Obviously you are going to want to create a circle for your class and guide them through making a circle for the class as well. But as cool as that is, it doesn’t stop there. You can also make a circle for announcements and important links and drop any posts in that you know you may use every semester. Then you just find it in the stream for that circle and repost to your current class when you are ready. You can also create circles for students by category. I tend to keep theatre students with me from class to class so I have created a circle for current theatre students who might want to receive updates about upcoming events at our theatre or other’s in the city.
Because photos and videos are dropped into albums, privacy settings allow you to make albums that only certain circles can see. As long as you are sharing the album content to your circles, currently google is not limiting the maximum storage limit. This means that I could drop all my students videotaped speeches into an album and share it to the class in a fraction of the time it would take me to do it any other way. Remember too that your photo albums are not limited to photos but to .jpegs. This could include cartoons, charts and graphs, or any other image that you might want to share with them throughout the semester.
Because google is already part of my “always open” tab club it is much easier to set up a place for students to initiate a quick chat session through google rather than the ANGEL chat client or Skype. Students know that I am often available but I also set up specific times that I hold virtual office hours when students can get in touch with me online. Make sure you take advantage of the status setting. If you are busy, say so rather than having a student hanging on wondering if you are ever going to answer.
Google+ alllows the user to determine just how they will be contacted with new material has been posted, messages sent, photos tagged. Students/Faculty can choose the in browser notification, email or text message or all three. This allows students to find the method that best suits their information streaming system rather than them finding a way to work around the system provided by the LMS.
Google+ now has a mobile app available for iPhone and for Droid. I’ve been polling my classes for the past two years on how many students own a smart phone. I have seen it grow from about 20% to over half in that period of time. At the beginning of the semester my students have to provide me a written back up plan (Thanks Jill!) and at least half for the past two semesters have listed their phone as part of that plan. Google+ works well under mobile interface as well which gives students another option to customize their content delivery if they wish.
By creating smaller circles students can work in groups. Guiding them through adding a circle with only their group members and you, the instructor, allows you to see the chatter of all the groups in your course stream without having to manually go into each individual discussion and see what is going on. This is a similar method to creating Teams in an LMS but the content stream is much more logically organized and happening in real time. Also students can see when the other is online and initiate meetings and chats within the course itself.
Google Docs and Calendar
A great add-on to google+ is the ability to upload/edit/create documents within the system as well as scheduling events. This could be a particularly productive place for students doing collaborative work to house documents that add to a larger project or simply to access the syllabus when necessary.
Video chat is still one of the untapped frontiers simply because of the technology hurdle. I think that the gap will be closing quickly. But for now, for those students who CAN video chat, you can hold actual office visits virtually and seamlessly. Hosting synchronous chat is something that is growing in popularity and google+ seems to be a great option functionally, but we may have to wait for the common technology curve to catch up a little bit. Still, if you can video chat, do it.
How do I know that my students are even reading the posts I’m publishing? That’s where the +1 has a brilliant secondary function. I can see everyone who +1’ed a post of mine. Requiring students to +1 a post when they’ve read it allows me to keep track of who is engaging with google+ and who isn’t. This can also give you an early heads-up on students who are beginning to falter. We all know it’s much easier to catch a student at the beginning of this curve than after it’s gained some momentum.
One thing that LMSs are doing really wrong is lacking a method for students to give themselves a visual identity. phpBB software has been around for over a decade and forums learned very early on that one of the key components of creating identities online was the avatar. Whether a student has a photo of themselves or a picture of a sunset or papa smurf, people remember identity better when there is a visual image tied to it. Identity leads to connection. Connection leads to community and learning.
This is an extremely preliminary list. I am hoping over the next month or so to find out other ways that I can make google+ work for me and my students.
Edited on 4/16/2012 to add that I did eventually pull my online classes from Google+. You can go here to read about why.