Carnegie Mellon University’s receiving a grant to study MOOCs is no surprise. But the source’s identity is bound to raise eyebrows.
Google announced on Tuesday that it would give Carnegie Mellon $300,000 in each of the next two years through the Google Focused Research Award program. Google can fund the research for a third year at the same price if it chooses.
The university’s research will focus on “data driven” approaches to research on massive open online courses, including “techniques for automatically analyzing and providing feedback on student work,” according to a news release. The goal, it said, is to develop platforms intelligent enough to mimic the traditional classroom experience.
“Unless the MOOCs pay attention to how people actually learn, they will not be able to improve effectiveness, and will end up as just a passing fad,” said Justine Cassell, associate vice provost for technology strategy and impact.
Google has been only a bit player in cybereducation. Beyond offering the odd MOOC on search engines, its most significant endeavor has been an online platform it unveiled last year, together with the nonprofit company edX, to help users create their own online courses. And although Google’s investment in MOOC research is relatively small for a company that reported $15.4-billion in revenue last quarter, it does signal interest in the potential of online education.
“We believe this research will make online courses much more engaging and benefit both students and educators around the world,” said Alfred Spector, Google’s vice president for research and special initiatives.
The grant also figures to strengthen Google’s already-substantial ties to Carnegie Mellon. When the company opened a Pittsburgh outpost, in 2006, its first facilities were on the university’s campus. And a Carnegie Mellon professor, Andrew Moore, was hired as Google Pittsburgh’s director. He spent eight years there, until this April, when he accepted an offer to become dean of Carnegie Mellon’s school of computer science.
Even a list of past recipients of Google Focused Research Awards is telling. Of the 62 projects funded by the grants, six involved researchers at Carnegie Mellon. No other institution had more than four.