Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Really?? Do Sal Khan and his supporters really understand where the word "nitpicking" came from? I know it's used informally as an adjective to suggest that one is looking for small or unimportant errors or faults. But I also know nitpicking, literally, is critical for student success.

Almost a month ago two math education professors from Grand Valley State University released a video they made satirizing one of the Khan Academy videos on multiplying and dividing integers. They highlight both mathematical and pedagogical concerns.

If you want to see the entire history, check out this Storify page by Audrey Watters. If you're wondering "what were these guys thinking??", check out these blog posts by Dave Coffey*.

Khan's initial response was to pull the video in question and post an updated video. He also commented on Justin Reich's Education Week blog post entitled Don't Use Khan Academy without Watching this First:
We at the Khan Academy really appreciate the feedback from you and your colleagues regarding videos that could use improvement.
But, a few days later he was quoted in a piece by the Chronicle of Higher Education:
. . . so it's kind of weird when people are nitpicking about multiplying negative numbers.
What really struck me in Khan's comments to the Chronicle, was the word "nitpicking". He's not alone in suggesting that those who find errors in his videos are nitpicking. Many comments made by Khan supporters also suggest these two professors are nitpicking and, just today, Teach for America had a blog post that also dismissed critiques of Khan Academy videos as "nitpicking".

Picture Courtesy: Medline Plus
Nitpicking is, unfortunately a very common occurrence in elementary schools. Over the years, I have had a number of students who reported to the office daily for nitpicking. It was the only way we were able to keep them in school, because in Michigan, students can be in school with nits, but not with live lice. If you don't get rid of the nits, AKA nitpicking, the live bugs hatch, multiply and spread to others.

So, maybe it's a good idea that someone is "nitpicking" Khan Academy videos. If Khan doesn't find and correct the little, seemingly unimportant errors (nits), the millions of viewers that he reports watch his videos from around the world may find they've developed critical misconceptions, kind of like having the nits hatch into live bugs.

*Full disclosure, I am married to Dave Coffey. Don't let the lame satire fool you, he's really a nice guy. :)