How to engage college students with Google+

By Guest Author   January 21, 2012

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For those professors and instructors looking for a first step into the added dimension of online learning, a relatively new social media platform may well provide you with the opportunity to meaningfully improve the value of your course. Google+, often compared to Facebook, though actually a very different platform, can bridge the gap between your classroom curriculum and the potential of interactive learning.

Don’t replicate

Learning from the mistakes of others is a goal of higher learning. Unfortunately, textbook publishers jumped into the world of digital e-books without learning or applying the lessons gained over years of development in distance or online learning. The biggest finds in e-learning feature the need for interactive features in online courses. Don’t simply transfer a classroom curriculum with no value added onto a website – don’t replicate. And it’s important to provide the architecture by which students can be engaged with one another, resources and the instructor. At first, textbook publishers released what was essentially the same content and presentation of a bound book only in digital form. Not surprisingly, students have eschewed digital textbooks in droves. Now, publishers are just beginning to offer e-textbooks with terrific features. For you, the instructor, learning how to improve your course experience is the key to succeeding where publishers first flopped.

Match the need to the feature

The way to approach augmenting your course with online technology isn’t a matter of “what’s wrong with the way I’ve been teaching?” Using a social media tool like Google+ allows you to engage your scholars online as well as in the classroom—a practice known as hybrid teaching. You can combine the benefits of face-to-face instruction, such as quickly responding to an expression that indicates confusion, with the potential of online instruction, as in pre-differentiated activities or resources and self-selected grouping.

One feature Google+ has is its ability for users to group together other users into “circles.” Members can be placed into multiple circles created for a class project, a study group or a differentiated curriculum for a particular skill level or ability. Students can direct messages to only those in a specific circle and chat with one member while not interrupting the rest of the circle’s conversation, which appears in what Google+ calls “streams.”

Hangouts, an audio-video chat function of Google+, can incorporate the teacher’s ability to detect student learning issues through visual cues and the tone of a response with the small group engagement benefits that go beyond a student’s ability to be in the same geographic location.

Preliminaries

Just as you’d spend a good deal of prep time reading a new textbook before the beginning of a semester, it’s important that an instructor spend a good month or more navigating their own non-school Google+ account. Don’t be surprised if you’re an expert at all the basics within a week or two, with the balance of the prep time used in becoming very familiar with the tool. During that second phase, adding to – not replicating – the curriculum, planning how many small group online activities you’ll use and identifying any incorporation of your textbook with Google+ are activities you’ll want to do.

Engaging your students in a mode they already understand and in which they feel comfortable has real potential for improving the experience students receive from your classes and the satisfaction you as an instructor have when your innovations pay off.

About the author: Harper Mac is a professional writer living in the Indianapolis area. She specializes in education and social media articles. Lindsey is currently completing work on her graduate degree. She writes on behalf of www.coloradotech.edu.

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