1. Age Limit
Currently Google+ has set the age limit at 18+. Though they state that this is a temporary situation and that the eventual age will be lowered to 13+. Whether that will happen when the site goes public or after has not been truly clarified. This causes a lot of potential problems. For high school teachers eager to take advantage of the google plus features, they will be restricted to the over 18 students in their courses. At the college level, students who might be under 18, particularly dual credit students will not be able to access the site. Announcements and posts with their email address added to you class “circle” will be emailed to the student but they would not be able to respond, see avatars, or post on their own.
2. Digital Novices
One of the ongoing challenges of teaching, particularly at the community college level is the discrepancy in the amount of general knowledge that a student will have about using a computer. In an online class your chances are a little better that most will be familiar with the basics of computer use but that is very different from introducing them to a new online system, particularly if they are also using an LMS for the first time. Digital Novices are often intimidated and easily discouraged. No one wants to look dumb and when they can’t “get it” as fast as they would like to, that’s exactly how they feel. Be prepared to offer video tutorials, links, and other basic instructions. Oversimplify to the extreme. I am working on a getting started video now that starts from the email invite. (Because I haven’t found one that goes back that far yet!) Offer to help them one on one. Be friendly and supportive.
3. Institution Privacy
As exciting as forging into the unknown is, we all work within institutions. It’s important that you feel out your institution’s policies. I’ve talked with lots of teachers and professors who are considering google+ for their classroom. For some it won’t be an issue but for others, using it would directly conflict with their institution’s communication policy. Also keep in mind that FERPA does govern what you are doing to an extent. For me that means keeping most of the graded activity, gradebook, and communication about grades in the LMS.
4. Student’s Privacy Awareness
Because you are providing a venue for communication that will probably be unfamiliar to your students, at least for the foreseeable future, it is your absolute responsibility to make them aware of how google+ works in regards to their own privacy. Give them the option of not using a photo of themselves (although you can encourage it). Explain that you cannot communicate with them about grades and grading through google+. They will need to know how circles work and who can see what is being posted. This is YOUR responsibility as the leader of the class.
As your google+ stream winds out over the weeks and months, what are you doing with all the class related information? Is any of it being graded? How are you keeping track and do you plan on keeping your information in a centralized location? Currently, google+ has a feature called “Data Liberation” that allows you to collect and archive your content on google+. However it doesn’t not, at the moment give you a lot of control of what you are getting. For example you must download and archive your entire stream. For class archiving that might be a less effective tool than a screenshot if you wanted to store google+ content on your computer for your records.
6. Professionalism and your personal privacy
Once you get going in google+, like in Facebook, you have the option of sharing with groups of people. You might be sharing information with your class in one post and joking about a late night out with friends in another. Photo albums are created and settings can be adjusted to share photos and videos with different groups. This is the beauty of it but it is also dangerous. Be cautious when posting. Keep the mouse away from the “share” button until you are sure your content is right and the correct circles are chosen. Remember, google+ defaults to selecting the circle you must recently sent to when you post again. So if you’re not paying attention you might end up sending your students that story about how you got black out drunk and woke up in the dumpster behind Taco Bell . . . with photos.
7. Your personal aptitude
This is a moment to be kind of real with your self. Most of the people diving into google+ are early adopters of tech and social media hawks, circling and resharing, retweeting, and commenting. Having a basic working knowledge of how google+ runs is not enough when you are using it as a platform for your course. The odds are very, very slim that your online learning department will be able to support your harebrained scheme to move part of your class to google+. They probably wont be able to help your students and more importantly, they won’t be able to help you. So you have to work hard to become a content expert on google+. Know how to troubleshoot problems. Be a “search queen.” If you’re just getting your feet wet, wait a semester and hit it hard in between. Read blogs (the #googleplus tweetstream is overflowing with great links right now). Watch videos, talk to other google plusers. Get the Pluserati in your circles. Learn.
8. Shift in time management and engagement
If you’re like me, the way that you interact with your online classes is fairly steady. Getting them use to the idea is going to be easier than getting your self use to it. In a way you will be mixing work in with non-work. Some people are not interested in that. Do you want to have the discussion on speaking anxiety woven into the great meme photos that your best friend from high school has been making and posting all week? Of course you can always limit the stream view by circle but that is sort of against the point of this, right? Getting your class communication off the LMS and into the regular world. So be prepared for your routines to take a tumble and for your workload in the first few semesters to increase as you find the ways that work and the ways that don’t.
9. Instructor responsibility
You are choosing to bring them into a new environment; you must help them along the way. Think of it like a field trip. You are leaving the institution with your students and you are now in charge of them off campus. It’s up to you to provide technical support, guide, and problem-solve. In a new venue, students are going to need a lot of help getting started and initiating activity. Your activity and level of palpable enthusiasm is tied directly to that. You’re the one pulling the wagon. Don’t forget that. If you lose interest or initiative, you will lose them on google+ and then you’ll have to figure out what to do differently when you start again next semester.
10. Defining the LMS vs. Google+ relationship
Your students are now being faced with two different “rooms” where they work within this class. This is not a problem as long as you clearly define to them what you expect in each place. I’ve been teaching online since 2006 and I’ve never had students at the end of the semester say “You gave us too much information, a little less direction and explanation, please.” You are going to spend a lot of up front time creating the framework that will help your students navigate both successfully. Students who get discouraged, give up. Worse, if they feel that google plus is a vital enough component of your course and they don’t “get it” they may very well drop the class and seek out one that doesn’t have as many bells and whistles.
Bonus Tip: Failure is guaranteed. All good ideas are born in failure. Don’t get discouraged. When things seem to go wrong, hone in and focus, don’t shut it down and give up. The only real failure is not learning from our mistakes. This is new, for all of us. Try things, share with the community. Together we can turn our collective failures into something engaging, creative, and productive. Swear.