Online education startups such as the Khan Academy, along with new efforts by MIT, Stanford, and Harvard have helped spur interest in and add legitimacy to the notion of remote learning. Now Google is lending its brainpower to the rapidly growing area by releasing a tool called Course Builder, open source software designed to let anyone create online education courses.
The Course Builder project came by way of another program Google ran earlier this year called Power Searching With Google. The Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), which attracted approximately 155,000 students from 196 countries, allowed Google to marry some of the practices now common to online instruction with the company's robust array of collaboration and communication tools. A new Power Searching session begins in two weeks.
According to the introductory video (above), presented by Peter Norvig, director of Google Research, usage of the software won't require high-level programming skill, and should be accessible to anyone with the ability to build and maintain their own website.
"The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education," Norvig said. "It is a snapshot of an approach we found useful and an indication of our future direction. We hope to continue development along these lines, but we wanted to make this limited code base available now, to see what early adopters will do with it, and to explore the future of learning technology."
In addition to offering a new platform for empowering educators, the effort is also a unique opportunity to connect with Google's research team. Over the course of the next two weeks, Google plans to directly interact with Course Builder users via Google Hangouts. The Course Builder support site is already live and the free software download has already received its first update. For those unsure about their level of skill in relation to use of the software, Google's Course Builder Checklist offers a reassuring primer on how to get started and exactly what to expect.