Sunday, August 21, 2011

Educators Unite: My Vision for Google+ in Education

Social Networking is certainly integral in the lives of the digital natives that we teach. I believe it's safe to say that social networking is becoming integral to most of our personal lives at this point.

Who drives the trends of social networking sites? Clearly, it's the users. MySpace took social networking in one direction and Facebook has evolved to be a more mainstream social networking site, but still driven by the users and I don't think Mark Zuckerberg could have ever envisioned facebook 'looking' quite like it does today when he was sitting in his dorm room coding away. Likewise, twitter has taken social networking in a direction of it's own, catering to people with specific interests, both professionally and socially.

Whatever the case may be, the question about social media in education continues to receive a lot of attention. Many schools (and educators) are very leery of using facebook in the classroom and this is due to legitimate liability concerns based on issues we've all read about based on the way we have learned to share on facebook. So, where am I going with this?

Google has entered the arena with google+ (certainly a better attempt at social networking than buzz and wave. I loved google wave for what it was and am sad to have seen it's early demise. However, google+ is certainly their answer to facebook and twitter and it appears as though google will stay the course with this one! My first thought is that google+ is still new enough, uncluttered enough, and somewhat akin to unclaimed territory. I would like to declare that we should plant our flag and claim google+ while we can! Below is my rationale and vision for it's use.

  1. Circles - At the heart and soul of google+ is the idea of separating your factions into circles (i.e. a circle for friends, a circle for your PLN, a circle for family, a circle for your World of Warcraft clan, a circle for colleagues, a circle for your 1st period English class, etc.). I love the idea of having a circle for each of my classes, where I can quickly post resources and reminders to them. In addition to communicating with google+ users through your circles, you can communicate with those who have not yet signed up via email. Google+ will send your post as an email to members of your circle who are not on Google+. I LOVE THIS! It provides you with the opportunity to use google+ as your group email / messaging client. In addition, like facebook, I could post to my entire network when the content is meant for everyone.
  2. Huddle - As we are beginning to encourage BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and the use of smart phones, handheld devices, etc. we can begin to use huddle, a service that allows you to essentially send an sms style text message to everyone in a circle. Again, what a great way to send that quick reminder to class, link to an assignment, resource, etc.
  3. Google Apps - Our school is using google apps. Every student can create an account through our school district portal. Currently, this would give them access to google sites, google documents, custom google search, etc. ). At the moment, I do not believe that google+ is integrated with google apps, but it would be great if the student accounts also made google+ available. My guess is that this would keep them in a secure social networking environment (only connected to others in the school district), but I believe the ideal would be to have it start there and extend or link to their personal google+ account. I say this as I want there to be an easy way to integrate with the school use of google apps, but believe students would need there to be a connection to their true personal network in order for them to use it regularly. Part of my vision is for google+ to be included in the google apps suite for easy integration of school projects and social networking.
  4. I have already begun to use google+ for personal and professional use. I would say that I am using it more for my PLN than I am for personal use. Facebook, on the other hand has the scale tilted the other way by far.
  5. Meet the students where they are. We often speak of meeting the digital natives in a world that they are familiar with. Here's our chance. Again, I understand the reservation regarding facebook (sorry, Mark), but see google+ as the unchartered territory that just might be the great compromise we are looking for. We can work in an environment familiar and comfortable to our students while teaching appropriate use.
I will likely add to this post as I have so many ideas milling around in my head. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts as well. Join me as we shape google+ to become the social learning (don't tell the kids that) environment that we want it to become.