Dr. Beth Harris
Co-Dean of Art and History at the Khan Academy
In 2005, Beth Harris and Steven Zucker (who share the stage for their illuminating keynotes) founded Smarthistory.org, an award-winning site dedicated to making art and it’s history accessible. In 2011, Harris joined Khan Academy as the co-Dean (with Zucker) of art and history. Known for providing free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere, the Khan Academy is one of the most widely used learning resources on the web, offering close to 4000 videos (on subjects ranging from calculus to Caravaggio), exercises, and an active learning community. Since joining, Harris and Zucker partnered with the Google Art Project, creating 90 videos for that project’s new release. Together, they create content in art, art history and history, and looking at the ways that learning analytics and game mechanics can work in Humanities education.
Harris has a PhD in Art History and more than 20 years of teaching experience. She worked at MoMA for nearly three years, producing educational websites, online courses, videos, and apps. With Zucker, she has created more than 450 videos on works of art, from ancient Egypt to Abstract Expressionism. Smarthistory has won numerous awards, including the Open Courseware Consortium’s 2012 award for Open Courseware Excellence and in 2009, the Webby award for Education. In 2011, Smarthistory was listed, along with Khan Academy, as one of the 50 best websites of the year.
The Future of Humanities Education
The Humanities are under attack. Academic departments are being closed and Humanistic disciplines devalued, but at the same time, art museums are experiencing increases in visitors and history has never been more widely read. Change is inevitable, as universities struggle with an antiquated business model that puts unsustainable financial pressures on students and parents and keeps the best educational opportunities for a small elite. At the same time, there has been an explosion of experimentation by existing and new institutions (including “edu-prenuers”), in search of new models for higher education.
What will Humanities education look like in 5 years? Will education be unbundled the way that the publishing and music industries have been unbundled? Superior academic content is being made freely available and a new generation of learners around the world, both in and outside the academy, are drawing on these resources. How will universities respond? What is the role of the museum and the research library in this new learning economy?
Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker are art and history deans at Khan Academy, a nonprofit with the mission to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere. As full time faculty, Beth and Steven taught fewer than 200 students each semester, in the past semester alone, they reached more than 750,000 learners in over 200 countries. The Arts and Humanities have a brilliant future, listen to Beth and Steven talk about what that future might look like.
The Future of Learning
“A free-world class education for anyone anywhere.” Khan Academy’s mission may seem utopian, but this is the first time in history it may actually be possible.
Not so long ago, primary education was only available to an elite that could engage private tutors. The past two hundred years has witnessed the broad adoption of public education and although access to quality schools (or any school at all) remains terribly uneven, the world has never been more educated than it is today. But everything is about to change again. Universities are experimenting with massive open online courses (MOOCs) that reach thousands, while at Khan Academy, we think about how we can jettison the one-size-fits-all education of the industrial era to create personalized learning opportunities for anyone—rich or poor—as long as they can access the internet. We can only begin to imagine the benefit to humanity when access to the best learning content is equally available to everyone.
Khan Academy offers thousands of videos on subjects from calculus to Caravaggio. But Khan is much more than a video library, it is a thriving learning community that crosses cultural boundaries. Beth and Steven tell moving stories about teaching art and history in Khan Academy’s global classroom and about education’s brilliant future.
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