Saturday, December 15, 2012

Google + Classrooms

A year and half ago, Google released Google+ to a select few power-users and slowly opened up to the public.  It was called many names and criticized for not having mobile apps, not being available for G. Apps users, etc.  Despite all naysayers, I have been watching it very closely.  I shared my first impressions of the social network and it's possibilities for use in the classroom in 2 blog posts days after getting an invite from Googler friend of mine.  I've been a regular user ever since.  It was not perfect on day 1, and it's not perfect now. But Google makes improvements almost every week, and that is what I love about Google!

In the last 2 months Google has made 2 major changes that make most of my ideas for integration into the classroom a reality.
  1. Google+ was made available for K12 Schools using Google Apps. 
  2. Google+ Communities
For schools using Google Apps for Edu all the pieces are in place to run a 100% Google classroom.  Here are a few ideas for organizing a Google Classroom.

Idea for G+ Communities in your classes:

  1. Create communities for classroom communication.  Instead of using Edmodo, Schoology, or similar product, communities can perform the same functions. The number of communities to setup is up to the teacher.  They should be setup, at minimum, one community per course being taught.   From there we can get more creative with our community structures.  E.G. one for each course in the school/district, class period, groups, etc.
  2. Create a community with a subject matter expert from anywhere around the world.  Find a SME and invite them to your classroom community. Then encourage students to post questions to the community throughout the unit.
  3. Create an internal community for common planning and coordinating various projects, units, lessons, courses, grants, teams, committees, initiatives, etc.
  4. Use a community to create cross-curricular communication
  5. Use a community to connect multiple classrooms together, either inside or across content areas.

Using the Google Ecosystem 

The real advantage for using any digital ecosystem is that all the products work well together.  This is why Apple has been so popular.  The beauty behind Google's ecosystem is that it is built on the internet.  Meaning that, not only do all of it's products work very well together, but almost anything else that is built on the internet can be easily integrated with the Google ecosystem.  This can result in the most robust learning experience for teachers and students.  Simply, a walled-garden when you want it, and an open platform when you don't.  

As a teacher, you can build any classroom around Google knowing that you have the flexibility to integrate any internet resource in your classroom.  The integration of these resources can be used to generate conversations, videos, graphics, and most any learning activity.  When used all together, I believe that these tools offered by Google provide any teacher with the ability to create fantastic blended learning environments that ignite student collaboration, creativity, and learning.

Concerns

Although I am gaga over Google, I'm not so naive to think that there aren't problems.  
  • Schools interested in using Google+ extensively with students should first condition their teachers through usage and practice.  Many administrators will be reluctant to change communication habits.  If done correctly, it will provide enough knowledge and skills to facilitate more thorough planning of policies and procedures before allow student-teacher access.
  • Need to provide granular control over Google+ features to district admin via Google Apps Manager.  Control should include: limiting/allowing users to create communities; allowing outside users to view a community's conversations, while disallowing interaction with students.
  • Training teachers how to setup/manage such powerful tools.  They will need to ensure student's security.
  • Training students to be intolerant of bullying and other improper communications, and provide procedures for reporting such incidents.