Google’s Course Builder is not for everyone

Recently, Google entered the online education market by introducing Course Builder.  Originally designed to be used as the architecture behind an online course for Power Searching with Google, Course Builder offers all of the software and instructions someone would need to develop an online class.  Before anyone decides they are going to shut down their Blackboard or Desire2Learn course or power down their Moodle server, I need to share a few words of caution.  While the Course Builder tools are free, building a course won’t be easy.    As Google itself outlines, Course Builder users are expected to have the following basic skill set:

  • Experience creating course material either for a traditional live classroom or for a more traditional online class.
  • HTML familiarity.
  • JavaScript familiarity, particularly JavaScript arrays, simple objects, and regular expressions. Of these, regular expressions tend to be the biggest stumbling block.
  • App Engine familiarity is a plus, but it’s not necessary.

Yes, you read those expectations correctly.  JavaScript familiarity?  App Engine familiarity?  Little tough to find many non-coders who have those skills.  But then again, I think that’s Google target audience.  Looking over the instructions for building a course, little attention is spent on developing course objectives that relate to Bloom’s Taxonomy or higher order thinking at all.  Google’s page on Objectives to Outline focuses solely on knowledge and skills.  The section detailing how to organize instructional content reads more like a flow chart for product development than a systematic approach to learning progressions.   On the page dedicated for Creating Assessments, I was hoping for some basic discussion on assessing learning objectives or even on backward design. The primary focus of Google’s Course Builder materials, however, was on coding.  This disconnect between technology and educational theory is one of the real challenges we face in the world of online education.  How do we bridge the gap between the technical elements and learning theory?

Teaching online isn’t just about managing the technical components so they’re coded correctly.  Online instruction, like face-to-face instruction, should be guided by educational principles and learning theory.  Online instructors need to build courses which identify students’ learning needs and builds progressively to larger concepts.  Online courses need to foster authentic learning communities where students share ideas and collaborate to solve larger problems.  With this version of Course Builder, however, Google passed on the chance to offer instruction on these areas to its technical audience.  Hopefully, in its next iteration, Google will create a Course Builder that is a lot less technically focused and targets the educational components of online learning.


2 thoughts on “Google’s Course Builder is not for everyone

  1. Ollie, I think the most important line in here is, “Online instruction, like face-to-face instruction, should be guided by educational principles and learning theory.” A lot of F2F instruction (including all of mine as a rookie professor) was guided by what I had experienced as a student rather than in learning theory. I think this is pretty common, and because of our general comfort level with the F2F environment the disconnect between theory and practice often goes unchallenged. Online instruction pulls back the curtain and reveals these disconnects. It forces us back to the beginning in ways that we should, but often don’t, do in F2F instruction.

  2. Pingback: Algorithms or heuristics? «

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