Hanging on my office wall is an original print that I purchased from a digital artist on Etsy.com. It’s a social media propaganda poster reminiscent of those during the World War II era that discouraged the sharing of too much information and rallied for national pride. My print depicts a barrel chested man and a serious looking women marching pridefully side-by-side in front of a blazing sunburst, carrying a crimson flag with a bold “+1” centered across the fabric. Atop the print reads “All must be shared to win the war.” Across the bottom, “Google+.” I enjoy this adornment for its social satire, but even more because I see what Google+ is bringing to the social networking landscape but more specifically, the classroom.
As the second most popular social network behind Facebook, Google+ is offering features that users obviously want. But what does Google’s relatively new social layer offer to teachers and students both inside and out of the traditional classroom?
At its most basic level, Google+ is another social network. There are plenty of blog posts and YouTube videos referenced for encouraging schools to incorporate Facebook and Twitter into their learning experiences. And while both of those have currency to offer teachers and learners, neither of them can provide the opportunities that Google+ can.
Possibly the most popular feature of a Google+ profile is “Circles”. Enabling users to socially segregate whom they have connected with on Google+, Circles allows you to share uploaded or online content with the most relevant and appropriate audience instead of your entire online community. Instead of sharing your commentary on an article that most recently captivated your attention with everyone that “follows” you, Google+’s Circles lets you share that commentary with subnetwork of, perhaps, educators that you have organized into one very specific circle. Likewise, those educators that you connected with at your last professional development conference aren’t burdened by pictures of your most recent foray into flamenco dancing or your great-aunts birthday. That’s because posts of that nature would have been shared with your family and friends Circle.
If you haven’t made the connection yet, imagine how you could leverage Google+ and its Circles for staff interaction and learning.
In addition to creating Circles for selective sharing, Google+ also empowers you with the ability to create Communities. Either publicly accessible or by invitation only, Communities serve as a digital agora for interactions based on similar interests. While many educators are beginning to join Communities relative to topics such as educational technology, gamification, Google Apps for Education, and online learning, Communities can also be utilized for classroom collaboration and sharing.
Whether you flip your instruction or not, connecting your students in a Google+ Community serves as a more interactive classroom website where announcements can be made; discussion topics can be posted; and assignments can be distributed, collaborated on, and collected providing you with a medium to deliver timely and authentic feedback as well.
Thinking outside of the +, power in using Google+ in your classroom is also found when considering the ease of integrating other Google apps like Blogger, YouTube, Drive, and Calendar. Sharing learning artifacts from student blogs to your classroom’s Google+ Community is a much more transparent way to see how your students are thinking, what connections they are making with curricular content, and the level of thinking they are approaching your class with, all while bridging the gap between individual practice and constructive criticism and social learning.
Teaching your students how to digitally comment on others posts ranges from understanding that clicking “+1” on a classmates most recent post communicates a similar message to giving them a high-five after a job well-done to constructing a thoughtful and probing analysis of the points made in the student’s post. Aside from providing students with the opportunity to critique their co-learners’ work, Google+ also allows for the much needed think time that needs to come before any well-thought out response that an in-class discussion just doesn’t have time for.
Classrooms aren’t the only place where Google+ can offer value and support for learning, however. It can infuse staff meetings and district-wide professional development with new life too. In a field where everyone is balancing busy schedules with the continual need to improve their abilities while learning about emerging best-practices, being able to meet, share, and learn with one another in an asynchronous online environment like Google+ is liberating to a teacher or administrator who wants to grow professionally, but could do so much more productively on his or her own time and where they are most comfortable to learn and contribute a continuous and thriving conversation.
Proclaiming that “all must be shared to win the war” is incredibly fitting for digital-age satire and makes for great office decor for a virtual teacher whose job description is to share content. But what makes satire so apt is how it borders along the line of truth. And the truth is that we’re on the front lines of a war between educating our students and ourselves with practices from the past, and escorting our teaching and learning styles into the 21st Century. With 359 million people already actively there, Google+ is a great place to do just that.