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Does being a “Jeopardy!” champion make you an education expert? Not necessarily.
But, in the case of Watson, the IBM computer platform that famously knocked-off trivia phenom Ken Jennings from his record-breaking quiz show pedestal, the notoriety doesn’t hurt.
According to a recent New York Times report, Watson’s next role could be as a virtual assistant to America’s school teachers.
Over the past two years, the IBM Foundation has worked with the American Federation of Teachers to build Teacher Advisor, a program that uses Watson’s artificial intelligence to answer teacher questions and help them develop personalized lesson plans.
The IBM Foundation plans to release a version of the program for third-grade math teachers by the end of this year.
Proponents say the program marks a big step toward strengthening the relationship between technology and teachers, some of who are still reluctant to embrace new innovations in the classroom.
As the relationship between technology and teaching evolves over time, school district leaders must strike a balance between the pressure for change and the due diligence needed to ensure that every investment has a positive desired impact on student learning.
Teaching coach of the future?
The hope is that IBM’s Teacher Advisor and other fringe AI innovations will help teachers navigate the vast amounts of available education information for different grade-levels and subject areas and help them craft customized lesson plans that fit students’ needs.
As IBM Foundation President Stanley S. Litow told the New York Times:
The idea was to build a personal adviser, so a teacher would be able to find the best lesson and then customize the lesson based upon their classroom needs. By loading a massive amount of content, of teaching strategies, lesson plans, you’d actually make Watson the teacher coach.
In some cases, educators and administrators say the new technology could aid teachers in complying with their state’s Common Core standards.
Remember, before the Common Core became a pariah to…pretty much everyone, it was, at its core, a set of standards for the lessons that students need to learn at the end of every grade level. Watson aims to not only help teachers understand what skills they’re required to teach, but also what prerequisite lessons students will need to foster those skills.
Teachers who’ve piloted the program tout its time-saving potential and its ability to constantly adapt, the New York Times reports.
As more teachers use the platform, the Teacher Advisor algorithm will adapt to better answer teachers’ questions and to provide more customized content. In other words, Watson learns.
Make an informed decision
It’s an exciting time for education technology. New initiatives like Teacher Advisor give us an eager glimpse into the future.
But no matter how exciting the possibilities, it’s important to step back and ask that all-important question: In the end, will Teacher Advisor and other solutions like it help students learn?
As you consider the answer to that question, don’t forget to ask students and teachers and parents what they think of the idea.
Do they think it’s worth it? Are parents equipped to support students when it comes to integrating these solutions in schools? What does your staff think about being asked to embrace an entirely new way of working?
Once you have made an informed decision, make sure your students, parents, and staff understand the path you’ve selected and they have the skills and resources to make it work.
That means comprehensive training for each new program as well as ongoing support from content experts.
There’s great technology on the horizon. Watson is one shining example. The question is now: “Are we ready to move forward?”
How do you engage your community before high stakes technology deployments? Tell us in the comments.
Planning a digital transformation in your schools? Here are a few ideas to consider first.