Dylan Vassallo’s Revoultionizing Education at Khan Academy

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When Dylan Vassallo built circuits by his grandfather’s side as a young boy, he may have dreamed of a career as an engineer, but he never knew that he’d one day have a hand in changing education across the world as a Software Developer for Khan Academy.

Khan Academy, or simply “Khan,” is a non-profit organization created by Sal Khan, which provides free educational resources in a wide variety of subjects to teachers and students of any age. It began in 2004 when Khan created math tutorial videos and posted them on YouTube in 2006 for his niece and nephews. Since then, it has exploded to over 4250 videos, in twenty-eight spoken languages, reaching six million users per month in 216 countries.

Vassallo recently started his position as a full-time Software Developer at Khan after earning his bachelor’s in Computer Science from UCLA. Searching through websites for internship postings during junior year of college led him to a spot in Khan’s summer internship program, the first step in his journey with the company.

“The bar is high for hiring interns, but you get to do things that really have a big impact,” Vassallo said. “From day one I was able to do things that at a bigger company or at a different company I would not have been able to do.” 

Vassallo, like all interns at Khan, was assigned a mentor. Interns not only work on a project similar to their mentor’s current one, but also can rely on the mentor for help along the way–from how to work the coffee machine to advice on next steps for a project. One of Vassallo’s most memorable projects as an intern was creating pages for the videos available in non-English languages, making the site more accessible internationally. Today the entire Khan site available in various languages, so as to further internationalize the educational resources provided by the organization. 

“There wasn’t much risk when I started with Khan, because it had kind of already gotten off the ground,” explained Vassallo, “but it still kind of had a startup feel, and things move very fast. Things are almost unrecognizable from when I started as an intern to now.”

Vassalo stressed that the small size of the organization allowed the interns to really take ownership of what they do, and that its mission made even small steps meaningful.

“It’s really cool to be here and to know that when I make a change to the site, the people who see that and the people who benefit from that are students and teachers and people who are trying to improve their own lives,” Vassallo mentioned.

A visit to the Khan Academy website brings up quadratic equation examples (from the video library, filled with more than 4,000 academic videos with up-to-date information), interactive computer science lessons, a projects lab, and the data dashboard, which provides feedback for students and teachers about work completed on the website by a given student.

 

 

Adult learners, classroom teachers, grade school students and college students are among those that take advantage of Khan Academy, which strives to create a personalized and self-directed experience, including areas outside of traditional academics, like finance and healthcare. Not only can students use the lessons to gain exposure to completely new material, but they can also help fill holes in their knowledge before moving onto more advanced topics.

 

 
 
 
Some schools even bring Khan into the classroom. For example, a teacher can assign students to watch a Khan video on the Pythagorean Theorem as homework and later practice equations in class with the teacher beside them, instead of going home and struggling without help. This is known as the “Flipped Classroom” method. Khan encourages a balanced approach to this teaching style, letting teachers review the data dashboard to discover what topics and activities need more focus.

 

 

Ideas like the Flipped Classroom demonstrate what Vassallo valued in Khan. He also celebrates the focus on those who may not have had the privilege of attending college or high school. By keeping the material free, Khan allows anyone to work at their own pace, which can even fit into the schedule of learners with a full-time job.

Vassallo feels lucky that he's found such a strong connection to working at Khan. “Get started early, not necessarily thinking about what kind of career you want for the rest of your life, but just exploring things that interest you,” Vassallo advises undergrads. “The reason that I’m here now, doing something that I really like to do, software development, is because I got started doing it really young, and that was something that I took to. More than anything else, it was something that I wanted to stay up late learning about on my own.”

He said it’s hard not to pursue your passion once you find it, and that finding a job that he enjoys with an organization that he supports came from following his interests. Vassallo did not appreciate Khan’s rapid growth and broad reach until he started working there as an intern. Now, he holds ambitious goals for the organization, as it expands internationally, aiding education in many capacities. It may have started out small, but it shows no signs of stopping short of anything but revolutionary results.

 

Pomona College > Sophomore

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