Opinion: Apple and IBM have big data plans for education

Apple, IBM, education, iPad, big data

IBM is working with analytics and tablets in Kenya, and beyond

Apple and IBM are developing solutions that underpin a future of personalized mobile learning that lasts a lifetime.

App analytics

Apple and IBM have been developing the “Student Achievement App” for several months and this is due to enter real world tests this year. The partners recently began approaching US school districts to trial the new technologies. For example, in June a large delegation of Apple and IBM folk met with the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees.

They discussed a proposed partnership between IBM, Apple and CISD to develop these solutions, which are described as “content analytics for student learning”, according to the meeting minutes.

The delegation included Doug Hunt, Alex Kaplan, Jeff Douglas, and Chuck Snapp from IBM and Apple’s Chris McDade and Margaret Skeahan. The importance of the meeting is evidenced by the participation of IBM’s Global Lead for Education, Alex Kaplan. School districts in Texas, South Carolina and Maryland are also testing the tech.

Are our children learning?

“We’re not satisfied with the way technology is being used in education today,” IBM’s Kaplan said during the meeting. “We think there is more to be done.”

The Student Achievement App is a dynamic teaching tool that harnesses data analytics to provide educators with “actionable intelligence on a per-student basis”. The idea is to give educators deep insight into student learning outcomes, enabling better learning. The solution is under rapid development and will be available worldwide.

It’s no surprise Apple wants to do what it can to improve the education industry. Co-founder Steve Jobs was famously frustrated with the way the sector works in the US. Speaking to Fortune, Denise Young Smith, Apple's vice president of human resources said Apple CEO Tim Cook is also committed to and involved in the company’s educational technology programs. "Education and learning is our legacy but Tim goes above and beyond," she says.

Inspiration and innovation

“We want teachers to want to log on every morning. We want to change their work in such a way that they’re excited to log on and see what’s changed, what’s different … we want that sort of rush of excitement,” Kaplan said.

The eventual impact will be huge change in how education is delivered. During an IBM-sponsored education workshop in India last year (also attended by Kaplan), Katharine Frase, IBM CTO of Public Sector predicted that classrooms “will look more different [in a decade] than classrooms have looked over the last 200 years.”

IBM believes the classroom of the future should: “Provide an environment of experiential learning, helping students learn what they want at the pace they need, as opposed to an arbitrary curriculum.”

However building this solution will need smart content and deep analytics to create the insights to move education from “assembly-line models of classroom instruction to an affordable personalized environment that motivates and engages learners at all levels,” IBM says in a recent white paper.

Connected everything

As part of this vision you can anticipate Apple will continue to evolve iTunes U, particularly in terms of student collaboration, participation and (eventually) some form of accreditation. Apple continues to develop its educational offering, with iPads becoming an essential part of some school curricula.

IBM meanwhile is engaged in an international program of work to develop solutions for educatoin. It is working with RTI to develop intelligent systems to capture data about schools in Mombasa County, Kenya using big data analytics to provide actionable recommendations about the county’s education system.

“At IBM, we believe that in the next five years, it will become a practical reality to have affordable tailored advice for both students and teachers, build on student’s strengths and help them work on their individual skill gaps and connect talents and interests with likely employment opportunities,” IBM said. Apple Watch may play a part in this as the digital transformation of everything continues.

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