The “Power Searching with Google” Experiment
For two weeks in July 2012, Google hosted an online, community-based course called Power Searching with Google. The course showcased search techniques and how to use them to solve real, everyday problems. We created Power Searching by using a variety of Google’s existing products to foster a student community and by writing a Google App Engine application to create the course material and assessments.
We were quite pleased with the success of Power Searching with Google. We had 155,000 students register for the course, from 196 countries. Of these, 29% of those who completed the first assessment passed the course and received a certificate. The discussion forums and Google+ streams were very active with students asking and answering questions, and providing additional ideas and content beyond what’s offered by the instructor.
Course Builder represents our decision to open source the code we used to create Power Searching and to document our use of that code in conjunction with Google products to create an entire online learning experience.
Power Searching is only one instance of an online education course. Simply put, in an online course all of the materials are online and the course flow has been optimized to work for lots and lots of students. What this actually means can vary quite a bit. Traditionally, in online education:
- The students are physically distributed. That is, students could be in different time zones and on different continents.
- The students interact with the course staff and other students primarily or exclusively online, not in person.
- The interactions between students and between students and instructors are "semi-synchronous"; that is, students do some parts on their own time and at their own pace, but they do other parts at the same time as each other and may have work with specific deadlines.
Aside from those three points, there are significant differences in implementation and philosophy of what constitutes an online course. Many people are experimenting with different approaches, using different ways to present information and different interaction models between students, instructors, and even casual visitors.
For Power Searching with Google, we chose one approach. It’s not the only approach; it’s not the most innovative approach. This approach is not appropriate for all subjects. But it was relatively easy to create and was extremely successful for this subject matter. We’d like to share that approach and code with you and that's why we created this resource.