What’s the fuss about Google Plus?

Google's Long History in Social Media

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Google Plus is Google’s 6th attempt to enter the Social Networking market. Even in those dark ages before Facebook (was there even such a time?) Google was experimenting with varying success in this space.

First, there was Orkut, which was released a month before Facebook, and which is still in use in Brazil and India. Then Google purchased Dodgeball, which was essentially an early version of Foursquare. They also acquired Jaiku, which was similar to Twitter – but that didn’t take off either. Google Wave only lasted 2 months after its public release, being just too convoluted for most people to even understand why it existed; and Buzz, which still exists, but hardly anyone seems to use.

The importance of this history is to put into context Google Plus, and to highlight the extremely fine line tools walk between being huge (think Facebook, with over 845 million regular users) and being a complete flop.

Google Plus, however may just last the distance. Despite the fact that it is nowhere near Facebook in popularity, with around 90 Million users, it is the fastest growing social network, and it has a number of features that make it just perfect for use in the area of education.

So…what’s the fuss?? Here’s the skinny on Google Plus:

Google Plus is very similar to Facebook in concept, although a little different in execution. For those familiar with Facebook and Twitter, this table may help you with the new terminology.

However you don’t need to be a social media expert to understand how Google Plus might fit into your classroom. Just explaining the different aspects of Google Plus, as I have below, brings to mind numerous ways this network may be used with students.

The Stream: This is similar to Facebook’s News Feed, and is where updates, posts and information shared by others that you follow will appear. You can easily manipulate what information appears in the feed by identifying  the groups or individuals whose posts you wish to view. You can view all posts, or just the posts from certain people or individuals. This control allows users to reduce the ‘noise’ (distracting posts that distracts you from your current purpose). The great thing about having this control is that you can post directly to groups of students, or view just what particular students are saying; perfect for assigning tasks for specific groups, or communicating to parent groups (e.g. Fete organisation committee, Parents and Friends committee, the whole parent body etc).

Profile: Your profile is the way you represent yourself on Google products and across the web. With your profile, you can manage the information that people see — such as your bio, contact details, and links to other sites about you or created by you. In an education setting, your profile could be as class teacher, or simply your class, using a gmail email account.

Important things to note about your profile:

  •   Changing your name in your profile changes your name in your Google Account as well. This change will be reflected in other Google products you sign in to with your account, like Gmail and Docs.
  •     Deleting your profile won’t delete your Google Account.
  •     People who have your email address could see a link to the profile that’s associated with that email address.
  •     If you have a website, you can add a personal badge linking to your Google Profile. With just a couple of clicks, visitors can find your profile or add you to their circles directly from your site.

Circles: Circles are the major advantage Google Plus has over Facebook when considering its use in education. While Facebook does offer the ability to group ‘friends’ in different lists, it is an unwieldy and complicated process. Google Plus allows users to allocate people to different circles, easily allowing content and communications to be directed to specific groups of people. By grouping students in circles, teachers can easily communicate specific information to specific groups of students, and follow the posts of those particular groups of students easily.

Photos: Google always had an online photo sharing site, known as Picasa. When you sign up for Google+, you can see and share all of your Picasa Web albums in Google+.  Your albums will be visible on your Google+ photos homepage and the new Photos and Videos tabs on your Google+ profile. Security remains the same; you are in control of your photos. Google does try to make this easier to manage, however, by  ensuring that you can see and change the sharing settings for all of your albums in one place. It also makes it easier to control who can see your photos, which is important when working with photos of students; it does this by allowing you to Post to Google+ circles – like ‘Year 5′ , ‘Maths A’ or ‘Book club’ – directly from Picasa Web Albums. Another bonus for school users is that photos you upload to Google+ will be automatically resized to 2048 pixels and stored for free. Like Picasa Web, video uploads 15 minutes or shorter are free. This is terrific for removing the load from school servers, which are usually full of images and video files.

Hangouts: Google+ Hangouts allow you to have an audio-only or audio-and-video conversation with other users in a similar way to Skype. The advantage of using Google Plus over Skype is that Hangouts allow for up to 10 simultaneous users in a single room. The potential here for group discussions with authors, students in other schools or for intraschool moderation is enormous.

The feature is free and easy to use (once you download and install a browser plug-in, you’re all set). You can invite specific people to join a Hangout with you where you can chat, perform, demo, or watch YouTube videos together. (It’s worth noting that anyone who joins can in turn share the Hangout’s URL and invite others. As being in a Hangout appears in all the participants’ Streams, it does mean that these are public gatherings.)

Hangouts have many possible uses in education:

  • Live practical demonstrations – cooking, science experiments, art and craft…
  • Conducting a Q and A with guest speakers/authors/subject matter experts.
  •  After hours homework help.
  • Remote music lessons. Live sessions can be a great way to showcase practice but teachers can also prerecord lessons for students, schedule multi-student lessons, or even hold online workshops to improve specific skills.
  • Foreign language learning. One of the best ways to improve language skills when you’re learning a foreign language is by having conversations with native speakers.
  •  Book Clubs
  • Collaborative projects – students can collaborate in school hours via a Google Doc, and then meet in a hangout to continue working together in the evenings or on weekends.
  •  Parent Teacher interviews if a parent is out of town or to provide interview times beyond those you might be able to normally; e.g. work from home in the evenings rather than having to be in a dark empty school.

Google Plus may not be the Facebook killer its creators are dreaming of. However, its features do lend themselves to innovative uses for teachers – if you have dabbled in Google Plus, leave a comment – we’d love to hear about your experience!

