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On Watson, Jeopardy, and Education

February 17, 2011

IBM's Watson

I haven’t seen an actual standardized test recently, but watching IBM’s Watson defeat the Jeopardy champions makes me wonder if schools and testing are currently geared toward Jeopardy-champion-style knowledge instead of the kind of knowledge and wisdom that is still beyond a Watson? As kids increasingly have external access to Watson-style knowledge, they should be taught more about meaning, connection, consequences, application of knowledge that may be harder to test en masse.

Whether I remember 5th grade algebra or trig is not as important as whether the process of learning it at the time strengthened my ability to learn abstract concepts in general. I know I can easily and quickly look up the law of sines, so I don’t have to be tested on remembering it or not. What needs to be durable is understanding the concept and applicability of trigonometric relationships so I can be simultaneously surprised, delighted, and understanding when I see trigonometry applied to semantic spaces in search engine algorithms. I don’t know how to test for that.

One of my favorite test questions was from my daughter’s 3rd grade math workbook: “Harry had 36 oranges. He gave some to his uncle. How many did he have left?” It wasn’t a multiple choice question; you had to provide an answer. How do you standardize on that?

Reposted from the new TED Conversations community and AP42’s “…and Everything”

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