Many high schools have adopted Google Apps, but few so far have turned on Google+, which became available just a few months ago. Perhaps some administrators worry about the possible evils of social networking. My former school, for example, has Google+ turned on, but the filter blocks the site in the same way it prevents Facebook and Twitter and other restricted sites.
Too bad — because Google+ offers an excellent opportunity for teachers and students to build a robust academic space beyond the classroom. The new G+ Communities feature, in particular, is excellent, and I think it’s the better way to go when setting up classes (rather than using Circles).
Here are five reasons why:
1. Discussion Forum. Instead of having students text you or each other for help on their homework, they can post their question on Google+. That means that questions and answers get recorded all in one place. Bonus if peers, rather than you, supply the answers. The point here is to decrease students’ dependence on the teacher. Also, Google+ allows you to create communities with invite-only membership, which protects student privacy.
2. Virtual Office Hours. Instead of answering student texts or phone calls all night every night, you can create a 1/2 hour window (when you’re planning or grading anyway) when students can get face-to-face help with Google+ Hangouts. Students join the Hangout and can get more in-depth support. It also encourages them to do their homework at a preset time every day. This is particularly important for ninth graders, who may struggle with the daily homework habit.
3. What We Did in Class. Take out your phone and take pictures of your handouts. Take pictures of your students and their work (especially great examples of work). Videotape your mini-lesson or classroom discussion or student presentations. Take a picture of the agenda and the notes on your whiteboard. Videotape yourself doing a quick wrap-up of the day.
With Instant Upload, everything gets uploaded automatically from your phone to Google+. After school each day, go to your Instant Upload, select all photos and videos (if you like), and share your post to the classroom Google+ community.
Yes, it’s true — all photos and video are automatically uploaded and ready for posting. This means that absent students can get caught up. You can also email these posts directly to parents if they’re interested.
4. Good Substitute for a Class Website/Blog. I like keeping a class blog, but sometimes it takes extra time and work. I’m always looking to streamline my work and make it easier. In addition, it’s easier for students to look in one place for everything, rather than have to access multiple sites for information. If the school is using Google Apps, why not take advantage of all of its tools?
Specifically, I like to create my handouts with Google Docs and require that my students turn in all of their work in a Google Drive folder that they share with me. This also means that every single handout that I create goes into a shared Google Drive folder. In a Google+ community (beginning today), I can add static reference links (like a website) on the main page. This gives students a quick way to access documents they need.
5. Google+ is good on phones. One thing I found out last year is that students don’t spend too much time on computers, even if they have one at home. Rather, they prefer their phones, even for doing homework (including typing their essays). This means that I can’t expect students to check a web-based site with any frequency. Mobile apps are the way to go.
Google+ is excellent on both Android and iPhone. It’s easy to post an update, add photos and video, and read other posts. Even more important, students can choose to set up notifications, which is a big plus. Students are more likely to interact with a G+ community when there is activity. As a teacher, you can also collect homework at night (my favorite time to collect homework, rather than the next day) through Google+, all from your students’ phones.
Please let me know what you think. Also, I’m very interested in hearing how other teachers have set up classroom Google+ communities. Thank you!