for some grant money probably isn't much of a problem.

I don't know their relationship, but in Salman Khan's TED Talk[1], Gates performs some closing remarks with him.

In the talk, he mentions that they're doing a pilot program with the Los Altos school district[2] as well, which I'm sure wasn't for free since it involved custom development.

[1] http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_rein... [2] http://lasdandkhanacademy.edublogs.org/about/

Actually, it was totally free in terms of the school not having to lay out any cash. The reason we chose to work with them, however, is that they committed a ton of time from teachers, students, administrators, and parents to help us make the Khan Academy work better for the classroom use case.

The experience working with them has been fantastic. The teachers are fearless in the face of the significant uncertainty that introducing something like the KA in a classroom can create. They've been creative about experimenting with different ways of integrating KA into the classroom (trying things we didn't anticipate). Speaking as a UX designer, having nearly unlimited access to teachers and students for interviews and observations has been invaluable. Plus the teachers aren't shy about letting us know if something isn't working out. If anything, it feels like we should be paying them.

That's awesome. Kudos to you and everything Khan Academy is doing.

Is it mostly grant money that funds everything then?

Sorry for not addressing that first time-round. We are funded by the Google and Gates Foundation grants plus private donations. As far as "most", I am not totally sure. I have very gladly stopped worrying about the particulars there as we've got some great folks (Sal, Shantanu, and Jessica) focused on making sure we're funded well enough to keep making progress at the rate we want. That frees up me and the rest of the developers to focus on building the product. Charmed life, eh?

They get tons of grant money, use that for salaries.

I couldn't find a number for how much he got from the Gates Foundation, but he got $2m from Google for their 10^100 contest.

He's indicated before somewhere that he is good with $1mm/year for operating costs (I think he said something along the lines of "If KA has $1mm/yr in revenue we’re good!", think it was in the Globe and Mail).

His lectures are hosted on YouTube (free) and he could crowd-source dev, design and QA. Also I think he is always going to be the only teacher - he seems to believe (not passing judgment here, just making an observation from what I 'sensed') that he's got a captivating charisma that people respond to, hence he’s best suited for conducting the lectures. I have enjoyed every lecture of his and think he has a point; he really is a good teacher.

Also, from his TED talk I got that his vision is a universal classroom - very noble. He might need translation, but again, that can be crowd-sourced too.

Speaking of, this is a good time to re-up on my donation.

Even if he is being payed, it is very admirable to put his talent on this.

Awesome to see someone this talented put his skills into a real, valuable product.

I discovered Khan Academy about 1 year ago and since then the website has not changed that much, except for some polishing on the site. Here is a snapshot of the site in June 2010 http://replay.web.archive.org/20100601053141/http://www.khan...

The site is currently quite hard to navigate around or search. Now that even talents like John have started to join the academy, I'm pretty sure, the site will definitely provide a better experience. Good for Khan, the academy and the education system

Just hope they don't "pull a Craigslist" and keep a crappy UI for the sake of nostalgia, then call it "minimalism".

It's a bad day for Mozilla. Resig and Dion Almaer announce their leave for KA on the same day.

When are we gonna see more advanced math covered on KA? It would be great to see Fourier transform or even music theory!

Discrete mathematics is definitely what I've been waiting for.

voted without reading - and i'm even not jQ or John Resig fan.

Makes me wonder what this says about Mozilla. Perhaps not the exciting place it used to be 5+ years ago?

In the post, he talks, quite a lot, about how awesome Mozilla is, and how it's the best place he's ever worked. And he links to the Mozilla job's page saying that he seriously recommends it.

Given how exciting Khan Academy is, Mozilla could still be pretty darn awesome and not stack up.

Agreed. Mozilla may have helped change the browser landscape, but the Khan Academy could change the face of education in this country. Both worthy places to pour one's energy but I'd give the edge in excitement to KA.

>but the Khan Academy could change the face of education in this country.

It's not just one country. I sincerely can't express my gratitude enough for Khan Academy guys, their very rich educational materials have and are helping me tremendously in my education and my career. I'm from a developing country.

Not just in the US, but in the whole world. Particularly in maths and science.

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