IBM and Georgia’s Largest School System Bring Personalized Learning to Life

Gwinnett County Public Schools collaborates with IBM Research on a first-of-a-kind project to improve student outcomes through big data and analytics

GWINNETT COUNTY, Georgia - 17 Dec 2013: IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) today announced a first-of-a-kind research and development relationship that leverages big data, deep analytics, and cognitive technologies to generate actionable insights for personalized education and learning pathways for students.

The announcement comes on the heels of the eighth annual "IBM 5 in 5" – a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years. IBM predicts that within five years, advanced technologies will enable the classroom to learn you, and the project with GCPS is an example of how IBM researchers are getting down to work to make that prediction a reality. 

Known as Personalized Education Through Analytics on Learning Systems (PETALS), the project will use machine learning, predictive modeling, deep content analytics and advanced case management to identify learning needs of students and recommend personalized learning pathways. The goal of the PETALS project is to move from a ‘one-size-fits all’ model of education toward a truly personalized approach that motivates and engages learners, and ultimately lead to significant improvement in key educational outcomes, such as reducing student drop-out rates; improving academic performance/college readiness; increasing student engagement; and enhancing teacher effectiveness. 

On average, 8,300 high school students dropout each day in the US, amounting to a staggering yearly total of over 3 million. Gwinnett County Public Schools, the 14th largest school district in the US, is located in metro Atlanta. With an enrollment close to 170,000 students across 132 schools, this large school system continues to drive improvement in graduation rates. Having undergone enormous change over the past few decades, moving from an earlier identity of a rural school system to a large urban school district, GCPS is actively seeking the use of innovative technologies that will move the district closer to a personalized learning solution for each student.  

“As the biggest school district in Georgia, and largest employer in Gwinnett County, we want to lead by example,” said Gwinnett County Public Schools CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks. “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.” 

The cognitive system being developed by IBM scientists aims to use population analysis of longitudinal student records extracted from a variety of sources. The goal is to identify similar students based on their pattern of learning, predict performance and learning needs, and align specific content and successful teaching techniques. The system uses deep content analytics to automatically label digital learning content with instructions from curriculum standards, thereby significantly easing the challenge of retrieving the right content suited to a specific student’s needs. 

It also learns from successful intervention practices to recommend personalized pathways for students based on a unique understanding of each student’s context. Anonymized data from close to 200,000 students over 10 years are already available for analysis. The project seeks to harness the power of big data and analytics to provide timely, personalized, and actionable insights to teachers and students, helping enhance their pedagogical and learning experience. 

“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,” said Dr. Chalapathy Neti, Director, Education Transformation, IBM Research. “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 been working with GCPS for over 15 years, most recently being named lead strategic technology partner and chief systems integrator for eCLASS – a digital Content, Learning, Assessment, and Support System. The eCLASS initiative has been hailed as the largest and most significant transformational effort in GCPS’ history. It is based on a vision that technology permeates the education of all learners, changing the way teachers teach and students learn, fostering collaboration, and nurturing creativity and innovation between students, teachers and parents. In August 2013, eCLASS was released to 33 pilot schools; implementation in an additional 54 schools is targeted for January 2014, with the remainder planned for August 2014.  

“Since eCLASS began, principals, teachers, and students have received a wealth of new and exciting resources to better support student learning and achievement,” said Heather Gibbs-Poe, Partner, IBM Global Business Services.  “As part of eCLASS, advanced analytics dashboards provide principals and teachers with early insights to students who are at risk of not graduating on time, allowing quicker identification of interventions to bring those students ‘back on track.’”  With the PETALS research effort underway, Gwinnett County Public Schools will continue to partner with IBM to enhance and also accelerate the vision for eCLASS.  

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In this photo illustration Director of Education Transformation Chalapathy Neti points to an assessment of a student's math performance at IBM Research headquarters in Yorktown Heights, NY, Tuesday, December 17, 2013. In five years, the classroom of the future will learn about each student, helping them master the skills critical to meeting their goals using personalized curriculum. A system fueled by sophisticated analytics over the cloud will help teachers predict students who are most at risk, their roadblocks, and then suggest measures to help students overcome their challenges. This innovation is part of IBM’s 5 in 5, a set of IBM annual predictions that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years. (Credit: Jon Simon/Feature Photo Service for IBM)

In five years, the classroom of the future will learn about each student over the course of their education, helping students master the skills critical to meeting their goals. A system fueled by sophisticated analytics over the cloud will help teachers predict students who are most at risk, their roadblocks, and then suggest measures to help students overcome their challenges. (Credit: IBM)

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