Overview

I teach Basic Algebra at the Community College of Vermont (CCV).  The goal of my course is largely for math placement and remediation, which I will talk in detail about later.
CCV has twelve statewide locations and a large number of online courses. The college serves approximately 14,000 students per year with approximately 1500 of those being dual enrolled between high school and college. The average student age is 28 and 63% of our students are first-generation college students.

A brief timeline of using Khan Academy in my classroom:

I have used Khan Academy as my primary resource for three semesters and have used it one semester as a secondary resource for a total of 47 students.
FIRST SEMESTER: Getting our toes wet...
I used KA as a series of optional Videos and Practice Exercises to complement my conventional Basic Algebra curriculum. This is a great way to learn about implementing and embedding Khan Academy into a course, but only proved itself to be useful to highly motivated and self-directed students.
SECOND SEMESTER: Let’s test this out a little more.
I made sporadic graded KA assignments to support my course objectives. The first thing I noticed was that students became more involved and enthusiastic about learning with Khan Academy.
THIRD & FOURTH SEMESTERS: Diving in headfirst!
I made the quantum leap to using Khan Academy as my primary instructional resource and provided a free online open source textbook to complement my KA assignments. I learned three things:
  • Very few students chose to use the free online textbook. Some did because it was a better fit for their learning style, but the vast majority of students preferred using KA only.
  • I could use KA in a variety of ways to suit my students’ needs – more about that later in this case study.
  • On average, I calculate that, over two semesters, I saved my students over $4,000 in textbook costs!

Goals: Placement and Remediation

The main goal for this class is placement. Developmental math students at the Community College of Vermont are required to take an Accuplacer assessment as an admission requirement.  This allows the school to have a snapshot of the student’s math ability.  The Accuplacer is not used as an exit criteria exam from a course, but I continue to use a second score at the end of the semester as benchmark to monitor progress from a standardized perspective. Both scores are only a piece of the assessment experience.
In terms of remediation, Khan Academy is my go-to tool. Using the real-time student progress data analysis tools I can quickly assess ongoing student needs.
At the beginning of each semester, I give a non-graded diagnostic exam to measure students’ readiness for the course and to identify learning gaps. Measuring this is enhanced by Khan Academy’s analytics.
For me, the three most helpful reports here are:
  • Individual Student Progress
  • Individual Student Activity
  • Whole Class Skills Progress
Student Progress Reports
Note: In order to convey the Coach experience without violating student privacy, this presentation uses a fictional class roster
As I assess my students’ learning needs, I attempt to address the challenges I uncover and provide possible solutions. The remediation strategies I employ depend on each student’s needs and on the needs of small groups of students. In each case, using Khan Academy Coach Recommendations helps me target student needs with specific individualized assignments.

Challenges and Solutions

Here are some of the most common general challenges I have encountered using Khan Academy’s self-pacing capabilities, and some solutions that have worked for me some of the time.  As you think about your own implementation, decide what might work best for you and your students. In all cases, my role as an instructor (or coach) is to facilitate and provide direct instruction as necessary.
Racing Ahead
If I’m somewhere in the middle of a unit and realize that most of the class has already successfully completed the assigned Practice Exercises I will:
  • Assign Mastery Challenges as a way to cement concepts.  Note that Khan Academy serves up specific Mastery Challenges as the system determines what each student needs in order to Level Up their skills.
  • Use small group and one-on-one sessions to work with students who are still struggling.  This is a great place to employ peer tutors as both the tutors and tutees learn together.
  • Give students the opportunity to move ahead and/or choose Mission topics they’re interested in or passionate about learning.
Learning Gaps
If, somewhere in the unit, I discover that a majority of the class is struggling with a foundational concept needed for the current topic at hand, I:
  • Use Coach Recommendations as intentional assignments with a due date.  Note that in all Coach Recommendations cases (individual, group, or whole class) each Practice Exercise has an embedded video to help with the topic (see image below).
  • Use one-on-one and small group peer or instructor tutoring sessions.
    Screenshot of practice exercise with suggested video
Classroom Culture
Disheartened students can be informed and mentored around the concepts of Grit and Growth Mindset.
  • Once understood and adopted by students, these powerful motivators help ensure success.
  • I show a series of TED Talks and YouTube videos that explain and model Grit and Growth Mindset.
  • The entire class takes an online Grit Test.

Blended Learning : Using Study Guides / Playlists and Missions

Blended learning is a powerful concept that deserves a definition. Here’s one articulated by the Clayton Christensen Institute.
In a blended learning environment, students learn, at least in part, through online learning that gives them some element of control over time, place, path, and pace. At least part of the student learning experience is in a real school setting and, most importantly, what happens online is not disconnected from the classroom. In fact, what happens online actively informs what’s happening in the classroom.
When using curriculum mapped study guides (or playlists) with blended learning, my students get specific weekly assignments aligned to the Accuplacer and to the course objectives I am required to meet for my college. Because I use Moodle, a free, open-source e-learning platform,  I am able to provide my students with hyperlinks from my weekly course modules to specific Khan Academy Practice Exercises and Videos.
Screenshot of Moodle
Moodle, a free, e-learning platform used to provide learning resources for studentsStudy Guides / Playlists allow me to set individual or class goals and develop timelines to keep my students on task, both in class and at home. They can also be guides for in-class grouping based on learning style and content mastery. Students can rotate through learning stations individually or in small groups for targeted or small group instruction. My class often rotates between my instructor led sessions and a computer lab. Sometimes, all students are working through an entire study guide (or playlist). At other times, groups are focused on concepts they’re struggling with.
As part of the blended learning approach, I use Khan Academy Missions to encourage self-pacing, looping back, and achieving mastery of topics.  Using Missions alongside my study guides / playlists challenges my students to reach completion by the end of the semester. Watching their Mission Completion percentage grow is a powerful targeted motivator to succeed and the blue tiles provide a clear visual for students to monitor their own progress.
I assign Mission topics that align with my course objectives as a secondary way for students to view their own progress. In terms of classroom management, Missions can be used just like study guides / playlists.

Student Outcomes and Anecdotal Evidence

For the Spring 2014 semester, we used Khan Academy as the primary resource in my Basic Algebra class, which consisted of nine students.   From my experience, I learned that implementing these resources within a classroom is no magic bullet.
When I see students invest their time and effort into my course and Khan Academy,  I see incredible progress.  On average,  Accuplacer scores improved significantly in my class.  Speaking to Grit, Growth Mindset, and the desire to succeed, I have seen students increase their scores by more than 50 points on the Accuplacer!  That’s the equivalent of completing the Basic Algebra course and being able to skip the entire next course.
This indicates to me that high student investment in Khan Academy, along with dedicated instructor/coach guidance, can go a long way toward helping students through and beyond developmental math.
While these results are not substantial enough to make a rigorous quantitative research statement, anecdotally, they speak to the winning combination of student mindset, proficient and dedicated instruction, and the power of using Khan Academy in targeted ways.
For an extended version of this video, click here.