This story was written by Keith Dawson for UBM DeusM’s community Web site Develop in the Cloud, sponsored by AT&T. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the Develop in the Cloud site is no more. This material is Copyright 2012 by UBM DeusM.

Google's Online Course Creation Tool

Use the open-sourced Course Builder to create and deliver online training at any scale.

Course Builder gives anyone with basic technical skills the tools to create and deliver online training at any scale. It's free to use up to about 300 participants.

Last July Google offered an online course created by their research group, called Power Searching with Google. Over 155,000 people went through it. Now the company has released to open source the tools used to create that course. Course Builder is "an experimental early step for [Google] in the world of online education... a snapshot of an approach we found useful," research director Peter Norvig writes in a blog post.


Using Course Builder will require some technical skill, at a level that Google characterizes as "Webmaster" knowledge. The user will need to install software, set up Google Groups and App Engine, edit HTML and CSS files, know at least a little about Javascript and Python (some familiarity with Django would help too), and be comfortable troubleshooting when things go awry.

The package allows course makers to fill out a minimal framework for delivering activities and assessments; the framework is initially populated with material from the Power Searching course. Also provided are basic forum functionality and student registration sign-up pages. Google has also created extensive documentation on course creation and implementation.

Under its Apache License 2.0, Course Builder is free to use or to clone and develop, but delivering a course could cost a bit of money, because of its hosting on Google's App Engine platform. According to Google, a course delivered to as many as 300 people would probably fit under App Engine's free tier. The H calculated that the 150,000+ people who attended Power Searching with Google would cost the presenters on the order of $20 per day.

GigaOM points out that the startup Udemy also provides a platform for course development, and allows the course developers / instructors to get paid to boot. Codecademy also offers simple course-building tools, albeit for the limited domain of programming courses.

While small-scale developers might find these tools interesting (and fun) to use in developing information to share with a user-base or community, the wider impact of Course Builder will probably be in expanding the availability of online education offered by universities and other large institutions. Norvig's post notes that Google is in conversation with a number of universities including Stanford, Indiana University, and several in Europe about working with and evolving Course Builder. Google is also talking with commercial educational startup Udacity (which was co-founded by Googler Sebastian Thrun) and the Harvard / MIT / Berkeley edX collaborative.

If you would like to get a sense of the kind of material Course Builder is suited for, Google is re-running Power Searching With Google from September 24 to October 10. Here's the top page, and you can register here.

Peter Norvig will be holding two Google Hangouts, on September 19 and 26, to answer questions about developing massive online courses and the technical aspects of Course Builder.