Why Did Vi Hart Go to Khan Academy?

February 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm 21 comments

I love Vi Hart. And with over 300,000 subscribers and 25 million views on her YouTube channel, I’m clearly not alone.

Vi Hart - WikipediaBut perhaps you don’t know who she is. Maybe you’ve been living under a rock. Maybe you’re still using dial-up. Or maybe you’ve just been posing as a mathy folk, only visiting this blog because you think the author is hot. (Of course, you’d be correct in your assessment, but you shouldn’t let hot authors guide your tour through the blogosphere.)

If you don’t know who Vi Hart is, you can check out her Binary Trees video below (from her now famous Doodling in Math Class series).

Pretty awesome, huh?

In the video, she makes the following statement:

…if the [math] curriculum wasn’t so appalling and the teaching methods weren’t so atrocious, you wouldn’t have to entertain yourself with these stories and games.

She also implies that many math classes are

…fuzzy, unfocused, and altogether not very good.

Some educators don’t like these videos. Some don’t like that a brash, young woman is criticizing what they do and how they do it. Some find her statements offensive.

Not me.

I think she’s spot on.

Too many math classrooms still look like the math classrooms of yesteryear, devoid of excitement and technology and filled with endless hours of meaningless practice.

But here’s where I have trouble. On the About Vi page of her site, she says:

I am now a full-time mathemusician at Khan Academy! It’s pretty exciting.

If she is truly opposed to appalling curriculum, why would she work for a company that creates the video version of a 1950’s textbook?

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But I don’t think so. Though she now creates recreational math videos for Khan Academy that are awesome, the vast majority of videos on the site are nothing more than math lectures of topics that probably should have been removed from the curriculum years ago. When I asked a colleague his thoughts, he had this to say:

Vi’s videos show such polish and cleverness, while Khan’s were so obviously made by someone who just took an exercise from a textbook and sat down at a computer and improvised. About the only thing [Khan Academy] has going for it is that it’s free. I suppose it can have some good use in getting kids an opportunity to learn and practice skills they need, but having them practice skills for no particularly good reason… it’s just reinforcing everything that’s wrong with math education.

In her Binary Trees video, Vi Hart makes fun of the boring presentation of exponential functions that typically occurs in math classes. Yet the Khan Academy video Exponential Growth Functions uses the same examples and “atrocious teaching methods” that would be found in many of the math classes that are “fuzzy, unfocused, and altogether not very good.”

So, what’s up, Vi? How can you rail against bad teaching but then go to work for a place that delivers bad teaching in spades? Your work is amazing, and you had such an opportunity. I hope your intent is to make change from within rather than assimilate.

How do you feel about Vi Hart’s move to Khan Academy? And what do you think about Khan Academy in general?

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , , , .

The Math of Maker’s Mark Dialed In to Math

21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Frank Noschese  |  February 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Reminds me of this Vi/Khan mash-up:

    Reply
  • 2. Frank Noschese  |  February 19, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    Reminds me of this Vi/Khan mashup:

    Reply
  • 3. goldenoj  |  February 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm

    I love Vi Hart’s stuff. Really captures the playfulness and exploration of math. Her criticisms are nothing that I haven’t heard from many students.

    It was bittersweet when she went to KA. Exposes her work to more people – pure bonus. Lends legitmacy to some pretty sketchy videos at KA – too bad. Chance to influence KA so the videos are less like the stuff she criticizes – I’m hoping.

    Reply
    • 4. xiousgeonz  |  February 20, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Pretty much my thoughts too.

      Reply
    • 5. venneblock  |  February 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      Nicely said. I’m hopeful, too.

      Reply
  • 6. gfrblxt  |  February 19, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been wondering about her joining KA since it happened, for the reasons you’ve described. I think KA has as its goal that of replacing teachers with online lessons, and that Vi, with her obvious dislike of “traditional” math ed and love of video explanations of math, believes that she has found kindred spirits.

    “If you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” – Nietzsche

    Reply
    • 7. venneblock  |  February 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm

      You’re welcome, and thanks for your interesting take on this. I hadn’t considered that Vi would consider Sal a kindred spirit, but it makes sense.

      Reply
  • 8. Gregory Taylor (@mathtans)  |  February 19, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    I think part of the reasoning for her move might be found in that video too: “And maybe you can’t see this tree in very high quality because your camera, much like your math class, is fuzzy, unfocussed, and altogether not very good.”

    Which isn’t to say that she sold out so that she could get better resources, but economic reality says that it must have been a factor. Moreover, she’s getting paid now for doing these videos (probably more than she would through just YouTube sponsorship), whereas when she started out she was simply making entertaining YouTube creations for entertainment purposes, with no expectation of garnering a fanbase, or likely ever getting paid.

    Hey, isn’t that how Khan got started too?

    Khan, of course, was angling for the “this is what you need to know to pass your test” videos, while ViHart took the video approach of “this is why mathematics is awesome and fun”. But there is obviously some common ground there. And if you were given the chance to be paid for doing something that you love, with the fringe benefit of possibly widening your audience and increasing global interest in mathematics (along with female participation in mathematics)… why exactly would you turn that down?

