UPDATE: As of November, Google Plus is now available for Apps for Edu at the high school level. This makes it even more valuable as a potential place to share information with students, or at least use the videoconferencing options.
I’ve been playing around with Google Plus for about 24 hours, but I feel like I’m just starting to get the hang of it. For those that don’t know, Google+ was introduced on Wednesday and is Google’s (next) attempt to battle Facebook in the Social Media world. So, after using it for about a day or so, which is of course a very short amount of time, I’ve developed a few initial thoughts about the service and how it might be worthwhile to education. A few initial observations:
1. The Privacy Features (or at least the appearance of privacy) should make users more comfortable. Even innovative schools are wary of teacher/student social media connections. I know at our school teachers are asked to not accept “friend” requests from current students. However, social media can provide a simple, effective way for students and teachers to engage with one another online in real time and with minimal hindrances. The “Groups” feature of Google+ should allow for students (and teachers) to make certain information available to one another without the fear of “overdivulging” or being forced to live too public an online life. For many teachers, administrators, and schools, the Groups feature should be a good way to convince many skeptics that social media can be used in appropriate ways and will provide schools with the opportunity to teach students about what should be shared with whom at what time.
2. “Hangouts” could be the new “Office Hours”. Finding time to meet with students during the school day and after school can be difficult; everyone is overscheduled and overcommitted and matching times with our students is hard. Google+ has created a feature known as “Hangouts,” which is simply an open video chat forum in which you can leave open on your browser and literally hang out until others show up or happen into the Hangout. This might be an interesting way for teachers to manage office hours to assist students with work. I can imagine a teacher saying “every Tuesday, I’ll be Hanging Out on Google+ from 7-8 pm if you have questions.” Students could then pop in and out and get questions answered in a more individualized and effective manner. Groups of students could also gather (as a hangout provides for multi-user video chat) to work through particularly difficult problems or get advice on the progress of a project. Having tried to do video chats with students in the past, I’ve found it rather difficult to get the interfaces to work seamlessly. Google+ (in the short time I’ve tested it) seems to be a streamlined and simple process to video chat.
3. “Huddles”: An Easy Way to Keep Track of Students. The Huddles feature might be interesting to use as a way to keep track with students (especially high school students) on field trips and at times when students are working on their own in various places throughout a campus. The Huddle feature allows for a group to keep in constant contact and get realtime updates and messages on their phones. I could see the Huddle feature being used as a way to tell students when to reconvene when on a field trip or if they’re scattered throughout campus doing work on individual projects.
4. Nerding Out with Sparks. Google+ also features “Sparks,” which is essentially a way to not only gather news, blogs, and information about topics that interest you, but also immediately share that information with others. As a teacher, I’ve found myself sending links to students in my courses regarding current events that tie directly to what we’ve discussed in class, but that rarely begins a dialogue. Sparks might be a great feature for teachers to pass information on to students and begin conversations about topics that are related to the courses they teach. Those discussions can then be brought to the classroom.
Furthermore, “Sparks” might work as continual Professional Development for teachers. I can imagine the creation of Google+ PLNs that allow teachers to share information and articles, then have discussions about the use and implementation of the ideas presented in the articles. In a way, it would work in similar fashion to Twitter, but with more characters to work with and, for lurkers, a better sense of the wider conversation.
Overall, I’m excited by the potential of Google+. But, like Wave and Buzz before it, significant buy-in from the public will have to occur in order to realize the site’s true potential. I can see if being incredibly useful as an educator and if Google decides to implement it in the Apps for Education suite, I can see some incredible potential for Google+ to become both a social media and even possible a Course Management System. Given Google’s missteps in the world of social media in the past, this simple and streamlined site seems to be a step in the right direction.