You may not have heard of Google +, which is commonly heralded as “Facebook but not Facebook,” a social networking site that works in myriad different ways than Facebook. It’s run (obviously) by Google and has, I believe, many different features that can be viewed as beneficial to a classroom environment. But before I get into specific features, I want to talk a bit about what I look for in web tools for teaching/being a student.
- Accessibility: This is why Blackboard can be a difficult tool to implement–you can only access it from going from annoying link to link and generally only on computers (the java software isn’t really conducive to mobile-device posting). An optimal classroom tool can be used from phones and computers–PC and Mac.
- Multi-functioning: I don’t want my online tools to only be a blog. I want to be able to post videos, have web conferences, host images, etc. This is especially important for online-only courses. Imagine trying to host an entire course online in which you are limited to only posting written-out lectures. Ugh.
- Streamlined: Call me petty, but the site needs to LOOK good and the layout needs to make sense. You should be able to do what you need to do quickly and easily, and students should have no difficulty accessing your material.
That said, NOW let’s talk about some of G+’s features:
- Hangouts: Possibly the single coolest thing about G+. You can host a ‘hangout’ which is a multi-person video conference. All individuals in the call are placed in smaller screens on the bottom of the window, and whoever is speaking is brought to the forefront. It would be really interesting to utilize such software to host entire classes–allowing for classroom discussion in ways that chat sessions and forum posts cannot accomplish. You can lecture, and students can (face to face!) jump into the discussion. This tool could also be useful for students to meet up and perform group work. Myriad arguments have been made concluding the benefit of having an ‘avatar’ available as a physical manifestation online. By utilizing actual video chats, YOU become that manifestation, just as you would in a non-web classroom.
- Circles: Adjuncts teach a LOT of classes. When utilizing WordPress, you may need to make totally separate blogs for each class. Blackboard? Different forums for each class. Want your students to respond to a question? Simply place all your students into an appropriate class circle (e.g. ENG 110, ENG 120) and make that question available to only that class. You can do all of your work on one page and very easily tag who has the ability to see it.
- +1: You can share websites you find via google with your circles. Find an article you want to share with students? +1 it.
- Sparks: Want to try to find articles relating to your class? Put in a Spark, or research interest, and G+ will aggregate posts relating to said topic. You can then share these with your students.
- No posting limit: Facebook has a character limit for status updates and responses, but in its current form, G+ does not have that. This means you can say what you want to say in as many words as you need. Certainly a benefit for English majors! 🙂
- Mobile device accessibility: Although Apple removed it from the iTunes store (Big Brother, anyone?), G+ does have mobile capabilities and I’m sure that in good time they’ll get back on iTunes.
- Free: This is huge for me. Your school doesn’t need to pay to operate or update the software, you don’t need techies to help develop your page or to help get students on the platform. It’s as simple as signing up.
I suppose the best features are, for me, hangouts and circles. It’s enough to provide engaging interaction, yet allows for separation when necessary. I like to be able to see and talk to my peers (or students, depending on what situation I’m in). I’d be really interested in hearing from anyone who plans on attempting to use this in their classes and how the integration (via hybridization or total online coursework) works out. I, unfortunately, won’t be teaching this term, so I can’t try it myself, but I definitely see some potential in it.