MOOCs are all anyone seems to be talking about these days. As someone interested in good teaching, academic technology, and openness in general, it seemed it was time to participate in some to get a sense of them. So I signed up for two. I’ve drawn a lot of conclusions for both, so each is going to get a blog post. Here’s the story about my first MOOC:
Google Power Searching
Who: Designed by the folks at Google. Videos led by Daniel Russell, Senior Research Scientist at Google.
What: A series of videos that include both Russell as he talks from a couch with his laptop and screencasting. Each unit has activities for students to complete to emphasize the concept. Activities both are automated in grading and also open ended which are followed by providing a correct answer to contrast yours with. The course included both a midpoint and final exam. If you passed (percentages, according to a formula) the course you receive a certificate.
When: This course took place over a series of weeks in July. Each section had several medium-length videos to watch and activities to complete. The two assessments had a window of time in which students had to take them.
Why: I didn’t sign up for content, that’s for sure. I signed up for two (to me) very important reasons:
- to learn what Google thinks online education should look like
- to learn what content Google thinks is important
So I had very meta reasons for participating, I didn’t expect to learn much about searching that would be useful. I did and do believe that as one of the main players on the web, Google is both smart and has the power to influence fields it enters. Since it was entering online education, I figured the course would be both pretty decently designed since they are a smart group and also would have the power to shift what people think online education should be if they experienced it. Also, Google (as any of use using Analytics knows) Google is good at tracking statistics and use of websites. It stands to reason they have good data on what people do and don’t do in the search engine and would use this class to push more information out.
Learned: The main thing I learned is that Google wants to help shift people from thinking about their question to imagining what the answer will look like, and then get users to start from that place when designing a search. For example, when remembering a sandwich that was really good and wanting to find the name of it, realizing that the specific piece of information you’re looking for (name) will likely be on a recipe title, and then searching for ingredients that will likely bring back that recipe. Or, if looking for an image of a fossil, thinking about the color of the stone it’s likely to be in and filtering that way to get to the image faster.
That’s a big, conceptual thing to teach. It’s not unlike those of us who start teaching with “what are you trying to find, now let’s think about the types of resources that have it” rather than just entering it in a multisearch environment and hoping for the best. Obviously, I did well in the class (I would hope), but it’s pretty clear that not everyone has this librarians’ approach to thinking about how to implement a search.
So that was interesting.
As a librarian who hopes to get our products simple enough to allow for library instruction to be more about critical thinking than training, I find it interesting that Google is moving toward training users rather than simplifying its tools. It’s true: to do complex searching, you need a more complex interface… as evident in our database platforms… but with that complexity comes a need for education, and it seems like Google has realized it’s getting to that space.
So, this is one MOOC I recommend to librarians. You might not need to watch every video–I’ll admit, at the end as I got busier preparing for fall, I paid less attention to the videos I saw–but you’ll get a good sense of where Google’s headed and good, specific things to teach your class. (Here’s a tip: ctrl+F and quotes for phrased searching will make a world of difference to your students.)
Stay tuned for post #2 on a very different MOOC experience.