‘Visionary’ educator kicks off UT lecture series

9/18/2013
BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Salman Khan talks about Khan Academy, the school largely comprised of a series of instructional videos allowing anyone with the internet to access.
Salman Khan talks about Khan Academy, the school largely comprised of a series of instructional videos allowing anyone with the internet to access.

 

Karyn Benner, center, and William White, both of Toledo, center right, listen as Salman Khan talks about Khan Academy.
Karyn Benner, center, and William White, both of Toledo, center right, listen as Salman Khan talks about Khan Academy.

Salman Khan has been called revolutionary and a visionary for offering free online courses that allow learners to master math and science at their own pace.

But for much of his lecture Tuesday evening at the University of Toledo, Mr. Khan displayed a stand-up comic’s crack timing.

Except that Mr. Khan is a former hedge-fund analyst who started making videos and posting them to YouTube as tutorials in math for younger members of his extended family.

Mr. Khan, who spoke to a sell-out crowd in Doermann Theatre, began with a montage of Khan Academy videos on diverse topics — biology, economics, art history, cryptography — and a slide of statistics, from 8 million registered users in 200 countries to 30,000 classrooms.

But he recoiled initially at the suggestion that he make videos and post them on YouTube so family members could watch any time.

“YouTube is for cats playing the piano, not serious mathematics,” he said, recalling his initial reaction.

Others discovered the videos and posted comments of praise — and gratitude. One commenter said, “My entire family is praying for you.”

“I was then working at a hedge fund, and I wasn’t used to a lot of people praying for me, at least not in that way,” Mr. Khan recalled.

The attention of one benefactor was followed by support from Bill Gates and Google, all unsolicited.

“It was kind of stressful. Those videos were for [cousin] Nadia, not for Bill Gates,” Mr. Khan said.

Mr. Khan was the initial speaker in UT'’s new Jesup Scott Honors College Distinguished Lecture series.

Even before Mr. Khan spoke a word at UT, he influenced a project that university officials announced Monday called One World Schoolhouse, after the title of Mr. Khan’s book.

His Khan Academy has no formal role at UT, but it allowed UT to use the name, with the tagline, “inspired by Khan Academy.”

The UT project includes three initiatives: a simulation and educational game development laboratory, a learning innovations laboratory, and an international connections program.

Mr. Khan closed on a serious note, expressing his belief that this moment in history presents a “once-in-millennium opportunity” for education and his hope that “in our lifetimes, this thing that used to be scarce and expensive, is now like drinking water and shelter — a fundamental human right.”

The honors college was renamed after Mr. Scott, who was editor of The Blade and founded UT in 1872.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.