Sesame Street, IBM’s Watson Team Up for Early Childhood Tools

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

IBM’s cognitive computing platform is forming a partnership with Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit responsible for Sesame Street, in an effort to create interactive educational tools that will adapt to the learning preferences and skill levels of individual preschoolers.

The effort is set to be a three-year R&D investment that will result in the creation of a team of teachers, engineers, gamers, and researchers who will be tasked with determining how cognitive computing can best be applied to preschool education.

Both IBM and Sesame Street report looking to create educational tools that would be used to help preschoolers succeed in school.  The project is based on research that found that 90% of a child’s brain is fully developed by age five.

The partnership will make use of the educational content expertise that Sesame Street is famous for, as well as Watson’s natural language processing, pattern recognition, and other cognitive computing abilities.  Watson’s technology is expected to help the program continuously improve as it studies and adapts to the experiences of each individual student, writes Natalie Gagliordi for ZDNet.

IBM reports the most difficult part to the project as being the creation of intelligent tutoring systems that will take natural language dialogue into consideration and help the computer to determine what the individual already knows in order to create a personalized learning experience.

The companies hope to test and share prototypes with both the education and technology communities in order to determine what best works.  The program is still in the early development phase, but ideas so far include an Elmo doll with the capability of engaging with and adapting to a child’s development; learn-to-read apps based on Watson; and classroom tools that would help teachers to create individualized learning opportunities for students.

“We can’t predict every turn this partnership will take; we don’t know yet what the platform will look like, or what apps and programs will be developed,” said Sesame Workshop CEO Jeffrey Dunn. “That’s the exciting part. We’re pooling our interests, our experience, our passion, our commitment, and our fervent belief that we can make learning better. We’re going to do it for our kids — and for the world’s shared future.”

The companies expect to have at least one tool ready to be tested in schools.  Plans include the creation of up to six different technologies to be developed by 2019.  Each tool will be part of a pilot program in New York City schools and other schools around the country with feedback from both teachers and students expected to help in the fine-tuning of the tools, writes Tony Wan for EdSurge.

Dunn said that the technology will follow all the rules and regulations associated with children’s privacy and security.  Sesame has continually helped to shape privacy rules, and looks to have the new technology “deliver a great content experience, and not for something that is inappropriate with our mission.”

The partnership comes without any money exchanging hands between the two companies.  Dunn reports the partnership, which is still in its exploratory phase, as being purely about research and development.