Khan Academy MCAT Video Competition: And the winners are….

Jun 27, 2013, 11:00 AM, Posted by Michael Painter

Mike Painter, senior program officer Mike Painter, senior program officer
Rishi Desai Rishi Desai, medical fellow at Khan Academy

The Khan Academy, AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the winners of the Khan Academy MCAT Video Competition today. Our goal was to identify up to 15 individuals who demonstrated particular skill, aptitude, and passion for making compelling online educational videos that will help prepare viewers for the Medical College Admissions Test. 

It was a challenging challenge, to say the least. Participants had to prepare and submit three educational videos on MCAT material along with 10 related questions about their video topics. The winners will have the opportunity to attend an all-expenses-paid Khan Academy boot camp in the San Francisco Bay Area from July 14-21 to hone their video-making skills.

The competition was popular—67 individuals submitted videos and questions. Entrants included undergrads, medical students, nurses, MDs, PhDs and faculty from 22 states, D.C. and one territory. Over a recent weekend, the judges inhaled all 67 submissions—about 200 videos and 600 questions—and identified the lucky 15 winners. 

This contest is, among many things, a testament to powerful human motivation to do good things. It garnered incredible interest from a wide variety of individuals from across the country. Importantly, it did not offer them fame or a huge cash prize—instead it offered an opportunity to give back—to play a role in helping create a new, free knowledge source for the world. 

I caught up with an exuberant Rishi Desai, from the Khan Academy, who led this contest and talked with him about his reactions to the submissions and what comes next.

Rishi, this contest was an exciting and powerful way to identify a new potential army of video-makers. Where did this idea come from?

We basically identified a need—high-quality content for students studying for the MCAT—and a resource— passionate educators who have a gift for taking a complex idea and making it simple (and fun). This contest was about pairing those two, and taking an important step toward allowing people to teach people—democratizing education. This strategy allows us to offer content quickly and iterate on it to meet changing needs. The 2015 MCAT will include new domains in the social and behavioral sciences, and we want to help students prepare for it.

What surprised you most about the challenge? 

I was absolutely blown away by the incredible talent and passion that these applicants demonstrated in their videos. It’s clear that by reaching out to this huge pool of content creators, we are tapping into a brand new educational strategy. Many of these students had a natural knack for teaching in the "Khan style"—clear, concise, informal, and friendly. We want to offer students a chance to extend what they’re already doing locally and broadcast it globally.

Talk about the caliber of entries you received. Was it difficult to judge the admissions? What made a difference to the judges?

The entries were really diverse: different voices, approaches, content, and style. However, the best ones had some common themes. First, the approach was clear both visually and through the spoken description. Second, there was a true depth to the material so that it appealed to a sense of intellectual curiosity, getting to the question of "why." Finally, the strongest submissions were engaging and made the learning fun. When all of these came together, you could almost sense empathy in the voice. The person seemed to care that the audience was learning.

Khan Academy MCAT Competition 2013 Finalist Video

Is it surprising that so many of the entrants were students rather than existing faculty? 

I have long believed that students are a powerful resource for other students. We all know this from experience, like when you get a great explanation from a classmate on a subject that can otherwise seem confusing. There is something truly magical about learning from a peer, and I think that students are often looking for ways to help one another. So it honestly didn’t surprise me that so many entrants were students.

You created a montage of the some of the winning entrants—impressive. What does this strong interest from these new video developers tell us about online learning in the future?

People are immersed in technology, and they’re looking for new ways to express themselves and their ideas using it. Many of the submissions came from people who have had minimal training in video-based education, and they did an incredible job! I think that online learning is going to be an increasingly important component of education because it will allow us to better utilize our in-person time to be more interactive. A better online experience, combined with a better in-person experience will make education, dare I say, fun!

What comes next for the winners? 

The winners will join us in Northern California for a week of training in video-making. We’re going to have them work with us as well as with each other to teach and learn how to make the best videos possible. Going forward, we’ll work with them as Khan Fellows to make content for the 2015 MCAT exam that is reviewed by faculty members. This project pushes forward the idea of students teaching students and that will alter the educational paradigm. It's just one more paradigm that millennials are forcing us to re-think.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.