Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Analysing the knowledge performances in OER

I've been exploring the remarkable one-man OER show of Salman Khan recently: http://www.khanacademy.org. I stumbled upon it because my Christmas project was to get to grips with topology, and the maths resources are fantastic (although he hasn't done anything on topology). But the experience has also set me thinking about why this is fantastic. After all, most of the resources out there are not that great: a lot of very dull lectures from Harvard and MIT. But Khan has charm, and he's very comfortable with the technology he's using.

I think it's to do with his knowledge performance. Looking at the four forms of knowledge I've been thinking about recently, I think we can analyse his performance.
1. person form
2. content form
3. tool form
4. purpose form

I think the person form is very strong. Khan's enthusiasm both for his subject and for his teaching is conveyed very strongly. The content form is also very good - the use of the computer blackboard and his narration all work extremely well (even his slightly annoying tendency to 'spell things out' on the board adds to the charm of what he does). Most of the topics he teaches have a strong tool-form - maths particularly. What is being conveyed is the use of mental technology (equations, etc), and Khan is good at explaining what it might be used for. Finally, the purpose form of the knowledge performance (or perhaps the ethos) is increased by the endorsement of Bill Gates, but also by Khan's own belief in what he's doing.

I've also been looking at resources on economics and game theory (more maths). I was quite struck by some resources from Yale, which was a simple video of a lecture. I think there are differences in degree as to the knowledge performances here and it might be possible to be explicit about it. The person form of knowledge I initially thought was quite good, but the content (for the viewer) is not so great.. how different it would be to have Khan's computer blackboard.. Again the tool form of the knowledge is there (because it's mathematical) but the examples are a bit abstract and not particularly exciting, and there's the fact that it's from Yale, so a strong 'purpose' or 'ethos' form. But then I changed my mind slightly, because this teacher is not talking to me, he's talking to the students in the room. And in fact he's just talking, and I began to think "they must be getting a bit bored": there was something slightly inauthentic about this performance which Khan's performances do not show.

I may be being unfair, but the distinctions do seem to help... OER may only take a few really gifted people like Khan who are outside academia to go off and just cover a whole range of knowledge because they love it. How many proper academics are really going to do that? What have we been paying for??

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