Google+’s Secret Weapon for Universities
In late October, Google+ issued a long-awaited announcement that the social media program was available with Google Apps. While this was exciting news for companies using Google Apps for Business, the announcement came as particularly great news for the online learning community already using Google Apps for Education. While the social media platform has several features that make it useful for the classroom, there is one element of Google+ that has real potential to be a secret weapon for schools.
There are several benefits of Google Plus’ audio-video attribute for schools and students, some less obvious than others. Hangouts have a natural application for small study groups, research assistance, and lecture access for students who are unable to attend class. But the potential impact of this feature goes well beyond the benefits to a single course. To better understand this concept, knowing a bit about another Google+ attribute and how it combines its strengths with Hangouts is important.
Often compared with Facebook’s “lists,” Google+ employs groupings of a user’s contacts into what the site calls Circles. While Google offers several default circles—friends, family, acquaintances and following—users can create their own personalized circles based upon how they engage with fellow Plussers, a self-identifying terms adopted by active Google Plus users. You can add someone to more than one individualized circle, and users can control the flow of information to and from their circles. What makes Circles unique is the ability of users to share entire circles with other users, adding a dimension of community that is not unlike that of going to the same school. Hangouts joins forces with this community building feature to produce the real potential hoped for and by all social networking sites: engagement.
Encounters with meaning
Beyond students and instructors using Hangouts to conduct course business with or without Google Apps for Education, one highly predictable development is likely to advance among college students. Through the sharing of circles, students can build connections based on mutual interests and shared engagement, taking the social media experience beyond the realm of a particular class, school or even country.
When a user shares a circle with a total stranger through a stream of conversations, those new shares can choose whether or not they engage and add a new person to their own circles. Privacy settings are relatively easy to navigate, so undesirable contacts can be blocked, if necessary, ameliorating a legitimate concern many Plussers have when they first receive a shared circle.
The College Experience
With the strong showing of the nation’s top 100 universities on Google+ Pages, the college experience, already altered by online education, can reasonably be anticipated to change again. Part of going to college has always involved a chance to feel part of a new group of peers. With Hangouts, someone seeking a degree can have that experience without the constraints of walls, campus boundaries or even national borders.