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!
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!