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A Checklist For Using Google’s New eLearning Course Builder

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Google has entered the increasingly crowded eLearning fray with their new Course Builder software, an open source software that will allow educators to create courses of their own on any topic.

Their first course, Power Searching With Google released in July 2012, saw 155,000 students register for the course–and 20,000 complete it (a little less than 8%). Wasting no time, the software is now Open Source, and has been released into the wild to see what will happen.


In the introductory video, Scientist (and Director of Research at Google) Peter Norvig explains who the course building software is intended for (those who want to host a course, and have intermediate technical skills “at the level of a webmaster), and what prior experience can be helpful (experience with HTML, javascript, and python helpful but no required).

We’ve been playing around with it some, and there is absolutely potential in any K-20 learning environment, as well as business and community organization application.

“Course Builder packages the software and technology Google used to build our Power Searching with Google online course (www.powersearchingwithgoogle.com). The first time we offered Power Searching, 155,000 students registered and over 20,000 students completed the course.

Course Builder is our experimental first step in the world of online education. We hope you will use it to create your own online courses, whether they’re for 10 students or 100,000 students. Course Builder contains software and instructions for presenting your course material, including student activities and assessments and instructions for using other Google products to create a course community and to evaluate the effectiveness of your course. To use it effectively, you should be an experienced course designer, with some familiarity with HTML and JavaScript. Start creating your course at code.google.com/p/coursebuilder.”


We’ll withhold evaluative comments until we’ve had more of a chance to experiment with the software. While it seems a bit dry in terms of user-interface and visuals, it can serve as an excellent tool to better understand fundamentals in eLearning while you get your feet wet experimenting with online learning components yourself. No matter the scale of adoption of the program, anytime a company like Google gets involved with learning, it demands attention.

The following checklist overview is sourced directly from Google’s Course Builder wiki, which also features a forum (that’s still rather sparse) to ask questions and collaborate with others. It is provided to give you a basic idea of what using the software entails, and better understanding if it’s right for your needs. More detailed instructions are available on the site.

When you use Course Builder, you create your course as an App Engine application. Currently, each App Engine application can consume a certain level of computing resources for free, controlled by a set of limits. If you need resources above these free limits, you can switch to a paid app to set a daily resource budget. For more information, see Develop with App Engine.

Steps to Implementation

A. Plan for 30 minutes.

  1. Define the problem statement and high-level goal of the course.
  2. Identify your audience and your assumptions.
  3. Define course objectives.
  4. Consider course logistics.

B. Develop content without technology.

  1. Clarify your goals and non-goals for the course.
  2. Clarify your assumptions about your students.
  3. Write clear, specific objectives.
  4. Decide what you want to test in your assessments, both graded and ungraded.
  5. Decide what other data to collect to evaluate the efficacy of your course.
  6. Sequence and organize your content into digestible chunks.
  7. Validate your content with others.

C. Implement your content using technology.

In these steps, all pathnames are relative to the directory containing your application. Every place in the code you must make a change is marked by a comment starting with FIXME.

C.1. Download and install needed software and the Course Builder sample application.

  1. Set up for development.
    1. Download and install Python.
    2. Download and install App Engine.
    3. Download the Course Builder sample application.
  2. Run the sample app
    1. Pick a name for your app. Make it the value of application in app.yaml.
    2. Load the app.
    3. Upload sample data to the app.
    4. Explore the sample app and its code.

C.2. Implement the course material.

  1. Modify the basic look and feel of course pages
    by changing views/base.html and views/base_registration.html. Things you must change include:

    1. The course name, for the title element.
    2. Code to collect Analytics data. (This change is only in views/base.html.)
    3. Logo image for the header.
    4. Link to go with the logo.
    5. Course name or description for the header.
    6. Link and name of entity responsible for the course, for the footer.
    7. Link to a relevant privacy policy and terms of service, for the footer.
  2. Modify the registration pages.
    1. Change the content at views/register.html to ask whatever registration questions you want.
    2. If you change those questions, you must also change RegisterHandler in controllers/utils.py.
    3. Change the content at views/confirmation.html to include the correct discussion group and email list. (You must first create the lists. That step is listed in C.3.
  3. Modify the course home page.
    1. In views/course.html, change the course name, course description, and information about the instructor. Also, add an image for the home page .
    2. In data/unit.csvchange what’s listed on the home page.
    3. When you change unit.csv, you must also reload all data.
  4. Create course lessons.
    1. Actually create the lesson content — record the videos, write the objectives, and write the text versions of the lessons.
    2. Change the look of lesson pages at views/unit.html.
    3. Change the lesson content data in data/lesson.csv.
    4. When you change lesson.csv, you must also reload all data.
  5. Create Activities.
    1. Change the look of activity pages at views/activity.html.
    2. Define the activity content in files named activity-N.M.js, where N is the unit number and M is the lesson number.
  6. Create Assessments.
    1. Change the look of assessment pages at views/assessment.html.
    2. Define the assessments in files named activity-SUFFIX.js, where SUFFIX is one of PreMid, or Fin.
    3. Fix the messages sent to students after they take assessments in views/test_confirmation.html.
  7. Deploy your app to production.
    1. Register your app with Google.
    2. Create an app-specific password.
    3. Upload your app to Google’s production servers.

C.3. Setup and and manage the participant community.

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  1. Prepare announcements and optional material.
  2. Setup a community discussion forum.
  3. Add the link to your discussion forum to the file views/forum.html.
  4. Add links to both your discussion forum and your email list to the file views/confirmation.html.
  5. Engage and train teaching assistants.
  6. Schedule online office hours.

C.4. Prepare to evaluate the efficacy of your course

  1. Analyze assessment data.
  2. Create a survey to analyze student happiness.
  3. Capture reach & engagement data.

D. Pilot with your target audience.