Google has just signed on to contribute to the open-source Open edX distance education project, which allows students around the world to take college courses online from some of the most notable schools on the planet. Google is joining the edX efforts a year after starting its own Google Course Builder project, which was created to experiment with distance learning.
"Today, Google will begin working with edX as a contributor to the open source platform, Open edX," wrote Dan Clancy, director of research for Google, in a Sept. 10 post on the Google Open Source Blog. "We are taking our learnings from Course Builder and applying them to Open edX to further innovate on an open source MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) platform. We look forward to contributing to edX's new site, MOOC.org, a new service for online learning which will allow any academic institution, business and individual to create and host online courses."
Google's own Course Builder, an experimental platform for large-scale online education, was unveiled in September 2012 as an early step for the company to explore the possibilities of online education and as a path for its future direction in the field, according to Google.
"Since then, individuals have created courses on everything from game theory to philanthropy, offered to curious people around the world," wrote Clancy. "Universities and non-profit organizations have used the platform to experiment with MOOCs, while maintaining direct relationships with their participants. Google has published a number of courses including Introduction to Web Accessibility, which opens for registration today. This platform is helping to deliver on our goal of making education more accessible through technology, and enabling educators to easily teach at scale on top of cloud platform services."
Anant Agarwal, the president of edX, said in a statement that the new partnership with Google will help his nonprofit organization expand and grow distance learning opportunities around the world.
"We have long admired Google's commitment to open access to information, and we believe they will be a perfect partner to work with as we shape the next generation of open education and learning," said Agarwal in the statement. "Google shares our mission to improve learning both on-campus and online. Working with Google's world-class engineers and technology will enable us to advance online, on-campus and blended learning experiences faster and more effectively than ever before."
Under the project, Google will work on the core platform development with leading experts from many edX partner institutions, including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Stanford, University of Western Australia, University of Queensland and Tsinghua University, according to edX.
The MOOC.org Website will provide a platform for colleges, universities, businesses and individuals around the world to produce online and blended courses. It will be built on Google infrastructure, according to Google and edX.
"We envision that the site will become an ideal way to develop and refine novel online learning experiences," said Agarwal. "Faculty, for example, new to online learning could get their feet wet, and learners who may not want to take a full course could also just get a taste. Moreover, we will be able to learn how to improve our platform by having more individuals build and use content."
edX is composed of 28 leading global institutions, which is known as the xConsortium. The organization was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Distance education tools allow participants to be involved in online student forums where they can share ideas, concerns and related discussions with other students and faculty. The systems also provide online videos, presentations, course materials and more for students.
The partnership with edX is a natural extension of Google's work in this area, wrote Clancy.
"Google and edX have a shared mission to broaden access to education, and by working together, we can advance towards our goals much faster," he wrote. "In addition, Google, with its breadth of applicable infrastructure and research capabilities, will continue to make contributions to the online education space, the findings of which will be shared directly to the online education community and the Open edX platform."
The field is important to Google, wrote Clancy. "We support the development of a diverse education ecosystem, as learning expands in the online world. Part of that means that educational institutions should easily be able to bring their content online and manage their relationships with their students. Our industry is in the early stages of MOOCs, and lots of experimentation is still needed to find the best way to meet the educational needs of the world. An open ecosystem with multiple players encourages rapid experimentation and innovation, and we applaud the work going on in this space today."