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What does Google+ Mean for Schools?

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Google recently announced the launch of their new socially-oriented group of services called Google+.  The suite of products clearly is designed to compete against Facebook, the reigning champ of social.  Currently most schools spend a lot of energy blocking or discouraging use of Facebook in school.  Will the same happen to Google+, or will Google’s healthy relationship with education help open the door to social media in the K-12 world?  In this article we will take a look at how Google+ could be used in schools for both students and staff.

First, we will begin with a very brief summary of Google+ (along with links to other sites with much more details on the suite in general).  For now Google+ consist of the following services:
  • Circles - This allows you to create your own groups of people based on your own criteria, such as a group for your family, your school friends, your baseball teammates, and such. Each group is kept separate allowing you to interact with just who you want to.
  • Sparks - This allows you to enter as many interests as you want (sports, movies, music, politics, and such) and then provides you with constantly updating links to content on the Internet specific to the topics you listed.
  • Hangouts - This allows you to hold live video chats with up to ten people, along with the ability to share and view YouTube videos and hold text chats on the side.
  • Huddle - This allows group text chat on mobile phones.
  • Instant Upload - This allows for instant upload of your photos and videos from your mobile phone to Google+ where you can choose to share them as you wish.
To get much more detail (including helpful videos) on all of these services, be sure to visit these sites:
Now on to the real question... How could Google+ be used in schools?  We will certainly discover more uses as the product launches and grows over time.  However, in the meantime, here are some ideas that come to mind:

Student collaboration:
Circles will allow students to create groups for collaborative projects.  With Hangouts the students will then be able to meet virtually to work on their project, share information, and provide feedback to each other.

Online or blended learning:
Instead of only holding class in school, teachers will be able to teach their students online (ten at a time) through Hangouts.  They could teach new material, review information from class, share videos, answer questions, and more, all in a virtual class meeting.

Staff professional development:
Staff PD could also be done through Hangouts, especially topics that lend themselves to lots of discussion and interaction such as book studies.  Beyond group PD, individual teachers could use Sparks to track current information on topics related to their curriculum (current events in social studies, discoveries in science, etc.) or information about technology tools they integrate in their teaching (Google Docs, Twitter, Blogger, iPads, and such).

Staff meetings:
Hangouts should also serve well for virtual staff meetings, allowing staff to remain at their buildings but still attend and participate in the meeting.

School Public Relations:
With Instant Upload it will be one step easier to share exciting content about the school with students, parents, and the community.  Media from school sports events, drama plays, awards ceremonies, and more can automatically be uploaded to Google+ and then shared with the appropriate people or added to the school website.

Unfortunately although Google+ looks promising for educational use, there are still two things we will need before this can roll out in schools.
  • First, the service is currently invitation only, so it may be a while before it is available for everyone to use.
  • Second, the service relies on the use of Google Profiles, which unfortunately is still currently not available for Google Apps for Education users.  The Official Google Enterprise Blog indicated in March of this year that Google Profiles will be “coming soon” to Apps users, but so far that has not happened.  They do provide a form you can fill out to express your interest in getting Google Profiles for your Apps domain and to add yourself to the notification list.  Hopefully this will happen soon so schools can try our Google+ as well.
Perhaps you have already thought of some useful ways to Google+ might integrate into K-12 education.  Be sure to leave your ideas in the comments box below.

By Eric Curts - June 28, 2011