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Building Google’s Power Searching MOOCs

Tasha Bergson-Michelson

Tasha Bergson-Michelson

Tasha Bergson-Michelson, formerly Google’s search educator, was tasked to develop a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on power searching at Google.  It was developed in about 6 weeks by 3 engineers and Tasha was program manager.  They aimed for 6 hours of instruction and kept all tests multiple choice.

Lessons learned:  Never put a midterm in the middle!  Requiring a due date for the midterm to qualify for the certificate caused lots of nasty e-mails and many people left the class.  Now, everything is due at the end.  Each class was formatted into 5 minute videos.  There was also a text version.  Videos are hard to edit and get everything that people need to know and still keep them short.  Many people preferred the text version.

Writing a question for over 150,000 people, everybody is not going to understand the question.  You won’t be able to reach everyone  Questions have to be short and be something that people can imagine.  There were problems with Google’s machine learning technology learning from bad searches and displaying a correct search query which caused people to wonder why they were taking the course.

An Advanced Power Searching course was challenge-based and fixed the mistakes of the first version.  There were people from 96 countries in the class and the first version was too ethnocentric.  Problems were corrected as they arose.  Don’t worry about complaints–just fix them.  They never got the same complaint twice.

Most people learn to search by looking over somebody else’s shoulder.  How can this be emulated in an online course?  There is not just a single way to do something!  The course had 12 challenges, 6 in the first week and 6 in the second.  Students could just skip a question if they didn’t know how to answer it.  If they got bored, they would leave.  Each challenge had multiple steps.  Videos for help were offered.

Here are some statistics on usage:

Usage statistics

Lessons learned:

  • 50% of students used the text.  It is very important to have text backup to videos.
  • The community loved to help each other.  People from all over the world were communicating and working together.
  • Outcomes drive everything.  Start with the big picture of how you want students to live in their world and work from there.
  • Create a “big idea” narrative.  Tell a story with your classes that conveys key critical thinking skill.
  • Be strategic.  There are lots of things in information literacy that the public doesn’t care about at all.  Balance desired content and buy-in.
  • It is not shameful to connect with patrons on a visceral level and make them stay.
  • Test.  You can do tests with small groups.  You get big outcomes from a small investment.

Here are some participant reactions to the course:

Customer Reactions 1


Participant Reaction 2

Participant Reaction 3


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