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12-01-2016

Clarkson University's Snyder Panelist at IBM's World of Watson Conference

Clarkson University Department of Education Chair Catherine Snyder served on a panel at IBM’s World of Watson Conference in Las Vegas, earlier this semester.

Clarkson University Department of Education Chair Catherine Snyder (right) served on a panel at IBM’s World of Watson Conference in Las Vegas, earlier this semester.Brian Dempsey (MAT '08), Offering Manager for IBM Watson Education, approached Snyder -- given her worldwide expertise in higher education -- to share some initial thinking and get feedback on an innovative project for higher education. Snyder was very excited about the project and offered to continue in a ‘sound board’ role for this and other Watson Education projects going forward.

At the conference, the panel discussion introduced the notion of an IBM Watson software solution that can act as an "intelligent tutor." The solution fits in between a professor and/or graduate teaching assistant and the student.

This intelligent tutor would work with the student on fundamentals of the curriculum, common misconceptions, and basic concepts. This can free up the professor and TA to tackle more complex ideas, react to the data analytics that Watson can gather while tutoring, and generally make the time spent human-to-human more effective and efficient.

Snyder remarked that an intelligent tutor powered by Watson would possess three qualities that a human tutor does not:

- It would be infinitely patient. It would never get exasperated!

- It would not be biased. Watson will not judge a mistake; will not make assumptions about a student based on dress, appearance, academic skill, reaction time; etc.

- It would have infinite time. Watson will never run out of time. It can spend as much or as little time with the student as needed.

Snyder says that the data analytics could be incredible: "If I was, for example, a professor in an introductory psychology class with 60 students, the intelligent tutor could tell me what the most common errors were my students were making, what misconceptions surfaced, etc. That could then allow me to adjust my class for the next day to address these very specific needs. I would no longer have to base my assumptions about student understanding on past classes taught, or anecdotal office hour conversations. I could also dispatch my graduate teaching assistants in more precise ways to meet the needs of the learners in the class."

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, N.Y., and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, New York, Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

Photo caption: Clarkson University Department of Education Chair Catherine Snyder (right) served on a panel at IBM’s World of Watson Conference in Las Vegas, earlier this semester.

[A photograph for media use is available at http://www.clarkson.edu/news/photos/csnyder-watson.jpg.]

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or aharrison@clarkson.edu.]

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