Google+ Could Be Helpful Education Tool
Google+ may seem like just another social network, and in some ways it is. But Google's new social space has some new key features that might make it an excellent tool for educators.
Children, teenagers and even many adults are already frequenting social sites several times a day, so the fact that Google+ has educational possibilities could help engage a new generation of students that have much more to distract them than ever before.
Here are a few aspects of Google+ that might make it a tool for engaging both teachers and 21st century students:
Google app integration
The single most convenient thing about Google+ is that it automatically integrates with the other Google apps — such as Gmail, Picasa and Google Docs — that are already a wonderful resource for educators. Google+ operates with the same header bar that allows users to switch quickly between apps, and it uses a familiar layout. Students can collaborate on a document or classes could use a unified calendar.
Managing groups with circles
One of the important innovations of Google+ is the ability to share information with a select group of contacts, called a Circle. Facebook technically has this capability, but it's much more complicated. Google+ has Circles built in from the ground up. The benefit of this is the ability for teachers to share different material with different students. Teachers can divide student contacts into circles according to class, and students can manage study groups and messages to classmates by organizing fellow students into the appropriate Circles. From there, distributing information is easy. Need to share something with the 1 p.m. class but not the 11 a.m. class? Simply select the correct Circle.
This sort of contact management alone would be a huge boon to overburdened teachers who already need to keep track of multiple classes and sometimes even need to teach multiple subjects.
Group discussions and huddles
Google+ is all about communication, and that includes more than wall posts. Google+ is integrated closely with the Google Talk chat service, so students can ask questions or communicate with teachers at any time. There are also options for group discussions and video chats that could significantly improve collaboration, especially for distance learning programs.
Sparks and research
The Spark service in Google+ works a little differently than Google Reader, but it has great potential for helping students research and stay aware of current events . Spark allows the user to name specific areas of interest, from which Google will automatically pull in articles and posts from relevant sites and newspapers. Teachers can suggest important keyword topics for students to follow that will help them learn about a specific topic, thus cutting down on the amount of time students would need to go out and find the same information themselves.
Data liberation, or how I started my summer vacation
Social networking has raised many privacy and content ownership questions in the last few years, and Google has added a feature called Data Liberation to help alleviate part of the problem. Data Liberation basically allows the user to compile, download and remove all the information from all or part of their account. That means, when a class is over, a student can download and clear out the appropriate Circle. It's even a handy feature for classes where teachers require a portfolio to show all coursework at the end of a class.
A connected future
Currently, most primary (and even some secondary) school systems block social networking sites, but as technology progresses, it will be important to look at how they can help advance education for students who are accustomed to discovering and sharing information in a fast-paced online environment. These features in Google+ might make it a better tool for communicating with and educating the next generation.