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.