They’ve got desktop document tools, a social media site, a video hosting service, a mobile device platform, a creepily in-depth global mapping tool, and will probably deliver the first flying car before long.
Back here on Earth, we’re seeing some incredible advances in learning technology, with online course providers and MOOCs popping up, as well as specialized software for building, delivering, and storing online course materials.
And Google has jammed its colorful thumb deep into that pie, too, with Google Course Builder.
What is Google Course Builder?
Course Builder was originally launched by Google in September 2012 with an introductory video, as an experimental foray into the world of online education. Driven by Google’s powerful search technology, it is meant to make it possible for a teacher or trainer to build and manage an online course, the way Google themselves did.
A little background: Google being Google, when their engineers wanted to create a lesson for users, called Power Searching with Google, they didn’t bother with outside software. They simply built their own. The result, Google Course Builder, allows course designers to do the following:
- Create a linear thread of topics that rely on video, slides, text, and other documents.
- Create goals, quizzes, assignments, a grading system, and track user activity.
- Share the course online, using YouTube, Google Plus, and other platforms
- Create subgroups to allows various levels of access for users.
- Modify the course homepage and other branding elements.
Clearly, Google Course Builder is experimental, which means beyond the usual bugs, users are basically taking part in a massive testing endeavor, and the outcome may be a tool that is completely different than it is today. And that’s not the only issue they’ll find.
A few issues with Google Course Builder:
- It is designed to integrate heavily with Google Plus, for sharing and using hangouts for student feedback and ‘office hours’. This means the limitations of hangouts (10 participants) is a factor, although there is no theoretical limit to the number of students on a course.
- It is meant to rely on YouTube for storing videos as well as sharing the output of online courses. It also uses gMail for communication with students. This raises concern about privacy and control over the distribution of content to exclusive and private groups.
- It isn’t an easily-encapsulated user experience. There are at least thirty steps to the process of creating and managing a course, meaning the solution is not quite fully baked. This also means that a lot of knowledge about what goes into a course remains with the trainer or course programmer when they leave your organization.
- Google Wave, Google Lively, Google Health, and so on. These are just a few of Google’s forays into ideas that it didn’t stick with. When you look at the Google Course Builder Group (on Google Groups), which has been dormant since November, you get the idea that this experiment isn’t all that hopeful.
So what Course Builder is really meant to do is provide an alternative to in-depth course management software like the kind used by large universities for offering MOOCs, not a corporate training program leader. Many of the online learning businesses starting up have built their own software or may decide to use a platform like Google Course Builder to drive their courses in the future.
It is a very comprehensive solution, but one that is suited to an organization that has a technical team, a large constituency and a full schedule of learning programs already planned out.