More information…

The presentation:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/12DLcPwouTU26MKS0v7M9_I3BXf3WGJ1Gb-RFz95EnT4/edit

Watch the videos:

Read the Articles:

Google Hangouts: Now with Google Docs Integration, Now Even Better for Edu – easy to read article, with links to posts about other aspects of Google Plus

Teaching with Google+ - A great post, with ideas for beginners, intermediate and advanced users

Understanding And Using Google+ In The Classroom And Beyond - a terrific live binder, full of information and ideas

Have a laugh!

How Social Media can Enhance Schools as Professional Learning Communities

The field of social media is a burgeoning area of communication, and one that educators cannot ignore. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Diigo, GooglePlus – these platforms for communication are not going to go away; and while there is a great deal of negative media surrounding their use, they can be harnessed to create myriad possibilities for schools as learning communities. Current research only proves the dominance of Social Media as a modern communication medium: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Creative Tools
Look for a Twitter symbol on blog posts to follow educators online…
BCE Twitterers include @BenVanTrier and @KayC28

 

This is the first of a series of posts planned in the area of social media and schools as learning communities. It is too big a topic to cover adequately in one post, and the value of social media tools as resources for learning is too great not to be addressed.

This post will consider what the term ‘social media’ connotes, and ways in which it may be used to overcome some of the obstacles schools face when attempting to develop a professional learning culture. The second post will focus specifically on a first step for teachers wishing to explore social media in a professional sense; building a Personal Learning Network using Twitter.

The third post planned will take readers a step beyond the Twitterverse, and introduce the idea of using multiple social media tools to enhance not only one’s Personal Learning Network, but also the possibility of bringing networked learning to the classroom and beyond.

If you are interested in following these posts and haven’t done so already, subscribe to our blog by entering your email address in the Subscribe box on the right hand side of this blog…and please feel free to leave your thoughts, suggestions or  criticisms in the comments box below!

Social Media – what do you need to know?

In the 21st century, learning networks are richer than ever before. Social media, including tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow connections with professionals to be developed in offline and online worlds in new and exciting ways. No longer are we limited geographically. Social media allows us to connect not only to those we know, but also to those who we don’t know, but who share our passions, our interests and our profession. Despite never having met in the physical sense, it is now possible to share links, comment on educational research, debate, collaborate and create new knowledge with individuals no matter where they are working.

The number of tools that create these opportunities may seem overwhelming. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. A fully rounded PLN may consist of a number of accounts that serve a number of different purposes.

So….Social Media and Professional Learning Communities? What is the connection?

A school which is a professional learning community focuses upon removing the walls between classrooms (metaphorically, in all cases, physically in some!), encouraging collaboration, dialogue, ready access to colleagues and an openness to challenge understandings and current ‘accepted’ knowledge.

Teachers model ongoing learning as they view themselves as lifelong learners also. Time is provided not only for professional development in the traditional sense of in-service days, but also for collegial discussion and reflection. As the walls between the classrooms are no longer there, teachers feel free to engage in co-teaching, team teaching, mentoring, and peer observation.

A professional learning community is based upon respect, responsibility and collaboration. It reflects the need for all members of the community to view themselves as learners. This creates flexibility, openness to change and adaptability, which are definitely requirements for successfully managing the fast paced, continually changing context education exists within.

How can social media help bring this about? Roberts and Pruitt, in their book Schools as Professional Learning Communities (p3, 2009) quote research that suggests that the major obstacle for schools who wish to develop as learning communities is the provision of resources such as time to collaborate, leadership support, information and ready access to colleagues. Social Media is not the total answer; but in schools where money and time are in short demand (and which school isn’t in this situation?), they can go part of the way in meeting these needs.

Here’s how:

1. Social media providing time to collaborate

Social media does not strictly speaking provide time – nothing will replace relief from face to face teaching to allow teachers to focus on their professional learning – however by embracing the asynchronous nature of social media, collaboration can occur at a time that suits each individual. It is almost impossible to co-ordinate meeting times with the variety of competing demands teachers respond to each day. Social media allows each teacher to add their thoughts, comments and input to a conversation that can continue through the working day. Using blogging software, twitter hash tags and discussion forums allows the discussion to flow and new knowledge to be created despite geographical location.

2. Social media providing leadership support

There is usually only one Principal in a school. The ratio of leaders to staff does not have to determine the amount of support a leadership team can provide if social media is used as a way of communicating. Meetings that a leadership representative cannot physically attend can be shared online, or the input collected and reflected upon by leadership at a later date. Members of a leadership team can ‘check in’ with staff by posting a tweet, posting a discussion starter or asking for input using a variety of channels. Of course nothing replaces face to face meetings and the presence of leadership representatives at various events, but if it is just not possible to be there, there are ways support can still be provided.

 3. Social media providing information

This is a key role of social media when used in a professional context. Questions can be posted online for response from a global audience (you can use preferences to manage whether your question goes out to specific individuals or the whole world in general). The development of  a PLN in Twitter or LinkedIn provides ready access to experts in the educational field who more often than not are willing to share. Social bookmarking services such as Diigo are brilliant for discovering new websites and sources of information – join one of the many groups for educators, and digests of useful links will be sent automatically to your email inbox on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Social media truly comes into its own when searching for targeted, reliable information sources.

 4. Social media providing ready access to colleagues

This directly links to Number 1. If colleagues have a Social Media account, they are just a few keystrokes away. This might sound like a recipe for disaster, however in terms of networking with colleagues from across the country and globally, or even for setting meeting times with fellow staff members, making contact with colleagues has never been easier.

Stay tuned for our next post which will introduce you to how Twitter may be a powerful tool for initiating and maintaining a Personal Learning Network.

Comments as always are welcome!