Google-matic Courseware

Scott Sorley speculates about the potential for what he dubs Google-matic Courseware – Real Time Content:

I have been busy over the last week testing ideas by writing code not prose. The question here is what do you do if you have an entire library, academic journals, every webpage, every blog, all major news sources in a digital, up to date, ranked in order of quality, fully searchable, and indexed format? I start to write code to see if I can pull the information out and reassemble it into online courseware. Punch in your course outline and some keywords and get the content created automatically in real time and being continuously updated.

I am a Google fan, and in this I am not alone, but you have to admit they are doing some pretty interesting stuff and they are relatively supportive of other people doing cool stuff. Their goal of amassing a repository of all the world’s information and making it searchable is being extended in many ways. If you think about courseware in their terms – What am I looking for? What are the key points? What are the key references? What is the latest breaking news on this topic? ie. courseware represented as questions and let Google fill in the answers you can think up some pretty interesting scenarios for taking the work out of creating courseware. The work then becomes asking the right questions and filtering and reformatting the responses.

Leaving aside whether Scott’s interpretation of Google is more or less accurate than the recent comments by Robert X Cringely, my concern with Scott’s vision of the future of courseware is that it seems to be content-centric. As it happens, Scott works in another part of the university where I work. For decades that section has had responsibility for production of printed and other materials for distance courses. More recently it has been similarly responsible for production of materials for many online courses. It has built expertise in content publication but that focus, necessary for earlier generations of distance education, has left it focused on content as the key element of online education. For those of us who think that it is at least as important to design learning activities, that is often a challenge and sometimes a source of frustration.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Peter – thanks for the comment – just to correct you I don’t work in DeC nor have any input into USQ’s content process. One of the things that I have always harped on about is the cost breakdown of the provision of online learning. Once you analyse how much it costs to put a course up (and in various former lives I have had a chance to do so) it tends to be that the cost of the content authoring, and authoring and delivery systems are so high and consume so much of the budget that their is very little left over for unique learning activities or actually staffing the interactive side of learning.

    Unfortunately this results in only mass delivery courses meeting breakeven and stifles innovation and creativity in more customised offerings.

    Past systems of online learning have been in my opinion far too content centric – almost like book publishing – and too little learning. This is reflected in many ways in the lack of innovation and development of learning management systems which embody the content centric approach. One of the initial impetus’s for my google-matic stuff was the belief that by reducing the cost of content creation the resources that it consumes could be diverted to higher touch and arguably higher value teaching activities.

  2. Scott, sorry about my error in relation to your current location. I’m not sure how I formed the impression that you were in DeC rather than ITS.

    I agree that some of our approaches to courses, especially in distance education, have been too centred on content. That reflected a time when access to content/information was often restricted and it was necessary to provide students with content and hope that some of it might stick. Now that we are swimming in a virtual sea of content/information we need to consider different strategies. The problem is not accessing content but processing it and adding value.

    It is possible to conceive of a course where there is no content provided other than what students process and present for the benefit of themselves and their colleagues. I’ve gone some way down that path with a course that runs as an online conference presented and attended by the students.