Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Potential of Google Plus for Education

The Fear of Social Networking

Many educational institutions would be worried about the use of social networking in education. Often there are strict policies about adding students to a social networking site if you are a teacher. This is a safe bet to avoid the dangers of potential allegations of misconduct or grooming. Yet it seems a shame that some of the greatest e-learning tools we have ever had access to are dismissed outright due to issues of e-safety.

I have been investigating e-safety a lot recently and since researching the subject I now have a much greater understanding of the potential dangers of social networking and how to avoid them. One of the first things I did after attending a recent e-safety conference was to change the privacy settings on my Facebook account.

This simple act got me thinking. Suddenly I had a way to control who saw different elements of my account and who could contact me. In theory this means it would be possible to use social networking as a collaborative learning tool in which information could be shared selectively with different groups of students.

Why Google Plus?

Upon looking for a social networking tool for this purpose I found I preferred Google plus as the best contender. The main reason for this is that friend organisation is much clearer. When dealing with students it is essential that they are grouped correctly. The grouping of friends on Facebook is a little difficult compared to Google plus with its circles.

Students can be put into separate groups from friends.

I also found the sharing of posts with a single group was slightly clearer with Google.

Posts can be shared with just the people you choose.

How Can it be Used?

There are many ways that Google plus could be adopted as a learning tool. It is possible to create a page for a particular course element and students can become followers of this page. This can then be populated with posts with any kind of subject material you can imagine. Couple this with extremely simple image uploads and YouTube integration and the possibilities are limitless.

Sharing YouTube videos is extremely easy.
However, this is only the beginning. Students can also comment on the posts and these comments can be commented upon. Imagine the whole class discussing the contents of a video, or helping each other with a particular problem set in a post. Even simply asking the teacher for help and the whole class being able to see the question and the response. It is also possible to set up to 50 managers for a page. This means that other teachers could manage the content on the page and act as moderators.
If you couple this with the sharing an collaboration capabilities of Google docs you have a mind blowing tool set for learning.

Dealing with E-Safety Issues

So let's come back to this issue of e-safety. The danger to teachers comes when the have potential communication opportunities with students. But wait, surely teachers have this with emails. Also, this means that teachers shouldn't collaborate with students through shared documents on Google docs. There isn't much difference.

My belief is that, with careful setup of privacy settings, it should be possible to safely add anybody to Facebook and Google plus. Grouping students into categories that are limited in what they can see and only communicating through open pages set up with learning in mind.  They wouldn't even need to be on personal friends lists. Simply by following the page they can communicate with the tutor in a semi-public setting through comments.

The final hurdle comes from the need for moderation. The fact that students would not be anonymous would make it unlikely they would make inappropriate comments, but the possibility of pages being public means that it is possible that anybody could make a comment on the page. This means it is important to set up the page settings so that only people in the page's circles can comment or send notifications.


The ability to lock down the way these social networks are used in an educational environment allows for some extremely exciting possibilities in collaborative work in education and e-learning.  It would require testing in controlled environments before many institutions would feel safe adopting this learning approach due to the fear of social networking, but I do believe that it is possible to adopt this approach safely if the correct safety precautions are implemented.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the ideas and this is very nice blog and have great information. e learning development