When Google+ launched a year ago, it was widely heralded for its potential as a real game changer in the world of traditional learning-management systems. With collaborative features like its affinity driven “circles” and videoconferencing “hangouts,” hopes and hype rode high about the impact of this social networking site on academia. While some professors were quick to sign on to the Google+ model, on its one year anniversary, the product gets mixed reviews.
First on the positive side. Professors who teach online, or those that teach hybrid courses where distance learning students review videos of actual lectures, find the ability to offer features like virtual office hours or study groups to their off-site students is a real advantage. A professor who teaches a hybrid mechanical engineering class at the University of Florida got on-board after a Google ambassador - a student liaison between Google and his or her university - demonstrated its video-conferencing and screen-sharing potential. Google+ allowed him to expand his ability to connect with students by creating virtual office hours -- a real boon to students located far from campus.
“...you want to make sure people who want human contact can get it,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons I looked at Google+, because it enables me to reach out and get in touch with students who I might not ordinarily meet or see.”
At the Brandywine campus of Penn State University, an associate professor of earth science accredits Google+ with helping to get the campus fair-trade certified. Fair-trade certification means a campus implements practices and products that meet defined environmental and labor standards. For her environmental studies seminar, she resisted her students’ pressure to use Facebook, and instead created a Google+ profile, assigning her students to post updates, information and links regarding fair trade issues. The Google+ circles option turned out to be a winner, connecting students with a broad spectrum of affinity groups.
“What I wanted to do is, as the students were learning, have them interact with people involved with the fair-trade movement at large,” she reports. “We were noticed more by the larger community through Google+ than if we had a regular Web site. When someone would comment on one of those posts, the students would go nuts.”
Not only will this professor continue to use Google+, she has already incorporated into her curriculum for a course she will be teaching on climate change in the fall semester.
But not everyone is as bullish about the Google+ platform.
“Any technology has potential to be used in education, from pencils to spaceships, but this is a lot of hype,” says Karen Schneider, the university librarian at Holy Names University. “I’ve had people say to educators, ‘Are you using Google+?,’ and my question is, ‘Why and how?’”
She definitely sees the potential in the Google+ collaborative tool box, but she also notes that a piece-by-piece evaluation of the overall package reveals “... there’s nothing you can do with Google+ that you couldn’t do with other technologies.”