Google Course Builder — E-Learning, Google Style

Last week, Google announced the release of Google Course Builder, an open source tool for building your own online courses. Before this, if you wanted to teach a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), you needed to either create your own platform, be affiliated with a college that had its own platform, or teach a course through an already-existing organization that offers online course (like Coursera, edX, or Udacity).  The Google Course Builder lets anyone create a course and teach a class, although the current version requires some knowledge of coding in order to set up a class.

This could potentially allow people to teach courses on anything that is possible to teach online, and allow people the flexibility of adapting online strategies for face-to-face teaching (like flipping the classroom). Some universities are already considering using the Course Builder as the platform for some of their online courses.  According to Peter Norvig via the Google’s Research Blog (he’s the Director of Research at Google):

We are excited that Stanford University, Indiana University, UC San Diego,,, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), and a group of universities in Spain led by Universia, CRUE, and Banco Santander-Universidades are considering how this experimental technology might work for some of their online courses.

Many big-name colleges and universities are already offering online courses via some of the aforementioned organizations, like Coursera, but courses with the Course Builder would presumably be offered for college credit for enrolled students.  I think we can assume that the shift to more online courses is in the future for most institutions of higher education.  This sounds like a dramatic shift, but it isn’t as far as we think from what we already do than we think.  When was the last time you taught a class without using Blackboard to provide digital content to your students, to run a discussion board, or to share videos or images with students?

The incorporation of online elements to a class is more common than we realize, it’s just that much of it has crept on us over the past five or ten years, becoming indispensable tools that we use to help students learn.  Many colleges already use Google-hosted email for their students, and provide students with Google Apps accounts (like W&M’s WMApps).  I can imagine Google’s Course Builder being used for classes that meet face-to-face, and facilitating providing an online venue for portions of course materials. For example, could Google’s Course Builder be a platform that eventually could be used as a more customizable and course-specific Course Management System like Blackboard.

I’m interested to see what will happen with the Course Builder, not only to see how already-established institutions of higher ed will do with it, but also how the online DIY culture, companies, and individuals will use it to offer classes in all kinds of non-traditional subjects.  If you would like to read more about the Course Builder, here are a few articles that might be of interest:

Via Wired, “Google Course Builder Will Catalogue and Deliver the World’s Educational Content”

From the Chronicle: “Google Releases Open Source Online Education Software”

If you’re interested in taking an actual class that uses the Course Builder, check out Power Searching with Google

Peter Norvig’s blog post about the Course Builder, “Helping the World to Teach”


About Kim Mann

Kim Mann is the editor and a writer for the Academic Technology Blog. She earned her BA in English from the University of Minnesota in 2003 and her MA in American Studies from William & Mary in 2009, and her PhD in American Studies at the College in 2014. Her research is on technology, the interface, and the body in mid-twentieth century science fiction.