For those of you that are having a hard time keeping up with the ever-growing educational technology field, here is a great cheat sheet to keep you abreast of current trends.
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I’ve come across a lot of teaching and e-learning websites in my day, but Thattutorguy.com is one of those sites that seems like it could be really good and then kind of lets you down. Chris, the owner of the site, films himself tutoring on a variety of math topics and then stock piles them onto a website. His approach strays away from the traditional lecture because he shows students exactly how to do the problems. At first glance, the site is both comprehensive and engaging— Chris certainly is a character —however, something is lacking. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe after you read the pros and the cons below you’ll be able to help me figure it out.
– Chris’ personality is fun and I can see students really being able to relate to him. There are two students in my daughter’s class whose families have purchased the service and they both “enjoy his straight-to-the-point lessons.” He is relatively young, energetic, and has attitude. He tells it like it is and gets right to the point in his lessons. That’s highly refreshing and works great when catering to young audiences.
– There are a lot of math subjects to explore such as Pre-Algebra, College Algebra, Calculus, and Trig. He has archived a wide array of topics, which makes it super easy for subscribers to find exactly what they are looking for. The search tool is quick and effortless, and he also allows users to vote on which classes he should put up next.
– Chris has ten years of professional tutoring experience, however parents may want to see an outline of his resume or know more about his professional training/schooling.
– The website works on phones and tablets, which is excellent for busy students on the go.
– I also thought his “Flipping the Classroom” idea was great. This model works for a lot of people. Chris claims that it is better to use online videos to expose students to new material before class. Therefore, instead of seeing the material for the first time in a fast-moving lecture, students can get acquainted with the information by watching a pre-taped lecture on their own time.
– Chris says he isn’t a teacher, but in a later video on his philosophy page he explains his “teaching style.” Is he contradicting himself here?
– No free trial or coupons, instead subscribers can get 7 days for seven bucks.*
– Very casual vibe to the entire website. At first I thought this might be a good thing, but the more I read the more mistakes I found. For example, the poor writing: “The videos on this site are aimed exclusively at teaching students what they need to know, now how to prove or derive what they need to know.” I know Chris is a math tutor, but typos take away from a site’s credibility.
– Chris says you don’t have to watch the videos in order, but then he says that the information in the lessons builds on previous lessons. Isn’t that another contradiction? Wouldn’t it help to watch them in order? He explains in his welcome video that the chapters are designed to be self-contained, so if you just need help on one topic, you could probably just watch that chapter. Then he says that once you figure out which chapter you want to watch, it’s best to start at the beginning of that chapter because everything builds.
– Lastly, I found him to be a little rude. One his Frequently Asked Questions page he writes, “If you wanted to watch a math genius derive every equation in your book… you’re already getting that every day in math class! While those sites may sound great in theory, once you start trying to use them you find that they are so egg-head and lecture-driven.” Professors who have dedicated their lives to helping students learn are not egg-headed.
I think the overall issue I have with this website as a whole is not the content, Chris is an extremely intelligent and gifted tutor, but it feels too homemade. It’s lacking the professional tone and quality of its competition. this doesn’t matter, but I also find all those t’s in the web address to be highly distracting. The actual videos are clear and well-made, but the rest of the site could use some work. You can only watch a few videos for free, which may also be a problem for some potential clients. Paying customers, want more samples. It’s nice to know what you’re signing up for before you pay for the service. There are many similar sites to Thattutorguy.com (such as Mathworld.com or Educator.com) and I think Chris might have a hard time differentiating himself from the lot…especially when those other sites are free or very inexpensive.
*Prices have changed.
– Dr. Drew
Why are kids so opposed to learning? I must have been a very unusual child because I was always begging my parents to take me to the museum, science center, or library. Of course, that was all we had back then. Technology was hardly a thought when it came to education, heck the Internet hadn’t even been invented yet. Nowadays it seems like young people only want to play video games or watch television, I know my kids do. If only there was a way to make even the most boring subjects fun and interactive. Luckily there is.
