‘Intelligent’ tutor aids science students online

High school students soon will be able to get help with their chemistry and physics homework from a new online tutor that uses artificial-intelligence technology.

Starting this fall, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (HRW) will offer a subscription to the Quantum Intelligent Tutor with the purchase of its textbooks. The Quantum Intelligent Tutor, developed by Quantum Simulations Inc., is not specific to one textbook publisher, but through HRW, an intelligent, computer-based science tutor will be available to students and teachers for the first time, according to the company.

“Our market research shows that tutorial programs are the No. 1 supplement requested by teachers,” said Ellen M. Standafer, vice president of science product development at HRW, which is part of the Harcourt Education Group.

Traditionally a textbook publisher, HRW will sell the online tutor along with online versions of its textbooks this fall, so the company can offer its customers “a complete, integrated, multimedia learning experience for teachers and students.”

“Our intention is to continually add value to our online material that customers would be willing to pay for,” said HRW spokesman John Lawyer. With the purchase of a print or online textbook, HRW also will recommend that schools purchase the online tutoring service.

The company’s strategic approach to selling eLearning curricula and services reflects a growing trend among traditional textbook publishers, said Peter Grunwald, president of Grunwald Associates, an educational technology research and consulting firm. But for internet-based educational content and services to be successful, publishers need to teach their customers that the internet has content worth paying for.

“It’s important for publishers and others to make the case to education customers that internet-based products have value and are not simply freebies,” Grunwald said.

Quantum began developing its artificial-intelligence tutor four years ago after it, too, had determined that schools had a need for high-quality, supplemental tutorial services.

“This was an area where teachers and students were really calling out for help, but the education software market wasn’t giving it to them,” said Benny Johnson, president and chief executive of Quantum Simulations, who helped develop the software with his own former high school chemistry teacher.

What sets the Quantum Intelligent Tutor apart from other digital tutors, Johnson said, is that it allows students to type in whatever problems they need help with. “If this is something that’s supposed to help you with your homework, it’s not going to be any use if it doesn’t know what the homework is,” he said.

Most computerized tutors depend on a database of questions, so they are limited in the choice of problems they can help with, Johnson said: “They can’t do anything unless you’ve anticipated [the problem] and you’ve put it in the database.”

eSchool News Staff

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