Teaching and Learning with Intelligent Machines

By Robert J. Harris

May 16, 2017

The following is not an endorsement of IBM products. IBM’s Watson Education is used to illustrate how an industry giant such as IBM is currently changing the education landscape by bringing intelligent machines into the classroom.

According to IBM, “Watson is bringing education into the cognitive era.” IBM’s website states that, Watson is “transforming the learning experience through personalization,” and that, Watson provides, “cognitive solutions that understand, reason and learn, and help educators gain insights into learning styles, preferences, and the aptitude of every student.”

IBM has developed two Watson education applications – Watson “Enlight” and “Element.” “Enlight” is a planning tool to support teachers with curated, personalized learning content and activities that align with each student’s needs. “Element” is a mobile application that, “provides teachers with a single 360-degree view of students by consolidating various academic, social, and behavioral data sources. In classrooms, such as those in the Coppell ISD in Texas, teachers are using IBM’s Watson to improve the learning experience for students and teachers. As the students and teachers learn, Watson learns with them.

In the future, when their operating systems become more sophisticated, and their prices drop; intelligent machines with improved sensory and speech/language recognition capabilities will become more pervasive and play a larger role in classrooms. At first, they will likely work side-by-side with human educators as teaching assistants, and thereafter as co-teachers. When their capabilities reach the level where they can function autonomously as “teacherbots,” they will ultimately replace more and more of the traditional roles of the classroom teacher. I envision the day when both teachers and teacherbots will attend after-school faculty meetings together, and collaborate with each other in their PLCs. However, at the present time, I cannot begin to imagine what a parent-teacherbot conference might look like.

Robert J. Harris (@edudexterous) is an Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources.


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