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Google Plus Puts the Social in Learning with Google Apps for Education

Google Plus Puts the Social in Learning with Google Apps for Education

With the news that Google Apps for Education will be integrated with Google+ in a few days, it’s time to start thinking about how social media and collaboration can be a reality for schools. Many universities and K-12 schools have already adopted Google Apps for Education because of its powerful suite of free communication and collaboration tools like GMailDocs, Calendar, Reader, Groups, Sites, and others. While many of these productivity-focused apps have helped modernize the classroom toolset, schools have been secretly pining for a tool to help students, teachers, families, and administrators stay in constant contact the way we’re getting used to doing in Facebook. Several small players have offered Facebook-style social classroom apps– tools like Edmodo, Schoology, and HootSuite have grown up to fill the need for a full featured social network for schools. If Google gets this right, the socially linked classroom with be a reality before the year is out! This is exciting for me, as someone who has been looking at enterprise-level microblogging tools like SocialCast and Yammer as a way to make campus communications easier and more free-flowing. I think this type of technology can revolutionize organizations by making it easier for stakeholders to hold sustained, data-informed conversations with asynchronous tools.

 

Most social classroom apps I’ve seen organize course activities (like commenting on discussion questions or sharing relevant links) into a Facebook-style activity feed where recent events appear near the top of the home screen. Photos, videos, and links to outside websites are automatically previewed inline, making it easy for people to see where they’re being linked to. Users can send private messages or public ones, deciding how they want to communicate and with whom. Discussions can be formed around any kind of posting, from a quick status update to a long-form blog post or multimedia artifact. These conversations can last long after the original posting, only drawing attention to themselves when a new comment is added. Users can form friendships, groups, and organization pages to support the many different types of interactions that people have.

 

These features will come as no surprise to Facebook users– the social network has so thoroughly revolutionized the way we think of online collaboration that  its influence is felt in every tool in this category. Google Plus is no exception, but it also advances the form in a few key ways:

  • It gives simple and precise controls to help users share information only with the people they want to reach. No more accidental overshares.
  • It provides an integrated interface where chat, video conferencing, and RSS news reading intermingle with social status updates.
  • Google has stated its commitment to integrate its many diverse services into G+, and it will continue to grow into a central hub for communication and collaboration.
  • It remains to be seen, but a G+ for Apps could very likely help schools to keep communications inside the school community instead of defaulting to public status. This may allay privacy- and copyright-related concerns caused by the wide-open nature of Twitter and Facebook. This is a prime selling-point of these education-focused social learning apps as well as the enterprise microblogging apps.

Even this week’s announcement of Pearson’s OpenClass Learning Management System may be disrupted by a G+ for Apps, as it looks to be little more than a social “glue” to organize students and teachers into courses so they can share documents in Google’s suite of free services. If G+ provides simple tools for schools to organize students and teachers into courses, cohorts, programs, organizations and the like (maybe by interfacing with Student Information Systems?), it may give the LMS a serious run for its money.

 

What are your thoughts on Google Plus for Education? Please let us know in the comments.

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