Google enters the mooc arena – offers free services

Posted: September 12, 2013 by tallbloke in Blog, Celestial Mechanics, Education, media, methodology, Philosophy, propaganda, solar system dynamics

I’ve registered my interest in setting up some Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at, Google’s new venture in partnership with edX, the long running MOOC provider partnership of Harvard, MIT and 26 other leading global educational institutions. It offers the possibility of using free services to run courses with interactive learning tools in an educationally supportive environment. Given the complex nature of the material we are dealing with here at the talkshop, I see possibilities for taking advantage of what Google is offering. We could use the collaborative space for holding online conferences with video, whiteboard scratchpads everyone can doodle on for instant sharing of concepts, data etc. I’m wary of Google, but they do some things well, and the wider the audience for our ideas the better. Nothing we do is a secret, we believe in open and collaborative development of ideas, so it all seems to mesh. Ideas, worries and criticisms welcome.

critical-thinking-cartoonThe Conversation has this:

The entrance of Google onto the Massive Open Online Courses market this week has the potential to reignite the spirit of openness that saw these alternative routes into higher education emerge in the first place.

The internet giant is to work with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a website, which will go live next year.

MOOCs have exploded over the past year. With companies likeCoursera teaming up with a number of US universities to offer free online courses and Open University launching FutureLearnto offer an alternative for UK universities, it seems that everyone is frantically scrambling for a MOOC solution.

MIT and Harvard are not actually new to the game and have offered courses through their own EdX platform for some time. Two of highly rated universities working together already represented a formidable partnership but add in one of the biggest and most innovative companies in the world and you’ve got a real force to be reckoned with.

The three-way project is exciting not just because of the high-profile organisations involved. The way they are setting up their site has the potential to get MOOCs back onto the straight and narrow following a drift into the closed and the commercial.

MOOCs originally came out of the open education movement, with roots in open source software and open education resources. But when they were hailed as a revolution in higher education, commercial companies sat up and took notice. Venture capitalists started investing heavily in companies such as Coursera. With all of this additional pressure to create effective business models and excessive hype in the media, the “open” part in the MOOC acronym has begun to feel squeezed. The courses are open in the sense that anyone can join them and study for free. But they are not open in many of the ways that the open education movement deem important – they are not openly licensed, for instance, so you can’t take material and reuse it.

There has also been disquiet about the elitist model many MOOC providers are operating, Coursera for instance has been focusing its offerings on the top US universities. This has left others feeling they are being excluded from the MOOC revolution. There are also concerns around ownership and contracts. And perhaps most worryingly, the pedagogic model embodied by the large MOOC platforms feels constraining. The open course movement hasn’t felt very open after all.

There has been some fightback occurring. For instance, theReclaim Open project that has emerged from MIT aims to help educators use tools to rediscover the experimental nature of MOOCs. Now, with Google, MIT and Harvard appear to be aiming to launch the WordPress of MOOCs – an open platform supported by a community. certainly looks like at least a partial swing back towards the open aspect of MOOCs. It is open to any institution or individual to create any open course they want. At the moment, the site simply asks you to register an interest so the real detail will come in its terms and conditions over the coming months. But let’s assume these follow through on the promise of openness.

A community that develops learning tools in the same way that developers create plug-ins for WordPress sounds like an attractive option. And by opening MOOC creation up to everyone, the boundaries of what we think of as a curriculum suddenly become open. You’re looking for course in Harry Potter studies? There might be one run by a fan in Brighton. A course on the history of Wales? Here’s one from the Welsh Tourist Board.

An element of wariness naturally comes with a further expansion of Google’s dominance, though. If becomes really successful then it is not just MOOC providers that should be worried, but learning platform companies such as Blackboard will also be concerned. The EdX/Google combination could provide all the needs of a virtual learning environment. In this scenario it becomes impossible to get any education that isn’t somehow served through Google services.

Does the entrance of Google into the market spell doom for other MOOC providers? Not necessarily. It may be that a more supported, structured partnership will suit many universities. We don’t know how well will link through to existing university offerings for example. This is important as many universities see MOOCs as an element of the recruitment process– learners try a part of a course and then sign up for the degree. MOOC providers can also offer training and development services for partners in developing MOOCs, so this more formal partnership may still be what vice-chancellors feel comfortable with.

But for now, we should probably be thankful that an open source platform with a community driven, open approach to participation is here, as it puts the value of openness back into the MOOC world and will force other providers to respond.

  1. Hadn’t spotted the Google/edX deal. Keep us posted on this Rog. Could be a useful step up for the climate blogosphere. As always, using it right is more than 50% of the game.

  2. Zeke says:

    “ certainly looks like at least a partial swing back towards the open aspect of MOOCs. It is open to any institution or individual to create any open course they want. At the moment, the site simply asks you to register an interest so the real detail will come in its terms and conditions over the coming months.