    I guess the argument can be made that you end up sacrificing your principles (but I don’t think that’s happening here) or that you’re validating the very thing you oppose (but in truth maybe you’re subverting it). Still, I run a mathematics personification web series, and if I were suddenly offered money to keep on doing exactly what I was doing already, albeit with better resources – well, sure, check the fine print, but why exactly would that be a bad thing?

    Reply
    • 9. venneblock  |  February 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      I heard that Vi’s videos at their peak were making $300 in a week from ad sales. I’m sure KA is paying her far more than that.

      A point well taken about getting paid to do what you love. As soon as someone requests an on-staff math humorist, sign me up!

      Reply
  • 10. zachdcox  |  February 21, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    KA when implemented in classrooms does successfully ‘turn the classroom upside down’. And it currently seems to be still in development. You can read about how it works by following links about it that are all over the Internet. Based on what I’ve seen so far I expect that it could evolve over time to be the dominant way of teaching mathematics.

    In all forms of on-line mathematical instruction I’ve seen, one of the bits currently missing is how to capture the solution to a mathematical problem without physically looking at the sheet of paper that the solution is written on.

    Various tablet devices can be used to allow input that works like ‘pencil on paper’ but what is needed is a seamless way to convert that into machine readable form (or bundle the whole thing up as it is input) and then either have an algorithm or human eyeball look at the steps and verify the each step follows from the previous one. For example: “Hey in going from step 3 to step 4 you said 3x + 4x was 5x. Please go back and fix this (and the following steps).”

    Reply
    • 11. venneblock  |  February 24, 2013 at 1:13 pm

      I’m in favor of flipped classrooms or anything that minimizes lecture and allows more time for discussion. But I refuse to believe that KA is the answer. We sell kids a bill of goods that math is useful, but then we send the message that “doing math” is all about enacting algorithms.

      Your example about input/output also emphasizes algorithms. Why do we need to spend so much time teaching kids that 3x + 4x = 7x? What I think is important is taking a context and translating it to a mathematical equation. Solving that equation is something that Wolfram Alpha can do.

      I’m oversimplifying things, to be sure. But my opinion is that far too many classrooms, and textbooks, and sites like KA, continue to perpetuate skills that may have been useful a century ago but don’t seem terribly relevant nowadays.

      Reply
      • 12. zachdcox  |  October 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

        You comment about how math should be about translating problems into abstract things (like equations) that then can be used to solve the original problem is the way to state the goal of mathematics.

        Also, applications like Mathematica and Sage promise to do to symbolic mathematical expressions what the calculator has done for arithmetic expressions.

  • 13. maeopened  |  February 21, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    Hello HOT author.😉

    I would love to say, we have more videos on the list than Khan Academy.

    You might want to look at how useful this site would be: https://www.opened.io/

    It’s free and in private beta for now. Let me know if you need an invite.

    Cheers, Mae

    Reply
    • 14. venneblock  |  February 24, 2013 at 1:15 pm

      Nice use of a salutation to ingratiate yourself to the blog owner, Mae! I just entered my email address at OpenEd. I’d love an invite and a chance to take a closer look. Thanks!

      Reply
  • 15. sarahjane  |  October 28, 2013 at 3:19 am

    Well, you could really only say she’s “blending in” if she’s dropping the level of quality of her uploads and making subpar videos, which she’s clearly not. Regardless of her medium of choice, her alternative options would have been to choose a geographically confined area in an educational edifice with very limited viewers. If your goal is to enliven and enrich the lives of brain dead math zombies, I mean students, why not go directly to the source? Maybe if they stumble across something interesting during the course of their so called yesteryear education, that will inspire them to greater things. However her medium of choice, there is nothing wrong with free, open-source public outreach as opposed to putting a price tag/plane ticket on her lectures.

    Reply
    • 16. venneblock  |  October 31, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Fair points, Sarah Jane. My post was from earlier this year, when I was fearful that Vi’s videos would somehow become more Khan-like, but she’s proven me wrong. I’m excited that her videos continue to inspire, and I agree that it’s awesome she’s able to provide them to the public free-of-charge. Though not really… Khan Academy is funded in large part by Gates Foundation, so her salary is paid by all the people who foolishly upgraded to Windows 8.🙂

      That said, I still don’t like the Khan videos. When I ask kids who use Khan Academy what they like about it, they tell me, “It gives me the info I need.” Which says to me we’re STILL teaching math the wrong way.

      Reply
  • 17. mariadroujkova  |  January 3, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I just read on Vi’s blog that she’s not with Khan anymore. Wonder why.

    Reply
    • 18. det  |  January 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      Where does it say that?

      Reply
  • 20. ScarletNumber  |  April 12, 2015 at 10:27 pm

    Umm, she sold out.

    Reply
    • 21. venneblock  |  April 13, 2015 at 11:21 pm

      Fact. Thanks for saying what I was thinking!

      Reply

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The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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