Faculty uses for Google+ in support of teaching

I was looking through this presentation titled “31 Ways to Use G+ in Higher Education”, and I realized that this is quite significant to my life given the recent activities that the University of Michigan is taking in rolling out Google Apps for education. While I was on the Google Faculty Leadership Committee last year and I have something of a head start moving in this direction, I have not made many efforts to adopt the various parts of Google+.

The most promising of the tools that make up Google+ is Hangout. There are actually three different types of Hangout: Hangout, Hangout with Extras, and Hangout on Air. (Here is the page for help topics for Google Hangouts.)

  • Hangout: screen and document sharing among <= 10 people with accompanying video
  • Hangout with Extras: As far as I can tell, this is simply a Hangout plus the ability to name the Hangout, thus enabling invitees to more easily join the Hangout.
  • Hangout on Air: this is a limited feature version of a Hangout but with the added ability to broadcast the hangout to the world (via YouTube). Hangouts on Air (see this very useful video overview) provides an easy to use way to share videos with a wide audience. The best analogy that I can come up with is this: You are the performer in a small coffee shop who is broadcasting the show to the whole world. Just nine people can join you in the coffee shop (Hangout) but the the whole world can see the broadcast (On Air). In addition to being able to view the broadcast live, the video (which can later be edited) is automatically saved to your YouTube account.

The following describes my thoughts on how I might adopt these the different parts of Google+ in my classes. I list them in general order of my interest and probability of adopting them.

Hold virtual office hours in Google Hangout

I have generally held office hours in the Ross Winter Garden. It is easy for students to get to, my physical presence might serve as a reminder for students of my availability, previous students might stop by and say “hello,” and future students might come over for a chat. It is a win-win situation all around. Unfortunately, attendance at my office hours is sparse at best (other than the day before an assignment is due so I think it’s possible that another approach is needed.

It is always the case that some students can’t make it by during my office hours for whatever reason — they might be off-campus or they might have another meeting. I could use a Hangout a short couple of times a week even if I’m not on campus to meet with students when they are available — even one-on-one if necessary. For office hours a couple of days a week I could open a Hangout for 30 minutes or so in case students want to ask questions. While I have the Hangout window open, up to ten students at a time could attend.

A typical user of Google+ Hangout

A typical user of Google+ Hangout

Review a document with a student in a Hangout

You can start a Hangout with a particular student if you want to review his/her paper. You can share your screen with that student and point to parts of the paper while discussing it over video; if the document is a Google Doc, then you can actually collaboratively edit the document while in the Hangout. If you aren’t able to get together with a student for some reason, or if time is of the essence, then this certainly could be a useful tool to have available.

Hold meetings with distant teams

For student teams that you are working with (especially those located off-campus), using Google Hangout as a way to meet with the whole team seems like an easy and obvious win-win. Here at Michigan Ross, this should be particularly useful given out focus on action-based learning.

Use Hangouts on Air

I can see Hangouts on Air being useful mainly (probably due to a lack of imagination right now) if I had been asked to clarify a topic between classes and wanted to provide an answer before our next meeting. I could schedule a Hangout on Air broadcast for a specific time, up to nine students could join the Hangout, and then any other interested students could watch the broadcast on YouTube. I could also keep a chat window open at the same time so that anyone could ask questions.

Google+ Circles

Circles are definitely useful.

Create Circles as a quick way of sharing information with groups

I’m less sure about the usefulness of Circles. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good concept — you know, wheels and all that. I’m just worried that students won’t want another stream of information to check during the day. However, if these do catch on, then faculty could use different Circles to share information with TAs, with specific teams or projects, or with the whole class.

No matter what I think about the usefulness of Circles per se, if a faculty member is going to use Hangouts, then he/she would definitely want to set up a Circle with all the students (plus TAs and graders) as members. This would enable a much easier way of targeting a Hangout to the class. The Circle can also be used to gather questions for the next lecture. It can also be used as a place to post answers to questions asked during office hours.

Use Google+Pages as a home page for the class

Finally, using Google+ Pages as a home page for the class is a convenience, again, if the class is going to have Hangouts (and an associated Circle). This provides a bit more clearly demarcated home for the class (and Hangouts and questions & answers); however, beyond that, I don’t see much functionality that attracts me. I have always appreciated having several separate streams of information that can be accessed (e.g., formal announcements from the professor, informal chat among class members, assignment announcements) and Google+ (Circles and Pages and Hangouts) are generally organized around one big stream of information — and it is actually called a Stream, so this isn’t a mistaken observation on my part. I still think there’s some need for a more structured course home page provided by a CMS or wiki (but, shockingly, I could be wrong).

Feedback desired!

What do you think about these technologies and their associated possibilities and pitfalls? I’m generally excited about trying some of them out on a larger scale (than just with my friends and family) but others of them I’m less sure. Is this something that you are excited about? Or does danger seem to be lurking?

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