Khan Academy takes on biochemistry and molecular biology

March 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Salman Khan has made a big splash with his take on educating kids. In 2004, he got the idea of using short videos, about 15 minutes long, to teach his then-preteen niece the fundamentals of mathematics. In uploading his videos onto YouTube, Khan (he goes by “Sal”)  discovered that there was a whole world, not just his niece, hungry for the kind of teaching videos he was creating.

Khan’s work has won the backing of Bill Gates, who said he uses Khan’s videos. Khan Academy is a nonprofit organization that Khan has established, and it has received donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and won Google’s Project 10 to the 100 of ideas to change the world.

These days, Khan Academy is not just about mathematics. It tackles a broad range of subjects, from art history to . . . you guessed it . . . biochemistry and molecular biology. I counted at least 12 videos on topics that I encountered during undergraduate courses. The videos, all recorded by Khan, cover respiration, glycolysis, photosynthesis, neurotransmission, bits of physiology and some genetics.

The videos are aimed at novices who want to learn the foundations of a subject. Khan starts at the very beginning, describing, for instance, how glucose gets turned into pyruvate during the Krebs Cycle.

Because Khan is writing out his explanations as he speaks, his explanations go at a slow and steady pace, which allows students to take notes (and gives me a flashback to a professor I had as an undergrad who had premade slides and whizzed through the entire chapter on metabolism in 7.5 minutes). And because it’s a video, you can always pause and rewind to to the parts you missed or didn’t quite comprehend.

The Khan Academy last week launched its iPad app so you now don’t have to be tethered to a computer to do your learning.

I think those of you who teach high school or undergraduate courses in molecular biology and biochemistry might find these videos as useful supplements. Let me know how it goes!


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