Why Google+ Could be a Game-Changer in Higher Education

The Google+ iconAre you on Google+? If your answer is “yes,” then welcome to the party! If your answer is “no,” then at least consider yourself tentatively invited with an all but certain party ahead of you. Google+ is making huge waves right now in the industry of social media and social networks, but a tsunami may very well also be in store for higher education in America, Canada and everywhere where people are involved in institutionalized online learning.

Google+ is, in many respects, the answer to the question many instructors and administrators in higher education have been asking themselves for a long time. That question being: why don’t social networks like Facebook fit more kindly into curriculum based learning? It boils down to a lot of issues with functionality (and some other tidbits as well, but mostly functionality). To this point social networks have not provided the proper privacy, publishing capabilities or kinds of synchronous learning environments needed to make them better than (or nicely complimentary to) IMS or proprietary alternatives.

Until now – below are three reasons why Google+ may be a game-changer in online learning.


A screenshot of Google Plus Circles

On the surface “circles” may not sound like the kind of earth shattering concept that would bring about earth shattering changes in anything, but at its core is a seed ripe for efflorescence in an online learning environment.

For some time now instructors have blasted Facebook (and rightfully so) for its poor privacy protections. There is just too great a chance that a student might accidentally see an instructor’s weekend pictures of jet skiing tomfoolery, thus dispelling the notion that “teacher” is widely synonymous with “ubiquitous role-model,” for as we all know, role-models never get to have fun, right? (/sarcasm)

Google+ allows a person to place all of their contacts into Circles, allowing a user to control with great precision who among their contacts will have access to which bits of shared content. For instance – as an instructor you could actually recreate your student classlist as a single Circle, and confidently share content with just your class (or just anyone else) in whatever manner you please, never needing to worry that perhaps you’ll walk into the classroom one day to snickers and whispers. Sure, you can do this on Facebook too, but the process is so hairpullingly tedious that I’ve to this day still only ever met one other person (besides me) who actually knows how to pull it off.


A screenshot of Google Plus Hangouts

In Google+ you don’t just chat with people, you create a hangout (note that you can still chat separately through the Google Chat service). When you create a hangout you have the option to invite entire circles of people or just individuals. When you send an invitation to circles and/or people, a couple things happen. The first is that the recipient receives some sort of update or notification, letting them know that you are hanging out and that they are welcome to come visit you. The second thing that occurs is an update to your personal profile page (this is called your wall in Facebook) that lets people know that you are hanging out and available to hang out with. Here’s the cool thing – the only people that can see this update to your profile are those that you invited!

So how does this play out well for educators? Aside from the fact that you can have up to 10 people in the same hangout video chatting in real-time and watching Youtube movies together, you also get to effectively host AND post office hours online! As an instructor, I can create a circle of just my students, begin a hangout from 7PM – 9PM Wednesday nights, only invite my students, and have reliable online office hours. If a student wants to speak privately and multiple students are chatting, I can just chat with them privately on the side.

Beautiful – and if all my students are on Google+ anyway (which I suspect they will be sooner rather than later) then I don’t even have to bother dealing with all the technicalities and learning curves typically associated with arranging synchronous online meetings. They’ll already know the technology. Thank you Google+!


A screenshot of Google Plus Sparks Page

I often tell people that to this day, one of the best kept secrets of internet communication is the RSS reader. I’m always amazed at how many people have no idea what RSS is. Once I introduce them to it, I’m never amazed that they typically adopt the technology right away. For those uninitiated, RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is essentially a way to aggregate news updates from websites. Think of it as an electronic newspaper that you open in the morning and that deals you only news from your favorite websites.

After approximately 15 years of available RSS technology online, I’m convinced that the technology will never become ubiquitous in its present condition. However, Google+ has now introduced something that could fill the aggregation void that RSS cannot. This service is called Sparks.

In Google+ you can create as many Sparks as you want based upon your hobbies and interests. I have a Spark called “Minnesota Vikings,” and every time I click on the spark, Google+ deals me all the latest news on the Minnesota Vikings from reputable news and blog websites from around the internet. Never do I miss the latest trade or free agency acquisition. I just click on my Spark and rest assured I’m getting everything I want.

