Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Google Course-Builder

I watched a Google Hangout On Air today sponsored by the Google Course-builder team.  The event was led by project head Peter Norvig and featured an interview with Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun.  It was the second Hangout on this topic since the project was announced less than two weeks ago.  Last week's hangout featured a conversation with Vi Hart of Khan Academy and Math Doodling fame.
Screenshot of the Google Course-Builder team, plus Thrun.
Google Course-Builder team, plus Thrun. 

Those interested can watch the entire recording below.  I will simply share a few bits that I found interesting.

Norvig stated that Google is committed to the Coursebuilder project and that they are responding quickly to user concerns.  I know some probably worry about the level of investment required to implement a course on this new platform, given Google's history of abandoning projects.  Thrun asked whether Coursebuilder might one day become something like YouTube, where course creators can upload their materials, and Norvig said yes.

His answer to virtually all of the audience questions was basically "Of course you can do that,you just have to build it yourself (e.g. charging fees for courses, integrating popcorn.js, etc.)  Norvig indicated that, unlike Udacity, Coursera and EdX, Google wasn't interested in providing courses, only in providing the platform (Google's Powersearching course, for which the platform was designed notwithstanding, I suppose).

Norvig says that in teaching his own Artificial Intelligence class as a Massive Open Online Course on Udacity, he learned that

  1. Community mattered.  Students learned from each other.
  2. Motivation was more important than information
  3. Learning is done by the student, not the teacher.  
All three of these lessons put the instructor and the lecture material as secondary to the learner and, in particular, groups of learners.  community was a recurring theme, with Norvig bringing out a colleague to speak to how they generated community in the Powersearching class by emailing participants reminders, linking directly to the forum from the course activities so that people could share strategies and questions, and using the Google+ Hangouts tool to form study groups.

The conversation with Thrun was fun to watch, though they both seemed somewhat nervous or uncomfortable.  The conversation highlighted the experimental nature of both Udacity and Coursebuilder, the fact that they were reacting to what had come before (e.g. MIT's OpenCourseware) and the need to come up with pedagogies for online and lifelong learning.

They discussed the trade-offs between synchronous and asynchronous courses, where synchronous courses generated excitement and community and asynchronous courses were ultimately more convenient.  Thrun indicated that he envisioned a future where these two could be reconciled somehow through self-pacing.

They discussed the question of learner motivation, hitting on gamification but also on ultimate employability of students completing these courses (Norvig's AI course in particular).