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Supercomputer Being Groomed for Use by Teachers

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The supercomputer Watson, known for beating humans in Jeopardy, is evolving: first into a tool for doctors treating cancer and now, programmers hope, into a guide for teachers. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

Say you're a teacher struggling with how to help a diverse group of readers analyze more challenging literature.

Soon you might be able to type that question into an app on your phone connected to the supercomputer Watson.

"Studying short texts is especially helpful if we want to enable students with a wide range of reading levels to practice closely reading demanding texts," Watson says.

Watson explains the technique, gives a few examples that might work—like the "I Have a Dream" speech—and calls up a short video, showing a teacher in action.

The information is drawn from reliable sources and tailored to teachers' profiles.

At least that's the goal, according to Watson's developer, IBM.

"They're not going to take the place of humans; they're going to become helpers," says IBM's Mike Rhodin.

On Wednesday, some educators and education officials got a preliminary look at Watson-as-a-teacher's-aide.

"I am creating a unit on satire for my 9th grade English class. Can you help me find effective sample materials that align to the Common Core?" asks one teacher.

"I found this sample 9th grade unit plan on satire that uses Gogol's 'The Nose' as the core text," Watson replies.

What makes Watson unique is its ability to develop, or learn, based on how it's being used and new material it ingests. Already, some top education policy makers say they're interested.

"There are lots of things where this seems like it could be a great teaching assistant and actually help teachers be more effective in their classrooms," says State Education Commissioner John King.

"Not telling us what to teach, or telling us what to do or not to do—but it is a service," says American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

"People talk about all the things they wish teachers did—and almost every teacher I know wishes they did almost all of them. They just don't have time to do all of them," Deputy Secretary of Education James Shelton.

As of now, it's all very preliminary—but the goal is clear.

"Providing quality instructional supports," Watson says.

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