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I was watching the premiere of “Revolution” the other night which takes place about 15 years after the world had a complete blackout that they have yet to recover from. In one scene, one of the main characters was reminiscing about when he worked for a company called “Google”, had 80 million dollars in the bank and owned his own plane. The young lady he was speaking with had no idea what he was talking about and was disinterested in finding out what Google was. Pending a worldwide blackout, most of perk up when he hear Google has announced something new and their “experimental first step in the world of online education” is no different.

While many know Google for their search engine (and plans to take over the world), most educators also know Google for their innovations with Google Apps and supporting 21st century skills like collaboration and creativity through their specific programs like google docs, forms, etc. or recently bundled as “Google Drive.” As part of their continued apparent commitment to education they have also jumped into the world of online and blended learning with the launch of their Course Builder.

So, the big question is, should we be excited? Sort of…..

Many media outlets announced the launch, but I especially like the title HackCollege.com gave to their announcement. Their title read “Google Course Builder Will Allow Anyone to Create an Educational Course.” There is some truth in that title as the code is open source and detailed instructions are provided on how to install. However, what the title should have read is “Google course builder will allow anyone with ‘technical skills at the level of a web master and familiarity with HTML and Javascript’ (as posted on the course builder site and is a bit of an understatement) to create an educational course.” Here in lies the problem with this current version of Google’s offering.

I fancy myself a bit of a webmaster. I have designed a handful of sites in my day including YUSchoolPartnership.org and OpenDaySchool.org. I do have a basic handle of HTML, none really in JAVA and, until I read the Google install pages, I had never heard of Python which is needed to install course builder. My background is psychology and education so my framework for design is about a positive user experience and meaningful learning outcomes. I use the technical tools out there to accomplish those goals, but the technical aspects do not drive the design and are not my first language. However, I learn quickly and always willing to try something new (unless it involves Bikram Yoga. Yoga is hard enough, but in 105 degree heat?). So, I dove right in and followed the install directions found here.

To summarize the process for me is to say I now have various programs I have never heard of installed on my computer and they don’t seem to be doing what they are supposed to do. After hitting this wall I reached out to my buddy who is a computer program who knows my skill level and said he probably would just need to spend a few minutes with me to get things working. While I plan on spending those few minutes (seems like an optimistic assessment by my friend), I realized that Course Builder in its current form is not for the average educator.
Unlike simple learning management systems like Edmodo and Schoology, Course Builder is not a set up an account, drag and drop design process and start your course type of platform. Even more complex and complicated platforms like Moodle are easier to install and, while it takes some training to understand and design, there are hundreds if not thousands of tutorials explaining how to use it. Even if your school has an I.T. professional to install Course Builder, you can see from the Create Lessons page that coding continues to be required throughout the design process. However, in Google’s defense, they do not claim that Course Builder is for the average user and do state that it is currently experimental so we should not expect a community of tutorials and support just yet. At the same time, what this means is that if you want to try to implement Course Builder you will need the required technical skill set. The bottom line is it is not for “everyone” despite it being open source and available to everyone.

As Peter Norvig, the company’s Director of Research, stated

“The Course Builder open source project is an experimental early step for us in the world of online education. 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.”

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