Google’s recent debut of its social networking platform Google+ was widely hailed as presenting unique possibilities for social interaction between students and teachers. Even though Google+ was an invitation-only service until just recently, over the summer many educators immediately began brainstorming ways to use Google+ for education everywhere from elementary school to online college.
While use of social networking services in education have been hindered by concerns about how teachers can connect with students without having to worry about privacy issues, Google+ keeps privacy intact. Once teachers know this, they can take the next step to integrating some of Google+’s features into their classrooms.
One of Google+’s most-loved features is the circle. Circles allow users to organize contacts into groups. They can then choose to share updates only with certain circles. This effectively prevents the privacy issues many educators fear when it comes to social media use in education. A teacher can share information with a group of students about a homework assignment without risking letting them access more personal information meant for friends and family.
Google+’s Sparks feature allows users to mark articles, blogs, and other information relevant to topics of interest, and label each group of websites according to their topics. Share each group of topics with people in particular circles, and Google+ becomes a project and research-sharing tool useful to any classroom.
Google+ is known for its easy-to-use video chat interface called Hangouts. Instructors and students can use this feature to meet from separate locations for test reviews, question-and-answer sessions, and virtual office hours. Users have multiple options for sharing information through Hangouts, whether with one single user or an entire group at a time. Google is rumored to be working on integrating Google Docs access to Google+, which would make Hangouts even more effective as a virtual classroom.
For teachers with Android phones, Google+’s Messenger feature (formally called Huddle) can be a useful tool. Messenger enables users to send text messages to a group of contacts and carry on a multi-user conversation through their smartphones. Teachers can keep in regular touch with a whole class through this tool, hold open question-and-answer sessions while on the move, or continue class discussions outside of class time and away from a computer.
Google+ offers powerful tools for students and teachers alike. Sharing through the medium can encourage project collaboration, positive public relations, and research. Professors can share research with each other, and teachers can answer students’ questions about homework after class. Teachers can also more easily stay in touch with former students, perhaps sharing job opportunities or interesting articles. Each circle’s segregation from others makes it easy for educators to control who receives what information.
With this fine-tuned control over who sees what, the usual worries that’ve kept social media mostly out of classrooms should be alleviated. Now that Google+ is past the invitation-only field trial, perhaps this school year will witness its triumph as the educational social media service par excellence.
Marina Salsbury planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise.