Imagine a teaching assistant who’s always awake, always hooked into the latest information and who always explains its reasoning with pinpoint precision. That’s how IBM envisions its cognitive computing system, named Watson, being used to help teachers in the future.
As the annual EDUCAUSE conference was kicking off in Orlando, Fla., in late September, several representatives from IBM were in New York demonstrating a prototype application for Watson that could serve as a powerful digital assistant in the classroom. At the demonstration were university presidents, higher education institution deans, and teachers union leaders, according to an IBM news release.
The company touted the application, tentatively dubbed the Watson Master Teacher, as "tech that teaches teachers."
"It's not about replacing teachers but giving them a lever to do their jobs far more effectively," said Michael D. King, vice president of Global Education Industry at IBM. "That’s the power of these kinds of cognitive systems."
The technology could provide teachers with instant guidance on lesson plans and classroom strategies or help them discover new ways of measuring student progress.
Teachers would ask the program questions, and it would draw on information from massive databases, scientific journals and other educational materials to formulate its answers. It would also be intelligent enough to identify the pieces of information it didn’t have, noted Satya Nitta, manager of the Emerging Technologies research group at IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center.
A day later at EDUCAUSE, IBM hosted a panel on Watson's future in higher education. King referenced Watson Master Teacher, saying the technology could be used to help educators in K-12 schools adapt and use Common Core standards. IBM envisions "putting a Master Teacher in every classroom," he said.
King also discussed how Watson could lead to the development of "intelligent tutors" and cognitive advisers that could help engineer better experiences for students on college campuses.
IBM is developing its cloud-based Watson Master Teacher program with input from educators, according to The Huffington Post. But there remain challenges, including determining which materials should be approved for use in classrooms.
Education is only the latest industry IBM has targeted for Watson. The company announced in January it would invest $1 billion to create a new business unit for Watson, according to Reuters. In August, IBM released the Watson Discovery Advisor, a cloud-based analytical application of the computer system designed to help with scientific and educational research.
The first version of the Watson Master Teacher is targeted for release in 2016, The Huffington Post reports.