Khan Academy launches computer science curriculum

The creator of the JavaScript jQuery library has been working on a complete computer science program for Khan

Free online tutorial service Khan Academy has launched a new series of instructional videos and tutorials covering the field of computer science.

"This project is going to blow the doors off Computer Science education," boasted Khan's dean of computer science and noted JavaScript programmer John Resig, in a Twitter message. "I have a feeling that people are going to have A LOT of fun with it."

In another Twitter message, Resig hinted of a project that has taken him 10 months to complete. Resig is the creator of the widely used jQuery JavaScript library, and has written numerous books on JavaScript.

Shantanu Sinha, Khan Academy president and COO, called the curriculum "pure magic," in another Twitter message.

In a blog post last December, Resig said it would be likely that its computer science curriculum would teach JavaScript as a first language. While noting JavaScript's many shortcomings, Resig praised the language for its "ubiquity, desirability in the larger workforce, lack of prior installation requirements, and ability to create something that's easy to share with friends," he wrote, adding that the curriculum would not focus solely on JavaScript.

Khan will be joining a number of other institutions, such as Google and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), in efforts to get individuals to better understand programming. The W3C's W3schools offers basic online training for most Web technologies, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript and others. Google's Code University offers complete basic courses in C++ and Python.

Backed by ads as well as donations by Google and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the not-for-profit Khan Academy offers over 3,300 short instructional videos on basic math, biology, chemistry, physics and other subjects. The videos have been praised for how they explain complicated ideas in small, easily understandable chunks. The organization's roots are in videos that Salman Khan created and posted on YouTube starting in 2006 as part of his efforts to tutor some young cousins in math.

Since its incorporation as a nonprofit in 2008, Khan has grown to be one of the most popular self-paced online schools. The organization's YouTube channel has attracted 370,000 subscribers and over 174 million video views. The videos are organized so that users can systematically learn an entire subject, such as trigonometry or calculus. The organization also provides statistics, badges and suggested paths of learning to further motivate users.

While Khan has created a lot of good will among its users, observers of higher education caution at the limits of the organization's video-based approach.

"Khan Academy is great for learning about lots of different subjects. But it's not really adequate for learning those subjects on a level that really makes a difference in the world," wrote Robert Talbert, a mathematics professor at Grand Valley State University,in a widely discussed blog post on the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site.

Others, however, see Khan's entrance into computer science as beneficial. "It is terrific to see [Khan] move up the chain and start tackling programming and software development," wrote IDC applications development software analyst Al Hilwa, in an email. "This is an area that is not catered for very well by our educational system, especially before college. Anything that can help increase the number of developers or to lift their skill-sets will contribute directly to the economic success of any economy."

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

This story, "Khan Academy launches computer science curriculum" was originally published by IDG News Service .

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