Google Announces An Online Data Interpretation Class For The General Public

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Google has launched its own Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach the general public how to understand surveys, research, and data. Called “Making Sense of Data” and running from March 18 to April 4, the course will be open to the public and, like most MOOCs, will be taught through a series of video lectures, interactive projects, and the support of community TAs.

Users who complete the final capstone homework assignment will even have the option of receiving a certificate of completion (the unlisted YouTube introduction is embedded below):

With this course, Google joins the growing ranks of for-profit online education providers who are answering the White House’s call for more data science-literate workers. This year, both of the major MOOC companies, Coursera and Udacity, announced data-science program tracks complete with paid certificates of completion.

According to a Google spokesman, the course is related to its Fusion Tables product, which is a general-purpose tool for crunching data and displaying it in graphs, charts, and maps. But, unlike the standard instruction that companies normally do for wonky app developers, this course seems very much general-facing.

That is, Google is helping to solve a major gap in the current education system, while at the same time promoting one of its products. “Making Sense of Data is intended for anybody who works with data on a daily basis, such as students, teachers, journalists, and small business owners, and who wants to learn more about how to apply that information to practical problems,” reads the blog.

Indeed, the course was developed in partnership with the MIT/Harvard MOOC project, edX, and is part of a larger partnership to allow anyone to build their own courses.

It’s potentially a big win for Google. There are countless teachers and business people who need a quick course on basic numeracy. The two-week course could easily be injected into a high school social science class.

For the last few months, I’ve been taking a statistics MOOC from Coursera, and the quality is definitely on par with my old graduate school courses I took at the University of California. MOOCs have a history of attracting +100,000 users, so a company like Google can easily justify the cost from a marketing budget for their own products.

I’ll have a review of the course in April; suffice to say, the idea of businesses-as-schools has the potential to further disrupt the higher education and adult learning market. That being said, as companies begin to edge into a role as teacher, they must carefully walk the balance between their own interests and the social goals of mass education. A public course in data wrangling from one of the premier companies in the business is a very cool tool, but one that comes with its own unique set of baggage.

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