Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts on Google+ and the "Google LMS"

I've been on Google+ for about a week now, and I want to document my thoughts on it.  I also want to consider what Google+ might do to my consideration of using only Google products to run a course. Like the first post, this is mostly a thought experiment about what goes into a 'course' and what sorts of products and services might be cobbled together. It also gives me a concrete model to compare features and helps me think about what else I might do with something like Plus. (And if Google would like to take any of this as a suggestion, I'm happy to be of service.)

Overall, I like it. Having Circles be so prominent (as opposed to Facebook lists) really does help. I also like that following does not have to be mutual (though I've noticed a tendency for most people to follow everyone who follows them--I suspect this will wear off.) The privacy features do seem to be more self-explanatory--which, after all, is Google's biggest point against Facebook. I've seen some excellent cautionary postings about the intellectual property dangers, but those are inherent in any social network, not just Google+.

I see the main failings at the moment (and remember, Plus is still in very early development) as a lack of groups, a lack of easy posting, and a lack of something that no social network so far has really had: history.

Circles, while being marvelous in terms of communication management, are individual. A Circle is not like a Facebook Page or a Google Group, which exists beyond an individual. (This was initially confusing, as I was invited through someone's eduMOOC Circle, who was in someone else's eduMOOC Circle, etc.) Circles are like Facebook Lists or a personal email distribution list. So if I create a Circle for a class, I can broadcast to the Circle, but classmates can't broadcast to the class unless they also create Circles with all classmates in them, and we can't even check to see if everyone in my circle is in someone else's. You just know that someone is going to leave someone out, accidentally or on purpose. Perhaps Google will integrate Groups into Plus at some point--it would be a good pairing. I also like the suggestion I saw somewhere for Circles within Circles--so, for instance, I could have a Reference Department Circle within my Work Circle, so that everyone in Ref is automatically part of Work, without me having to remember to add them to both. It's not crucial (it's not that hard to add someone to two circles) but it would be an even better model of how social groups really work.

I'm now constantly frustrated at the difficulty of getting content into Plus. The only 'Add to Google+" feature that I've found so far is a 3rd party add-on to Google's Chrome browser, called Surplus. It shows me my notifications, and has a Share button that will post the URL of the page I'm on and whatever comments I'd like to make. It works great, except that I'm not in Chrome all the time. A simple bookmarklet would be fine! But until I can get content into Plus as easily as I can into Facebook or Twitter, Plus is going to have a distinct disadvantage. I expect this will be solved quickly, but it's frustrating at the moment.

I thought at first that I might be able to use Google's +1 (their 'like' button), but there doesn't seem to be a way of sharing the things I +1 to my Google+ stream.

The history issue is a problem I have with Facebook and Twitter, too. Sometimes I can't find my own old posted links! In some circumstances you could +1 pages (did I say I really want a Plus bookmarklet!), and see them in your profile, but you can't organize them there (at least not yet). Something like the Notes feature in the Google Reader would work--you can tag and share (or not), so you could save links to articles, blog posts, files, etc. Just a tagging feature on +1 would be great or the ability to save to Reader right in Plus. Right now, I'd do something like: see an interesting link in Plus, go there and save to a Reader Note (actually I save to Delicious or Evernote, mostly, but this is a Google post).

To sum up the previous post about Google as courseware: Sites for a course page, Calendar for due dates and scheduling, Docs and possibly Books and Scholar for readings, Blogger for student blogs and journals, YouTube for video lectures and class projects, Docs for papers and presentations, Docs spreadsheet for grading, GTalk/Chat for office hours and study groups, Groups for discussions, Gmail for individual communications and announcements, iGoogle for students' personal learning organizers/networks. This was based on a traditional course model, with grades and office hours and all, so obviously if you're doing something less formal, you could use less--and there definitely are better, non-Google tools for much of this. But still, it's a pretty impressive inventory.

So what does Google Plus add to the 'courseware' mix? Mostly networking and communication convenience. Students can easily self-organize into study groups. It's easy to share something with one or more Circles, or just one person. Plus currently has photos (Picassa) built in, and I bet videos from YouTube and files from Docs will get added at some point. Office hours can use the video chat in a Hangout or the Google Chat. You could even do small lectures in a Hangout (I think the limit is 10 people at a time).

The Sparks feature seems a bit like Google Alerts, so that could make a nice addition to a learning network. Students could also follow people outside of the class doing work related to their courses, and since you can create as many circles as you need, creating 'Follow' circles for different subjects would be easy, so you don't get your history mixed up with your English lit. If Plus takes off, and once Google allows institutions to create Plus accounts, there should be all sorts of interesting things to follow.

So, it's early yet, but Google+ has a lot of potential. Like any social network, the value to the user is in the network. So, please feel free to 'circle' me!

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Blogger Mark Isero said...

Hi there. Thank you for your post. I'm thinking of trying out Google+ as an LMS. You make a good point about Circles, and perhaps Communities will help with some of the limitations of Circles.

In addition, you write that Google Apps tools can all work together, and I agree. But I'm wondering if you had any ideas or insight about how to put everything (calendar, photos, etc.) all into Google+. I'd like students to be able to see everything completely in Google+. Thank you!

9:38 AM, January 30, 2013  
Blogger Rebecca Hedreen said...

Hi Mark,
I'm not sure it's possible to display everything in G+. It would, however, be easy enough to link to, say, the class calendar, and post announcements about events and due dates.

I haven't explored Communities much, so it will be interesting to see how Google develops those. A Page for the class would also probably be useful. (Pages also hadn't been opened when I wrote this post.)

If you try it, please write about it and let us know.

11:18 AM, January 30, 2013  

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