Exploring ‘Art of the Possible’ in Education

Team India Onward caught up with Chalapathy Neti, Director, Education Transformation, Thomas J. Watson Research Center, IBM to discuss about ‘Classroom of the future’  its impact on the education industry. Few excerpts from this conversation is given below.

We are given to understand that IBM and its education partners are rethinking the classroom of the future, which according to you will shift from a one-size-fits-all model to a truly personalized environment. How do you plan to ensure this in a country like India where a large population is still devoid of basic learning resources?

The classroom of the future is being re-imagined on multiple fronts. Universities are offering more and more on line classes, to address the increasing need and exploding costs. Publishers are moving substantially to digital media, which increases flexibility, reduces costs, and improves learning outcomes. With all of these digitized services and offerings, the experience for learners changes as well. We will know more about what the students complete, what they like, where they struggle. As a clear consequence, educators will know more about students as a whole and each student in particular, enabling them to customize materials for a particular student.

India and the emerging markets are at a different starting point than the developed world. Nonetheless, we think that India will be a key beneficiary for the digital learning revolution that we are seeing. There is a shortage in India of brick-and-mortar universities to accommodate the sizable population, and a growing population seeking higher education. Studies indicate that India would need 800 additional universities by 2020, if India continues with standard approaches to education. This is clearly not a realistic option. The only approach is online/blended learning to achieve rapid scale to meet the demand.  In addition, India and other emerging economies don’t have the overhead and entrenched policies of more established economies, which actually creates opportunities for India to spawn innovation and leapfrog established economies as they have done in Cellular telephony. Solutions in developed economies might be based on universal tablet computers. In India and other emerging economies, the digital tool of choice might initially be mobile phones.

What kind of partnerships are you looking to forge in India? What would be the role of partners here?

IBM as a company has a business model that sells through partners. Partners are key for us to populate our platforms with local learning content, and also to sell solutions that include our technologies. We need partners in the Learning Management Systems, Digital learning content publishers, and device/tablet vendors that are appropriate (price and function) for the local markets. We also want go to market and channel partners, that have relationships with schools and universities.

The computing era has paved the way for Cognitive Computing. How will this impact the education industry? Can you provide examples of research underway in this direction?

Cognitive Computing implies creating machines that can “think” more like humans, and can interact with users in more natural, human-like ways. Cognitive computers will include human-like reasoning powers, and allow users to converse and engage in dialogue. They will use machine learning to acquire deep understanding across many knowledge domains. This will open up vistas of new opportunity for education. You can imagine machines that act as intelligent tutors for students of all ages. These machines will not only provide answers to student questions; they can allow the answer to unfold gradually, enabling the student to ultimately come up with the answer him/herself, while also understanding the various steps that led to that answer. The Watson computer that we all saw on Jeopardy! was the first foray into this field. We are exploring novel ways to use Watson in more complex and interactive scenarios required for Education.

IBM is organizing the Digital Learning Workshop in India in February. Why have you chosen India for this event? What can the attendees take back post the event?

India was a natural choice for IBM’s Digital Learning Workshop on February 27-28. First, IBM Research – India is the global hub for IBM’s R&D work in Education. Second, India has a large and young population; traditional education models will not suffice to provide coverage for the entire population; a radical model shift is required. As stated earlier, India will need 800 additional universities by 2020 if we continue along traditional lines of education. The digital revolution is necessary to ensure that larger populations are accommodated; analytics and personalized pathways are needed to ensure that all students receive learning materials that are well-suited to their needs and learning styles, when the demand for quality education outstrips the availability of trained educators. We hope that attendees will leave this Workshop with a deeper understanding of the “art of the possible” in education. There will be presentations from growth and developed markets around the world; participants will get a broad sense of global educational challenges and solutions. We hope that insights gleaned from this workshop will drive new policies, new technical solutions, and new worldwide partnerships.

India Onward, inspired by passionate IBMers, is an attempt to invite like-minded individuals, institutions and communities to come together and inject positive momentum that can propel India into a smarter nation. This is a unique platform that promises to enable every citizen to collaborate and commit towards the progress of the nation.

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    • February 11, 2014

      Sanjay Gopinath

      It is interesting to see the possibilities that cognitive computing can bring to education. I would think that technology will help the sector address the challenge of scaling up (to make course material accessible to thousands of people) and personalization (helping the individual to choose a pace of learning and the course as per his interest) and also availability in any medium. Exciting times ahead ! Thank you for the article.

    • Great to know about IBM’s efforts in Education, look forward to meet Dr. Sara and team. And also eagerly look forward to participate in the DLW2014.

    • February 20, 2014

      L S Govind

      Superlative thoughts! Cognitive computing sitting on top of cloud, mobile and social solutions can and will change the education ecosystem. IBM with its unique Watson capability certain has the competitive edge to make a difference to the world in general and developing economies in particular to help them achieve their literacy and skill development goals through speed, scale, and quality of these technologies and solutions. Another great opportunity to make IBM the most essential company of the world.