I need to start by saying that I haven’t been one of the lucky ones. I haven’t actually received my Google+ invite yet (although I know several people have invited me). Google has been experiencing tons of issues with meeting the demand of Google+ so they stopped sending invitations last week. So, most of this post comes from checking out Google+ videos (which I’ve included), reading about Google+ and checking out reviews from others. For those of you who are not spending your summer months tuned to the happenings of the technological world, Google+ is a new social networking platform that was released a few weeks ago. I know that many educators are reluctant to use social networking with their students for one reason or another but I think some of the features in Google+ might convince the naysayers. In this post, I’ll share my thoughts of some of the most promising features and how I see those features being used educationally. To get a sense of what Google+ offers, however, take a quick look at this overview video.
Circles: One of the most promising features is Circles. With Circles, Google+ users can designate different groups of people (called circles) and share different items with those Circles. With Facebook, most of the information people share is with all of their “friends.” For instance, if I just wanted to send out a status update on Facebook for a group of students, I couldn’t do this easily. This is one of the reasons that many educators avoid Facebook completely or create separate professional and social Facebook accounts. With Google+, however, I can create Circles for different classes and share different posts with the different classes. I can even create separate Circles for my friends and share more personal information with them.
Hangouts: Hangouts are billed as impromptu get-togethers online with the people in your Circles on Google+. The real value with Hangouts is that they occur through video and each Hangout can handle up to 10 people. A few weeks ago, I reviewed different video conferencing options and I am optimistic that ultimately Hangouts will be able to compete with all of them. While Hangouts doesn’t seem to support screen sharing or offer any presentation options, it will allow educators to hold online office hours with groups of students and conduct synchronous discussions with them. Students could also use Hangouts to meet outside of the classroom to work on group projects. Integration with Google Docs would be a real plus, but maybe I’m asking for too much.
Sparks: Google+ says that Sparks allows users to “nerd out, together.” Imagine you’re doing some work online and you come across something (a website, a journal article, etc) that you’d love to share with a group of colleagues or with the students in one of your classes. With Sparks, you can share that information with a specific Circle and track the conversation that ensues. Sparks would be a perfect feature for fostering discussions amongst students in an online class.
Instant Update: The world is becoming more mobile and so should our classrooms. Google+ has loads of mobility options with apps planned for most phones and mobile devices. With Instant Update, unlimited photos and videos can be uploaded instantly to your Google+ account and shared with specific Circles. While the iOS app is not yet available for iPhones and iPods, I envision students in an English class producing digital stories on their iPads and uploading them to share with their classmates through Google+. Or students in a Biology class capturing photos of wildlife out in the field on an iPod Touch and sharing them with the class. The mobile options with Google+ are really exciting but Instant Update offers some great sharing options with photos and video.