I recently came across a website called BrainPop.com, an educational site that teaches important concepts in core curriculum subject areas through short on-line movies, quizzes, and other activities. Although the main site has more advanced topics that are geared toward grades 3 and up, there are branch-off sites that include BrainPop Jr, BrainPop Español, and BrainPop ESL. I believe the site effectively uses animation and web technology, but there are some pitfalls.
– Cartoons will always be appealing to youngsters. The site is crammed, almost to the point of a migraine, with brightly colored, graphic images designed to engage kids. I’m not sure if the high school kids will relate to it as much, but overall animation is very cool and eye catching for kids and teens. I also like the consistency of the characters Moby the Robot and Tim.
– Monthly access is pretty cheap at only $9.95 a month and there are many free videos.
– BrainPop boasts to be an award-winning educational resource.
– The site includes animated movies, interactive quizzes, and activities. Students can explore hundreds of topics within the subjects of Science, Math, Social Studies, English Language Arts, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Music, and Health. Everything is organized according to subject area. There are also subjects about teen issues such as bullying and drug awareness. I also found that the search tools and easy-to-read buttons made it simple to navigate through the site.
– BrainPOP is accessible directly from Google Apps.
– Teachers who subscribe to the site can automatically track student progress on BrainPOP quizzes and integration with Google Spreadsheets instantly pulls quiz results into a teacher spreadsheet. Pretty awesome. Another plus for educators is the State Standards search tool.
– All the products are fully compatible with interactive whiteboards, learner response systems, projectors, Macs, and PCs. Not need to download, install, or purchase special hardware. Nice.
– I’ve said this before, but free is always king. All options require a monthly or annual subscription. The annual price is $100 dollars, which can be a little steep for families who aren’t certain they’ll be able to make their child sit down and watch the videos.
– There is just one quiz at the end of the video. It would be better to have multiple quizzes for students to choose from. It also seems like the quiz is more of a suggestion, rather than the interactive part of the video it was probably intended to be.
– BrainPop and BrainPop Jr only have a five day free trial. Whatever happened to the 1 month free incentive?
– There are 600 brief animated movies, but some of them are incredibly too brief and do not go into enough detail about the subject.
– I’m not 100% sure this site works for older or advanced students who may require more of a challenge. BrainPop claims it serves K-12, but from my experience 12th graders aren’t that interested in cartoon robots anymore (especially those who don’t blow anything up and only say “beep.”)
– There are also some pretty strange sections of the website like “How to with Gary and Gary” where students can take advice from a father and his son on “How to change a diaper.” The Infancy lesson will even teach kids how to take care of a baby. Of course there are older siblings who need to take care of younger brothers or sisters, but in my opinion, too many high school students drop out of school because of unwanted pregnancies. I think students in grades K-12 shouldn’t worry so much about the needs of infants.
– Then there is Bob the Ex-lab Rat… which is disturbing in and of itself. First off, I disagree with animal testing and wouldn’t want my child watching a video hosted by a bandaged and neurologically impaired sewer rat.
– I also found that the few videos hosted by female characters were about puberty and menstruation. Why can’t BrainPop feature girls (or girl robots) in more of their videos.
– Technical requirements for running BrainPOP are an Internet connection and the Macromedia Flash Plug-in. That can be a drawback for those living out in the middle of nowhere where speedy internet service isn’t always available, but you can view some of the videos on an Iphone.
All in all, I watched maybe two or three free videos and felt like I learned a little something. My last thoughts on BrainPop are simple. If the moving icons and bright colors on the homepage don’t pop your brain, the thousands of things you can potentially learn about probably will.
– Dr. Drew
It seems like Salman Khan knows everything, or does he?
He just might. Salman Khan, who narrates most of the instructional videos on the site, holds degrees in math, engineering, computer science, and business. And I use the word “narrate” because there is a distinct difference between doing a voice over while writing out a math problem in neon colors and actually teaching someone how to do the problem. Khan Academy offers thousands of videos on a wide variety of fascinating academic subjects, including math, science, history, and economics, but I’m not entirely convinced he’s really teaching in the true sense of the word.
