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IBM Paints Portrait of the 'Smart Classroom'

Each year IBM gives us a peek at what its global network of researchers will be working on over the next five years in its annual list, the "5 in 5," five predictions about technology innovations that will change the way we work, live and play within the next five years. This year, the eighth, education — and particularly smarter classrooms — shows up on the list.

The classroom of the future, reports IBM, will supply educators with the tools they need to learn about every student and personalize instruction. The classroom will have a syllabus based on individual learning style and pace, not on an arbitrary teaching schedule. To get there, the smarter classroom will incorporate greater use of data, including longitudinal data such as test scores, attendance records, and student behavior as recorded through digital learning platforms. Cloud-delivered analytics will help teachers predict which students are most at risk, what their roadblocks are, and how those obstacles can be overcome based on personal learning style.

"In five years, the classroom will learn about each individual student and provide a tailored curriculum from kindergarten through high school and toward employment," said Katharine Frase, IBM's CTO of education.

IBM is already doing fieldwork in the classroom to test out their research. Gwinnett County Public Schools in Georgia, with 169,000 students, is working with IBM scientists to put "big data" analytics to work in the district. The project is attempting to identify similarities of learning, predict performance and learning needs, and align content and teaching techniques to improve student learning outcomes and improve the district's graduation rate. (That graduate rate in the 2011-2012 school year was about 71 percent; the state average in that same period was about 70 percent.)

IBM's other predictions areas address shopping, healthcare, security and city life:

Buying local will beat online: IBM foresees "savvy retailers" using the "immediacy of the store and proximity to customers" to create experiences that no online-only retailer can duplicate. These stores will use data and augmented reality to help sales people customize the shopping experience for each customer. Even two-day shipping, says IBM, "will feel like snail mail."

Doctors will use our DNA to keep us well: The mix of data analytics, online cognitive systems, and new forms of genomic research and testing will help doctors diagnose cancer more accurately and create "personalized" treatments plans down to the DNA level.

Digital guardians will protect us online: Forget about juggling numerous user names and passwords. IBM envisions a future where "digital guardians" will protect us by learning about us, our data, our preferences and our devices. "By learning about users, a digital guardian can make inferences about what's normal or reasonable activity and what's not, acting as an advisor when they want it to," IBM reports.

The cities where we live will help us by understanding our needs: The data generated by our activities will help the places where we live cater to our needs, likes, and activities. For example, city governments will understand what city services we favor, where, and when so they can cater to those preferences. Likewise, a location's citizens will be able to easily communicate with city operations to report urgent matters that need their attention.

The IBM 5 in 5 is based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM's Research Labs around the world that can make these transformations possible.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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