Google+ is a newly launched social network service with several promising features in an attempt to compete with Facebook. Early impressions are that Google+ and Facebook share many similar features and one can easily get going. Overall, looks are compelling and captivating but what about Google+’s potential as an educational tool? Early reviews are positive and indicate that Google + holds a lot of promises for educators. Noteworthy facets include “Circle” with better control over sharing information, “Sparks” for sorting interesting stories and articles by specific topics as well as possibility for in-depth discussion with a new way for videoconferencing through “Hangout” feature.
Below are the four features that might be used for education:
1. Circle: Limit sharing and grouping
We have seen many stories about inappropriate online sharing, particularly for teachers, in the news. States like Virginia and Rhode Island even banned teacher-student interaction via social media. Even without outright bans, many teachers are reluctant to friend students on Facebook for such reasons. However, Circle feature in Google+ might be a solution for privacy issue. By grouping students into particular circles, a teacher can limit the information that is shared with a particular set of circles.
2. Hangouts: Engage your students with videoconferencing
Google + offers numerous ways to communicate within a Circle. For example, one can quickly initiates a video conference with other users by creating a so-called “hangout’. Even though it seems there already are many videoconferencing tools available, some will find many of them are rather difficult to get the interface work seamlessly.
Google+ Hangouts, on the other hand, has so far been impressive with its user-friendly interface. This might be helpful for instructors who are trying to remotely manage office hours(e.g., virtual office hours) to assist students with work. One teacher might announce that she/hewill be available in Google+ at 7-8pm for questions. Students will be able to drop in and out and interact with their instructors in a more personalized and effective way. Providing a place where students easily get instant feedback, without spending much time for setup, seems to be prominent to develop social presence and close relationship between teacher and students at any level of institutions.
3. Sparks: Share specific interests
Sparks is a new feature on Google+ that automatically loads such information as videos and articles found on the Internet to your profile. From an educator’s perspective, it has great potential for helping instructors and students research and stay updated with current events. As a similar concept to the “like” button in Facebook, where users can express their agreement, “Sparks” is essentially a way to gather news, blogs, and information about topics that interest you, as well as immediately share that information with others. For example, instructors can provide helpful learning materials to students by suggesting resources for certain topics.
4. Huddles: Keep in touch with your students!
“Huddles” might be interesting to use as a way to keep in regular touch with students at times when they are working on their own in various places throughout a campus. This feature is similar to group texting function that allows sending a text message to particular groups. But this is only accessible by downloading Google+ Android app on your Android phone.
As of now, Google+ is still in infant stage with much potential remained. For its educational use, it probably won’t be long until the developers start plugging in additional Google services and apps making Google+ a yet more powerful platform. Being optimistic, it could be used as an innovative approach that combines social media and a Learning Management System. Considering Google’s past misstep in the social media before, as lessons learned from Wave and Buzz, this neat and simple social media seems to be in right direction so far. But, it might be taking some time to realize true potential.
Additional resources for more info:
- Wired Campus: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/professors-consider-classroom-uses-for-google-plus/32131
- Some early thoughts:http://www.edsocialmedia.com/2011/08/google-in-schools-some-early-thoughts/