Google Releases Open-Source Online-Education Software

Google has taken what its officials call an “experimental first step” into online education, releasing open-source software called Course Builder in hopes that universities will use it to deliver free online courses.

The search giant says it is in talks with edX—a partnership among Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Berkeley to offer free online courses—though officials declined to comment further. A post on Google’s research blog this week also cited nine universities interested in using the platform, including Stanford University.

“We’ve been in touch with a number of universities, and I think it’s a confusing time or an exciting time,” said Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research, in an interview with The Chronicle late Wednesday. “We’re close with Stanford—Coursera and Udacity both came out of Stanford. They’re working on their own open-source project, and they’re also interested in working with us. I think schools are experimenting and they don’t know quite yet what they want to do.”

Google tested the software when it offered a free open course this summer called Power Searching, which attracted 155,000 registered students. The software is available for download, but installing it requires some technical prowess and a server to run it on. Google has also released suggestions for designing online courses.

This first version of Course Builder will be updated and could become a more polished Google service in the future depending on how it is received, Mr. Norvig said. The service could become a tool for anyone to build and deliver their own courses, he added.

Mr. Norvig is not a stranger to MOOC’s—he co-taught a free online artificial-intelligence course that helped spark interest in their potential and attracted some 160,000 students. He announced the release of Course Builder in a YouTube video Wednesday.

(Updated at 7:50 a.m. with comment from Google.)

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