IBM Watson proved on Jeopardy it can process and “learn” information much faster than humans. But how well can it help teachers and students learn?
Last week, IBM Watson released Element for Educators, an iOS app designed for the iPad to give teachers a better understanding of factors affecting student performance. The tool also serves as a communications platform for teachers to share notes with other teachers or across the district, whether it’s about a curriculum standard or a student’s grade dropping.
The app is IBM Watson Education’s first education app, and the company, along with Apple, approached Coppell Independent School District in Coppell, Texas, to help build and pilot the app about a year ago. Marilyn Denison, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, met with the company product teams every week to give feedback on the app.
“You’re working with three different cultures when you bring in the school district too,” Denison says.
Coppell was already a 1:1 district, with fourth through twelfth grade using individual iPads and kindergarten through third using classroom sets. The district totals some 12,300 students and 750 teachers, and four of its 16 schools have started using the IBM app this year. As a partner, Coppell uses the app for free the first few years, Denison says.
IBM Watson could not be reached for comment.
The iOS app for iPad, developed by IBM’s computer system named Watson, lets teachers add notes, like when a student shows interest in chemistry after a science project or joins a club and runs for office. Teachers are also able to view classroom averages, like how students performed on certain class assignments and compare across their classes, or look at a calendar of what they have planned for the day.
IBM and Denison’s team envisioned for the app to be all-in-one tool for teachers, from the moment they start their days to the end of day. One of the major pain points the group discussed was having several different places where teachers stored and accessed data. This was one of the problems they wanted to solve and give teachers a quick way to find information on students and their classes.
Denison says it’s too early to speak of results and measurements, but for now teacher participation has been positive. “Teachers are excited about it, and they are using it. That’s the first measure to me, and a very important one to me.”
IBM will continue working with Coppell’s district and talking with teachers to see what works and what doesn’t.
IBM Watson technology has been used to develop a line of products in enterprise search, predictive analytics and a virtual customer support agent.