Gwinnett schools, IBM to partner on eCLASS analytics

Alvin Wilbanks

Alvin Wilbanks

An innovation that IBM researchers believe will change the world in the next five years is coming to Gwinnett classrooms.

A partnership announced on Wednesday between IBM and Gwinnett County Public Schools is part of the district’s larger eCLASS initiative that has previously focused on instruction and curriculum. The new component, analytics, is being developed by IBM scientists to analyze population and student records to find a pattern of student learning.

The personalized system automatically labels digital learning content with instructions from curriculum standards to find the right content suited to a specific student’s needs.

This partnership was billed by the organizations as a “first-of-a-kind” research and development relationship that uses data, analytics and cognitive technologies to find insight into a personalized education path for students. Eventually, it could tailor coursework toward a specific career.

IBM officials said anonymous data from nearly 200,000 students over 10 years is already available for analysis.

The program is called Personalized Education Through Analytics on Learning Systems, or PETALS. Its goal is to move from a one-size-fits-all model of education to a personalized approach that motivates and engages students. It hopes to also reduce student drop-out rates and improve academic performance and college readiness.

“The level of personalized education that the IBM PETALS research project is meant to create will not only make our students more successful within our system, but give them the tools needed to succeed outside our walls, helping to better link curricula with employers’ needs, a true measure of economic development,” CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said in a statement.

IBM recently had its eighth annual “IBM 5 in 5” announcement that lists innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact in the next five years. Along with technology in the classroom, the other innovations listed are buying local will beat online, your DNA will be used to improve your health, a digital guardian will protect you online, “smart” cities will use crowd-sourcing technologies to help residents live there.

“The use of big data and deep content analytics holds the promise of enabling truly personalized educational content and targeted learning, which has the potential to transform the entire education industry,” Chalapathy Neti, director of education transformation at IBM Research said in a statement. “Education is a human right, and our research project with Gwinnett County Public Schools underscores the investment we are making, and need to make, for education to become more personal, effective, and efficient.”

IBM has worked with GCPS for more than 15 years.

Last year, the Gwinnett County Board of Education approved a $2.2 million contract with IBM for technical support of the district’s eCLASS initiative.

Funded by a recent education special purpose local option sales tax, which was approved by Gwinnett County voters in November 2011, eCLASS (Content, Learning, Assessment and Support System) was part of planned technology upgrades earmarked in the ballot language for the measure.

While all GCPS facilities will eventually use eCLASS, 33 schools in the district are piloting the initiative. They include classrooms in the Archer, Berkmar, Duluth, North Gwinnett and Shiloh clusters.