College professors are considering how Google+ might be used to enhance student learning in and out of the classroom.
Google's previous attempts at social networking, Google Buzz and Google Wave, failed to catch on. Facebook and Twitter have, so far, dominated the field of social networking on the Internet. Google's latest attempt, Google+, manages, however, to improve upon one of the weaknesses of Facebook and Twitter, namely, managing different groups with the same platform. This advantage has some professors thinking about how they might be able to use Google+ to better connect with their students.
If Twitter users want to manage different types of messages for different followers, such as personal versus work related messages, they would need to create separate accounts. To switch from one account to another, Twitter users would need a third-party app, or would need to log out and back in. Facebook allows users to create different groups and post messages to specific groups, but the process is clumsy and difficult to learn.
In Google+, creating different groups, called “circles,” is a central feature of the platform. Additionally, people in a circle are able to enter a video chat, called “Hangout,” with up to ten users at a time. (Facebook recently announced that it will add a video chat feature.) A professor, then, could easily create a circle for each class, or break up classes into study groups, each with their own circle. The study groups could meet in an online video conference, and the professor could be available for online office hours.
Professor Jeremy Littau is already planning on requiring all his Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., students to sign up for Google+ this Fall. He wrote about the possibilities on his blog.
“As a teaching tool, [Google+] intrigues me. I’m already planning on holding Hangout office hours this fall for students, where they can get on and ask questions about class material. And because it’s multi-user, others can hang out in the lounge and listen. Sometimes I go over the same stuff with multiple students in multiple meetings; this could streamline that process,” said Littau.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Professor Stephen M. Caliendo of North Central College in Naperville, Ill., said he has no specific plans to use Google+, but is “most interested in the 10-person video chat feature.” Caliendo also sees the circles feature as an advantage over Facebook.
In addition to classroom uses, Google+ has addressed issues related to how professors interact with students online, outside of class. Professors who use Facebook have struggled, for instance, with whether to accept friend requests from students. They can choose the socially awkward situation of turning down a student's request to be their “friend"; or, they can accept the friend request, which entails viewing what their students post on Facebook. Students posts could include information about their dating life, or what they did over the weekend, which would prove uncomfortable for professors who prefer to maintain distance between their work and personal lives.
There are no “friend requests” in Google+. Users follow whoever they want, and are able to easily post information to specific groups. Google+ has, therefore, solved both of these difficulties for professors.