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What if Isaac Newton had owned a video camera? Suspend your disbelief a little more … what if he used that camera to record himself teaching calculus lessons and then posted those lessons on YouTube?

Well, if Newton had done these things, then Salman Khan “wouldn’t have to,” as Khan said in a March TED Talk. Since Newton pre-dated the digital era, Khan took it upon himself to fill the gap with his brainchild, Khan Academy, the world’s first video-based virtual school.

It all began in 2004, when Khan recorded math tutorials for his school-aged cousin and posted them to YouTube. His cousin could access the lessons at her convenience, replaying them as many times as she needed to master the subject. Fast-forward seven years, and it’s safe to say Khan’s virtual-classroom platform has grown just a bit …  to 2,200 videos accessed by more than one million viewers each month.

According to Khan, teaching through video technology helps humanize education. This assertion may seem counterintuitive—after all, the videos don’t even show Khan’s face, just a digital chalkboard and his multi-colored hand-written notes—but Khan has proof that the videos result in increased interaction among teachers and students. He has heard from teachers that assign the videos as homework so that they don’t spend their class time lecturing, but rather spend it facilitating group work, enrichment activities, and remedial help.

Khan Academy certainly exemplifies the power of video technology to change education for the better. The project clearly refutes some educators’ protests to the integration of more technology into the teaching process. I’d argue that video, especially telepresence, could do even more for Khan Academy: it has the potential to bring to fruition Khan’s vision of a “global one-world classroom.” Khan aspires to make the site a forum through which, for example, a student in California can discuss material with a student in Calcutta. Imagine the power of this interaction should it take place via telepresence—two students, a world away from one another, suddenly in the same virtual room sharing the learning experience. It doesn’t get more human or global than that.

Want to learn more about telepresence? Check out the Cisco TelePresence blog!

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