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IBM Watson and Sesame Workshop launches AI vocabulary learning app

Intelligent Play and learning Platform by IBM Watson Sesame Street for the IBM Cloud platform.

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6/6/2017 7:25:45 AM
IBM Watson and Sesame Workshop launches AI vocabulary learning app
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Posted Tuesday, June 06, 2017 by Richard Harris, Executive Editor


IBM Watson and Sesame Workshop launches AI vocabulary learning app
IBM and Sesame Workshop have announced that Georgia’s Gwinnett County Public Schools, one of the nation’s top urban school districts, has completed an initial pilot of the industry’s first cognitive vocabulary learning app, built on the IBM and Sesame Intelligent Play and Learning Platform. The new platform, based on IBM Cloud, enables an ecosystem of software developers, researchers, educational toy companies and educators to tap IBM Watson cognitive capabilities and content from Sesame Workshop’s early childhood research to build engaging experiences to help advance children’s education and learning. The cognitive vocabulary app is one of the first of many cognitive apps, games and educational toys that will be built over time on this new platform, as a result of the two companies’ collaboration announced last year.

The Gwinnett pilot program marks the first time that Sesame Workshop content and Watson technology have been introduced into classrooms to be tested by students and educators. In the initial phase, Gwinnett kindergartners and teachers in six classrooms engaged with a tablet-based, cognitive vocabulary app built on the Watson-powered Intelligent Play and Learning Platform to enhance vocabulary development of students. Fueled by Sesame content and learning design, this adaptive app features beloved Sesame Street characters alongside educational videos and word games.

"Sesame and IBM share a belief that cognitive computing can enhance and spark excitement for learning in children everywhere," said Harriet Green, General Manager, IBM Watson IoT, Customer Engagement and Education. " Together, we are combining Watson capabilities and Sesame's rich educational knowledge to give teachers new insights about their students’ vocabulary development and ultimately, create a unique learning experience personalized to each child.”

Based on the initial Gwinnett pilot, with an expanded pilot currently being planned for this Fall, IBM and Sesame collected 18,000 assessments from multiple choice questions that helped to measure progression of words students were exposed to over a two-week period. In the pilot, students learned words that are deemed difficult for kindergartners, including “arachnid,” “amplify,” “camouflage,” and “applause,” with initial observations showing that many students appeared to acquire new vocabulary as a result of the app. In fact, one teacher noted: “We are studying animals, and children were able to notice various forms of ‘camouflage’ among animal skin patterns.” Another teacher said: “When we found a spider in the classroom, a student yelled, 'an arachnid’!" Participating teachers overwhelmingly agreed that the app was a valuable addition to their class.


Watson’s augmented intelligence capabilities are designed to enable the app to provide digital assistance in the classroom. Teachers can monitor children’s vocabulary development in real-time through a secure dashboard and adjust lessons, pacing, and curriculum to each child’s needs. The app will use adaptive assessments to determine a child's current vocabulary range, and then deliver vocabulary learning experiences that focus on specific words. Continuously learning as a child engages with the app, words and areas that require additional focus are refined to deliver content and experiences that are engaging, fun and inspiring.

“Sesame Workshop is committed to reaching and teaching children in the critical years between ages 0-5, meeting them wherever they are and adapting to the ways they learn best,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, CEO of Sesame Workshop. “Educational technology like the platform we’ve created with IBM Watson is a promising new channel for learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom, and we’re excited to explore it further.”

This app is still in early stages of development and it is being used as a vehicle to establish evidence of learning at scale. The current pilot is the first phase of a process to understand whether multi-modal learning experiences can improve vocabulary and literary. This app and others like it will soon be available on the IBM Cloud for wide adoption in schools globally. These and other educational experiences being developed on the new Platform will be modular and easy to customize, built with the needs of educators and administrators in mind. A key partner in this unique co-design process, Gwinnett County Public Schools has offered insights and feedback as joint research and development teams from IBM and Sesame Workshop evolve the app.

Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks was excited about the opportunity to participate in this pilot with Sesame and longtime strategic technology partner IBM. He explained: “This vocabulary learning app complements our efforts to transform the classroom, actively engaging students in a fun and interactive way. Technology is a basic tool for today’s learner; and with this app, our very youngest learners had the opportunity to learn new words and expand their vocabulary.”

Gwinnett’s pilot of the cognitive vocabulary learning app is only the beginning of what’s possible with this technology. IBM and Sesame are customizing Watson for early childhood as well as developing new capabilities for it. Educational toys, apps, and games enabled with Watson’s speech - and image-recognition capabilities are expected to take the platform’s personalized learning beyond the classroom. These products will be designed to engage directly with children and caregivers to deliver context-rich play experiences around literacy, emotional learning, and school preparedness, all adapted to each child’s preferences and learning patterns.

“We know that each child has unique educational needs that are difficult to address fully in a classroom, even with the kinds of differentiation strategies available to teachers today,” said Dr. Todd Rose, one of the project’s advisors and Director of Mind, Brain, and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Sesame Workshop and IBM Watson are developing a technology platform that has the potential to help teachers meet their students’ individual needs in entirely new ways - using data from playful learning activities that adapt to each student’s knowledge of a topic, interests, and approaches to learning. I am encouraged by the program’s progress in just one year, and their attention to learning both in and out of schools. By including students, teachers, and administrators in the design of the platform, this pilot program can move quickly towards becoming a resource that will be available to many more children who will benefit from it.”





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