Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How the Google Online Courses Are Built

Google have released a software toolkit for creating on-line courses called "Google Course Builder". There is a demonstration course using the software "Power Searching with Google", so I signed up to see what a Google course looks like.

I received an invitation to join the course and found a very plain looking web page, much in the style of the Google search page. The page has a very simple menu with: Announcements, Course, Forum and My Profile. Also on the page is a photograph of a person sitting in from of a computer. This appears to be a still taken from a video and may well be the teacher, but there is no caption, making it very impersonal (contrary to what I have learned about on-line pedagogy).

Starting with "My Profile" I was surprised to find this did not contain a place to put a description of me, which other on-line courses have. Apart from my name and e-mail address, this just as details of the course I am enrolled in.

"Announcement" confusingly had two different welcome messages. One message invited me to take a  pre-class assessment before the "first class". The use of the term "class" was confusing, as I would normally think of this being for a real-time event (as far as I know the course has not real time events). The other message had an overview of the course. I don't know which message was first, as they did not have the time of posting on them.

The pre-class assessment presented some difficulties as the text overlapped on my Firefox 15.0.1 browser. This is not as bad as Blogger (which is now unusable on Firefox) and I was able to fill in the pre assessment test. The test used multiple choice and text boxes much like other e-leaning courses. One surprise was that there were no results after filling in the test, just a "thank you" and instruction to start the first class.

Attempting to join the forum resulted in the error message: "You must be a member of this group to view and participate in it." This is difficult to understand given I am enrolled in the course and so should have access to the forum. It is not clear if this is just a Google Group, or part of the course.

Class 1 is, naturally enough an "Introduction". There are six topics (about right for a course module), each with one activity. However, there is then just a video frame and no more explanation. Clicking on "next" I expected to find the content of the introduction, but instead this skipped to the first activity. To get the text of the lesson I have to go back and click on "Text Version". This produced a page of well formatted HTML text. At this point I found the name of the presenter and other details which were missing from the home page. Also a "Slides" button opened a PDF document with slides in it.

This approach of having three different documents, with the course outline, text notes and slides allows for maximum flexibility, but is cumbersome. The slides could have been incorporated in the same document with the text notes. It was also surprising to see some spelling mistakes in the notes, such as "avaialble".

Overall the Google online course breaks no new ground, being like many on-line courses from the last decade. This plain format is efficient and easy to use. But it is surprising that Google have not produced a more polished looking product.

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