Now apply this to online learning. Let’s say you are teaching a political science class, and one of your modules focuses on the political turmoil currently sweeping across the Middle East. Your students could be making Sparks such as “Egypt,” “Syria Revolt,” and “Afghanistan War.” Each day they could arrive in class empowered with knowledge that even you (the instructor) aren’t empowered with. To some, that may be a scary thought, but what scares me more is the prospect of ending a class period having learned nothing from my students. I don’t try to inspire them to learn in the classroom, I try to inspire them to learn everywhere, and if they do this, I expect them to be teaching me a few things on a regular basis.

Google+ may not become the social network to break the barrier between higher education and instruction through the use of social media, but I think it will bring about a change in the functionality of all social networking platforms, and eventually, we instructors will find ourselves with options galore for really simple synchronous learning (RSSL – that’s right, I’ve now coined the acronym, and you’ve read it here first!).

Are you a faculty or staff member at Century College and are you interested in trying out Google+? Google+ is still in beta and available on an invite only basis, but if you send me an email with your century.edu address, I’ll be happy to send you an invite. Contact me at stephen.kelly[at]century[dot]edu.

11 Responses

  1. Group Link Post 08/11/2011 | KJsDiigoBookmarks Says:

    […] Why Google+ Could be a Game-Changer in Higher Education – Century College Marketing Program Blog […]

  2. Sanford Says:

    wish I could +1 this. Iam doing a professional day training on google + this coming semester and plan on using this blog as a digital handout

  3. Ed Lube Says:

    Good post, Stephen. The other thing I’d note is that Google+ is incredibly easy to set up and use (at least, so far–we’ll see what happens as they feature creep), ESPECIALLY Circles as compared to FB’s convoluted privacy settings, as you point out. And, while I’m a heavy RSS user, I agree that Sparks really avoids the typical head-scratching reactions to RSS feeds (isn’t it something like only 5% of online users subscribe to RSS?).

  4. Stephen Kelly Says:

    @ Sanford – I’m very flattered to hear you’ll be using some of these points during the professional day training. Let me know how it goes and what kind of reception folks give Google+.

    As for the +1 button, I kept on holding out thinking the Sociable plugin would eventually update with the +1 button added. No such luck, so I’ve manually added the button just for you, sir! Thanks for reading. :)

    @ Ed – I completely agree with you, however, what I’ve noticed is that people seem to complain a lot about the set-up because it isn’t like Facebook. Mostly I think this complaining stems from an absence of comfort zone. Facebook has sunk in with over 750 million people globally. It’s hard to break a widespread habit. 😉

  5. Mrs. Z Says:

    I don’t work for Century College, but am still interested in using Google+ in my classroom. How do I go about getting invited?

  6. Stephen Kelly Says:

    Hello Mrs. Z.,

    Shoot me an email with your email address in it and I will send you an invite. :) Glad to hear you are interested in Google+!

  7. Lynn Says:

    Great post Stephen. We need a using Google Plus in the classroom teaching circle.

  8. links for 2011-08-15 | Gamer/Learner Says:

    […] Why Google+ Could be a Game-Changer in Higher Education – Century College Marketing Program Blog (tags: google+ tona digital_literacy elearn education) […]

  9. https://sieuthicanho24h.info/ Says:

    * Inspect the ability of water control – Check
    out where the drainage pipes and gutters carry the water. The judgments should be precise, since the vines aren’t elastic, along with the jumpers
    won’t recover up. It’s imperative that you understand
    that don’t assume all zoning is great zoning in relation to urban agriculture.

  10. thongtinbatdongsanhanoi.info Says:

    If they never pay, the us government does not get the revenue, therefore, they want anyone to
    collect that money for the children, thus, doing their job on their
    behalf. Ask for their physical office address
    – be leery of contractors who have only a P. This also ensures that the fuel usage to haul away shingles
    is just not shared by metal roofs.

  11. https://thongtinduanbatdongsan.info Says:

    This is how it is possible to achieve almost all of
    the objectives which you have in mind. Everything else inside your diary ranks a clear second in terms of prospecting.
    But then at the end of your pursuit for available homes for sale on the market, you look to get a home which fits your way of life and requires
    with the price you are able to afford.

Leave a Comment

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.