My younger son, Marc is the one who first told me about Khan Academy. It was a typical uneventful Tuesday evening and we were sitting at the dining room table working on his math homework. I’m a history and political science professor, so I have to admit my math skills are pretty rusty. He was on the verge of tears as I explained, for the millionth time, how to add and subtract mixed numbers. “Can we just look it up on Khan Academy?” he whined. I had no idea what that was, but assumed it probably had something to do with the Internet. Although reluctant to admit I needed help with my explanations, I let him show me the site. He told me that all his friends were using it and that there was also a “practice” section that allows users to test their math skills. He then asked me if he could create a profile that would enable him to track his progress.
“How much is that gonna cost me?” I said as he clicked on the link to “login.” But to my surprise, all the content on Khan Academy is free. According to their website, the goal of the Khan Academy is to use technology to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere without bombarding users with sidebars of advertisements. But, didn’t Facebook also start off that way?
I decided to look around the site and make my own judgments. This is what I found:
– Free access is always a plus in my book.
– Even though the website is open to the public, and users can ask questions and post comments, the interactions are respectful and on-topic. People aren’t cursing or posting links to porn sites (or at least their staff monitors that type of behavior and promptly deletes anything offensive).
– Covers wide range of over 3,600 subjects. It appears that you can learn about virtually anything, which is kind of amazing.
– The about page goes over how you can record your progress and instantly receive stats about your site usage.
– Videos also include subtitles and some are even in different languages.
– The practice feature lets you apply the math concepts you’ve learned by answering questions and then immediately getting the answer. The corresponding video is also there for you to watch if you need a refresher.
– The classroom data feature is useful especially for teachers who want to use the site in their lesson plans. Teachers can look at the class as a whole or look at a specific student’s progress in order to figure out what the class/student needs more help on.
– One of my colleagues, who just so happens to be one of the leading researchers and professors in organic chemistry, had a lot to say about Khan and his Academy. He said that while Khan is definitely a wiz in math and finance, when it comes to organic chemistry and history it literally sounds like he is reading out of a text book. These subjects, and many more on the site, are not areas he’s mastered and it is safe to say that he may not know all the facts.
– I did find the videos very simplistic and the handwriting small, which made it difficult for older people like me to read the screen. There are also drawings that are impossible to understand without prior background knowledge. The videos aren’t especially well-made, but I suppose that’s what you get when you opt for free content. Check out the picture below for a sample of what I mean when I refer to bad handwriting (and this isn’t even the worse one):
Some More Dislikes:
– Videos are made on Youtube, and sometimes freeze up. I also found many of the videos to be pretty low quality as compared to other sites I’ve looked at, there is distracting background noise in some of the clips, and Khan usually does a voiceover with no real person actually talking to you. I’m a little more old school and like to have a person making eye contact with me while they explain something.
– I also found that Khan academy isn’t much different than typing a subject into a search engine and watching that lesson on any other site. In that same breath, effective teaching requires more than a few minutes of research on Google. Khan teaches the procedure and he gives the most popular explanations, but not necessarily the best ones. I found myself questioning his training in education, if any.
– The focus is more on “learn about” not necessarily “learn how” and I’m not sure the site fosters true mastery.
– Lastly, I’m a stickler for organized web pages and think the feedback/question section under the videos is very congested and crowded.
Overall, Khan Academy is receiving high marks for its affordability, accessibly, and wide scope of information. If Bill Gates threw millions of dollars at this project it must be worthwhile, right? It’s hard to say. Just because an educational service is free doesn’t necessary make it accurate. If anything the “freeness” of it raises red flags. There are critics that believe the site only offers one element of teaching. There are even some people claiming that you shouldn’t use Khan Academy without watching this video first. I’ve offered you my likes and dislikes, but of course when it comes to online information and education, we must all judge for ourselves.
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