    Interesting and balanced article, thank you.

  3. Zeke says:

    The top-down approach to college education, like the top-down approach to media, has been replaced by the “wilds of the internet,” as it is called by the link above.

    Universities and academics are startled at the popularity of user-generated material and self-publishing available on the internet. Academics may also be stunned by the broader scope of ideas and the self-directed learning which is taking place on the www. For example, my son uses codecademy to learn code, and he also enjoys such Youtube channels as Vi Hart. We all enjoy such discussions on climate and the solar system we find on WUWT and tallbloke’s.

    NGOs and academia are seeking ways to maintain the appearance of grassroots and user generated material, while still imposing a top-down control, in order to maintain current paradigms, IMO. Independent media and alternative science should be aware of methods used to infiltrate grassroots, genuine movements. There are several I have noticed. One method is to set up a “contest,” so that the controlling NGOs and EU interests are acknowledging the presence of the vigorous discussion, but are exerting control by picking the winners. We see this in education in the US, where charter schools are admitted, but heavily regulated by the very Unions and schools which they are meant to provide an alternative to. That is like a huge car company being able to regulate any smaller competitors.

    The “contest” also allows those interested in maintaining a specific paradigm and ideology to choose straw man criticisms.

  4. Zeke says:

    Here is an example of the ubiquitous “contest.”

    “Submit a Smart Grid video for a chance to win $500
    Deadline extended to 30 August 2013

    • Submit a 1-3-minute video showcasing the benefits of smart grids or innovative smart grid
    • Videos will be posted on the IEEE SmartGridComm website for visitors to vote for the best
    • Winning video will be shown at IEEE SmartGridComm, where the winner will receive $500.”

    There is an appearance of public participation, but this is only to give a patina of public support to a destructive, expensive project which would increase central control of energy use by introducing remote controlled meters and appliances.

    I believe the hope is that the loss of freedom will seem to be compensated by mere lottery winning of contests. But be sure that the ideology, structure, and paradigm comes from the academics, and the parameters and goals of the “contest” will affirm the governance and behavior modification goals of the NGOs and globalists.

  5. tallbloke says:

    Zeke, useful comments and observations, thank you. I will certainly be careful about what We sign up to. I didn’t use the ‘talkshop’ brand for this. I’m smarter than that. 😉

  6. Zeke says:

    Well maybe I am just upset because I didn’t win the last tallbloke’s talkshop coffee mug prize (;

    Thanks for posting your twitter updates. It is useful for keeping up on the UK.

  7. tallbloke says:

    Thanks Tim, interesting article. I have something more participatory and responsive in mind than the didactic methods employed by some institutions.

  8. tchannon says:

    How individuals learn, what they learn, how on-line or machine facilities are done, and a raft more facets are all significant subjects but poorly understood. Incompetence is close by.

    I have a particular interest in the general subject, yesterday for example I was at a governmental meeting in a peculiar role (designated semi-lay expert) where we are supposed to be sorting out a massive mess. In reality things are still at worse than the stone age.

    The only positive note is a vague acceptance by government that something is hurting. At present it doesn’t comprehend, is trying to make the pain go away.

    Part of what I am seeing is mis-education. There is commonality here with what is wrong with education as practiced in a wide context, perhaps right through to the self created AGW mess, note how there is talking at and supposed educating by command and control.

    Some in positions of power wonder why the result of “education” is unfit for purpose, ie. the supposed educated individuals are incompetent. I’ve seen this, believe the small voices stating youngsters are unfit for purpose. (what they are taught is wrong, circularity grows, yet reality is doing-to is a bad idea, ought to be what they have learnt)

    Actually this is a massive problem where most parts of the whole are messed up.

    As I have indicated before, take on board the “big ball of mud”[1] because that is reality in a very wide context of life. Nevertheless the objective and practical route is shrinking the mess.
    This only seems to happen when single superb individuals are able to bull by the horns and force out a good work, endures for a long time until smashed up by others.

    Perhaps a root here is the project problem: a group of more than one is near impossible.

    1. BBM viewed though a Big Ball of Mud, a mess and bent view, Wikipedia, use the links.
    The real context is wide across all of life but the Wikipedia author does not comprehend how they are spinning. Related to top-down bottom-up problem, also widely misrepresented.

    Yet what do I know? World is far too large.

  9. Brian H says:

    Educationists have fallen into the habit of inserting “values” into every step of learning, instead of teaching skills and letting the chips fall where they may. Result: missing and limping skill sets.

  10. […] ‘risk communication’ in anything to do with climate these days. Rog Tallbloke has had some things to say on MOOCs, and apparently is aware of a few people signing up for this one and keeping an eye on […]

  11. […] writes: Not long ago Tallbloke mentioned MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) as starting to gain […]